Despite Rachel's somewhat faint praise, most astute political observers (and let's be clear, they're few and far between) would come away with the impression that Mr. 1% was launching forgettable spitballs at President Obama. If this kind of strained, hollow, rich man's version of political character is their standard-bearer, the Republican Party/Establishment is in deep trouble. There's something about Mr. Molten Core that really, really rubs people the wrong way. He lacks not only a core but even that fake conviction. And the harder he tries the worse he sounds. This guy still hasn't cracked 50% of the Republican primary vote, in a state that was supposed to favor him, with literally unlimited funds to carpet-bomb Newt. Yet Mittens' geographic appeal was limited mostly to the urban/suburban rich carpetbagging Florida counties. Newt cleaned up the Tea Party vote and the "southern" panhandle.
Those of us who have read up on the Tea Party, and I'm a little surprised the pundits didn't catch on, know that these people, like Ron Paul's followers obsessing over "the Fed" for instance, really get into the weeds of legislation which, for whatever reason, they regard as particularly evil. Newt pushed other hot Tea Party buttons, like the "people power" reference, the grandiose Gettysburg Address "of, by, and for the people" with its exaggerated emphasis, and lastly, what no one seems to have connected, the ending line, in which the Times live bloggers noted, Newt had "appropriated" the last line of the Declaration of Independence: "I promise if I become your president, I pledge to you my life, my fortune and my sacred honor."
Yes, but one of the earliest NYT profiles of rank-and-file Tea Partiers mentions that they customarily end every meeting with those very words, which one member described in near-spiritual terms. Newt didn't use this passage by accident or simply to be grandiose. He was making a very effective pitch for the hearts and minds of the Tea Party legions, the Pitchfork brigades. (Let's not forget Newt's promise to sign an executive order removing the Obama administration's so-called "czars," a cause célèbre among the most conspiratorial Teabaggers.) And judging by some pundit reactions, Newt connected. The usually reserved Steve Schmidt was never more agitated, expressing the alarm of the Republican Party Establishment at the prospect of "total war." Similarly, the usually unflappable Reverend Al lost it when Newt made race baiting references to the President as the "entertainer-in-chief." He and Rachel rightly tore into Newt's representative over the racist references.
I was impressed by Newt's Machiavellian specificity. There was nothing delusional about his focused, snarling prescriptions. He wasn't speaking off the top of his head — no lunar references tonight — but made carefully calibrated remarks for maximum appeal to the Tea Party, including patriotic American history allusions that are a part of the Tea Party gospel. As mentioned in our endorsement of Newt, "we believe his rise will lead to the ultimate destruction of the Republican Party as currently constituted ... Newt Gingrich is the perfect vehicle for the Republican Party's destruction. The "flawed vessel" of our dreams."
I do not agree with Jonathan Alter that Newt prolonging this campaign will help Romney by virtue of contrast with Mittens as the "Massachusetts liberal." Inevitably, Romney's faults will expose a rift in the Republican Party with the base — more Republicans, 6 in 10, still want someone else! — that may be beyond healing. Even more important, the negative firepower needed to pulverize Newt will very likely splatter Romney and further depress his soft, unenthusiastic support. What goes around, comes around, and Mittens will sustain a lot of damage from Newt.
When the semifinal takes too much out of a team, it will stumble flat and bedraggled into the final, against a formidable opponent that coasted. And it will lose. Only those teams with uncommon character actually gain strength from a bruising contest before the Big Show. Sorry Republicanos clubistas, but Mr. 1% lacks that uncommon character.