How Newt Gingrich Shamelessly Feeds the Fears and Egos of White Conservatives -- and Why That May Win Him the GOP Nomination
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During his exchange with CNN's John King, Gingrich was again happy to have the media serve as his foil. “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country,” he said to King, who'd had the temerity to ask about Gingrich's past marital infidelities, before adding: “I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.” Again, the crowd went wild.
Later, during his victory speech, Gingrich drove the point home: “The American people,” he said, “feel that they have elites who have been trying for a half century to force us to quit being American and become some other kind of system.” At the same time, Gingrich said that the “African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps."
It's an updated version of Ronald Reagan's mythical “welfare queens” – suggesting that those receiving nutritional assistance are “undeserving” blacks content to live off the public teat. Never mind the fact that almost 60 percent of food-stamp recipients are children and the elderly – people who can't be expected to “demand paychecks” – or that only 8 percent of beneficiaries receive welfare. Never mind that whites make up the largest share of food-stamp households. In the right-populist view, lazy people of color are living high on the hog on an average benefit of $287 per month.
While he heaps scorn on those families that require some nutritional assistance during the worst economy America has seen for 70 years, warning that we are fast becoming an “entitlement society,” Newt's other big selling-point is his promise to bring Obama down to size in a series of unmoderated “Lincoln-Douglas-style” debates. It's a pitch that taps directly into the Right's sense of being talked down to by liberals – specifically, by a smartypants president with a degree from Harvard Law School. The GOP base wants nothing more than to see the elitist food-stamp president humbled intellectually – it lies at the heart of their bizarre obsession with the fact that he uses a teleprompter like every other pol -- and Gingrich is offering them an opportunity to do it vicariously through his bulldog campaign.
Conservatives have come to believe that their grievances are universally held by the American people. One of the most interesting tidbits from the South Carolina exit polls is that among those voters who said that the ability to defeat Obama in November was the most important characteristic in a candidate, Gingrich won by 14 points. That, despite the fact that Obama is leading Romney by less than two points in head-to-head polling but crushing Gingrich by 11 percentage points.
Ultimately, if Newt Gingrich does manage to claw his way to the nomination on the back of grievance politics, it could swing the election decisively to Obama. A poll released January 17 ( PDF) found that Gingrich had a net positive favorability rating of 5 points among Republicans, but Americans as a whole view him unfavorably by a whopping 60-26 point margin.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America . Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.