5:01pm January 23, 2012

Newt Gingrich and the Angry (Old) White Men Strike Back


Two Black men on opposite ends of the partisan spectrum (not so sure about the ideological part) saying about the same thing.

Here’s House Assistant Minority Leader and South Carolina homeboy James Clyburn giving it straight on what happened this past Saturday in his state’s open Republican primary: He’s [Gingrich] appealing to an element in his party that will see President Obama as different from all other presidents that we’ve had. There’s only one thing that makes him different.”

And, always pressed to stay relevant is former RNC Chair Michael Steele quoted by the Huffington Post on whether the Republican primary will result in an undecided or brokered convention: “It’s a real possibility. Right now I’d say it’s 50-50. The base wants its chance to have their say. They aren’t going to want it to end early, before they get their chance, which means that the process could go all the way to Tampa.”

Both are right … to a degree.

There’s no better source than Clyburn on piecing together what exactly happened in the Palmetto State and, yes, race has just as much to do with it as everything else.  But, it’s not the only thing that makes Newt Gingrich different – it’s pretty much the norm throughout the Republican Party.  It’s that Gingrich played that card better and more effectively.

Basically, he’s tapped into an ethos we haven’t heard much about in the political lexicon since the middle to late ‘90s.  And it’s something most folks, particularly mainstream media, refuse to talk about out of fear we’ll lose that faux “post-racial” vibe we’ve been clinging on to since 2008: the angry White male.

The Angry White guy reared his ugly, rednecked scowl on Saturday night, and Gingrich went into South Carolina well aware of the dynamics.  As a perpetually angry (and rather brilliant) White male himself, he’s one of them.  He went into South Carolina knowing that a quarter of its Republican primary voters are White seniors over the age of 65, based on 2008 numbers.

Or: old angry White guys is more like it, right?

Whatever the case or choice of words, Gingrich – as a next door Georgian – saw opportunity where others had already dismissed his chances.  Although the former House Speaker is Pennsylvania-born, he’s been a Southerner for some time now.  The first equation was a rather simple one: White Southerners, in a state known for going against the establishment grain, are going to eye a former Governor of a northern blue Bay State with suspicion.  Romney is a “yankee” – and a flip-flopping, dishonest one at that who makes his money off of the misery of the average “fella.”

The second equation tapped into something that has troubled the general social subconscious and found itself acting out in manifestations such as the Tea Party and Occupy movement: anger.

While 2008 was the year of “Hope and Change,” 2012 is the year of unbridled Anger – with a capital “A.” President Obama’s re-election team cannot head into this election cycle thinking warm fuzzies will work; voters – particularly the angry White type that voted for Gingrich this past Saturday – want to see the face frowns, the fist pounding the dais, the evil stare-downs and snarky snaps at “elite media.”  Mitt Romney is learning that the hard way.

This is why 2012 became the perfect time for a Newt Gingrich to run.

There was one time where the analysis on Gingrich was fairly easy.  Who would pick, as either their party’s nominee or the leader of their nation, a cantankerous, grumpy and overweight (yes, the former Speaker is a bit on the Pillsbury dough boy side) firebrand with a checkered political and personal past?  Since presidential contests typically devolve into beauty pageants, cosmetics are not a strong suit for the plumpy cat with the character-building amphibious name.  Ultimately, voters would pick style and confidence over sloppiness and reminders of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in the sci-fi classic Dune.  It worked for Obama in 2008 against McCain, it was certain to work in 2012.

But, maybe not this time.  Through the Tea Party, we have seen Republicans realize tremendous success at the polls through the effective cultivation of visceral rage, thanks – in part – to the recession.  Theoretical: maybe the GOP establishment really does want a candidate like Newt Gingrich.  Sure: he might be polling an average 8-10 percentage points behind Obama in hypothetical match-ups.  But, that can be fixed, so say the hacks and branding specialists.  Anger is in.  Calm is out. It’s worked before, it can work again.  A certain segment of the population doesn’t want clean, cute and elegant.  They grow tired of “uppity Blacks,” their Martha Vineyard vacations and gala birthday bashes. They want trashy, unkempt and imperfect.  They want who they think is a real man of the people.

Besides Newt himself, Ron Paul is probably the only other candidate – at this stage – holding Gingrich back.  He’s got a sizable portion of angry, irascible White people backing him, too.  If Paul backs out, Newt can rack that up and charge like Robert E. Lee into Tampa.

To answer Bob Scheiffer from the other day, yes: “moderate” is the “new dirty word.”

About the Author

Charles Ellison
Charles D. Ellison, Managing Editor for Politic365.com, Washington Correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune and a weekly political analyst providing insight on WDAS-FM (Philadelphia), WVON-AM (Chicago) and KSRO-AM (Sonoma County, CA). He is author of the critically-acclaimed urban political thriller TANTRUM. More information can be found at http://www.cdellison.com



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