The media are crying in their beer this week. The strategy to take down Newt Gingrich before the South Carolina GOP primary backfired big time.
Despite ABC’s promise of an “explosive” interview of Gingrich’s second wife in which she claimed Gingrich asked for an “open marriage” more than 12 years ago, evangelical voters in South Carolina flocked to the former House speaker.
Even worse for the Left, the Tea Party, which has been pronounced near death in recent weeks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and numerous talking heads, came out swinging.
Evangelicals made up 65 percent of the electorate in Saturday’s primary, according to CBS News data. Despite the attempt by ABC News and just about every other media outlet to drag Gingrich down with his ex’s claims, 55 percent of evangelical voters voted for the former speaker.
In post-vote polls reported by CBS, nearly half of the evangelical group said that the ability to defeat President Obama was the most important quality in a candidate.
About one-fifth of evangelical voters cited personal morality as the most important thing to them in deciding who to vote for. About half of that group opted for Rick Santorum, with only 7 percent picking Gingrich.
A third of all the voters in Saturday’s primary indicated they were strong supporters of the Tea Party, according to CBS News. The Tea Partiers voted 47 percent for Gingrich, compared with 21 percent for Mitt Romney.
About a tenth of the Tea Party voters said they would not back Romney if he won the presidential nomination.
The outcome in South Carolina ultimately hinged on Gingrich himself. Two strong debate performances, including an applause-getting smackdown confrontation with a debate moderator over the speaker’s ex-wife’s accusations, powered Gingrich’s primary win.
All of this is bad news for the ongoing media narrative.
First, it proves that the Romney-as-chosen-one theme was false.
Second, it underscores the depth of the media’s misunderstanding of conservatives, particularly evangelicals, who won’t be put in a box.
Third, it put the media on notice that the candidates can and will bypass the mainstream media journalists and appeal directly to sympathetic voters.
Fourth, it shows that one of the Left’s favorite weapons — charges of hypocrisy against conservatives — has lost some of its edge in the post-blue-dress, post-birth-certificate era.
For the mainstream media, South Carolina was just one more demonstration of their waning power to sway the public discourse.
For conservatives, the news out of South Carolina should be seen as encouraging, not because of who won or lost, but because it demonstrates that while GOP voters haven’t settled on a candidate yet, they are coalescing around the idea of saving America from another four years of Obama.
Tad Cronn is the editor in chief of The Patriots Almanac, a nonprofit, educational quarterly magazine.