The SC Republican Primary: Eyes Wide Shut

Primary voters just gave former Speaker Newt Gingrich the win in the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, "America's most conservative state." Reddest of the red. Buckle of the Bible Belt. CNN welcomed viewers to the Charleston debate this week with “Welcome to the South,” a place “where values matter.”

More there than anywhere else? What values mattered most to South Carolinians who gave Gingrich his win?

Not trust. Why should they trust Newt Gingrich? His three wives can’t.

Not “family values.” Gingrich is on his third marriage and committed adultery with his last two wives. In the soft-focused 1950s of conservative nostalgia, South Carolina Republicans would have dismissed Gingrich as a serial philanderer, and his third wife as a loose woman running for First Homewrecker. But not today. For the modern conservative, values compress to suit the flawed candidate most likely to win (with apologies to Cyril Northcote Parkinson).

Not humility. Mr. "Stand aside everyone! 'I think grandiose thoughts.'" has compared himself to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Charles de Gaulle, the Wright Brothers, the Duke of Wellington, Robert the Bruce, Pericles and Moses. Why shouldn't Newt want to share that greatness with as many women as want him? As he once said of himself, "I found a way to immerse my insecurities in a cause large enough to justify whatever I wanted it to."

Fox and Friends  and conservative talk radio would spend weeks flaying any Democratic candidate who said that as a self-centered elitist. Mitt Romney's not wearing a flag pin in Charleston failed to elicit the patented conservative hissy fit about a lack of patriotism. So what values do matter to South Carolina Republicans?

"[W]e need someone who’s mean,” said Harold Wade from a Charleston suburb. The Washington Post  quotes Debbie Peterson of Piedmont: “I have a little bit of a problem with the divorces, but I need somebody to beat Obama. I like Romney, he is decent and moral, but I just don’t see him beating Obama.”

Maybe what CNN really meant was that the South is the place where values matter ... far less than the self-righteousness suggests. As with Gingrich, don't listen to what they say. Watch what they do. For all the bluster, conservative voters value winners more than virtues, and prefer someone they think will stick it to their ideological foes to someone who is all Bible and no bite.

Presumptive Democratic candidate, President Barack Obama, has high likeability numbers, isn’t known as a philanderer, has one wife, two beautiful children, and one stable family life. Yet if Newt Gingrich wins his party's nomination, self-described values voters nonetheless will support him this fall, treat Obama as the antichrist, and tie themselves in knots rationalizing why it is consonant with their values to support a man whose baggage has baggage.

Just in time, this case in point, "Newt Gingrich's three marriages mean he might make a strong president -- really," written by Fox News contributor and Glenn Beck collaborator, psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow:

1) Three women have met Mr. Gingrich and been so moved by his emotional energy and intellect that they decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with him.

2) Two of these women felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married.

3 ) One of them felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married for the second time, was not exactly her equal in the looks department and had a wife (Marianne) who wanted to make his life without her as painful as possible.

Conclusion: When three women want to sign on for life with a man who is now running for president, I worry more about whether we’ll be clamoring for a third Gingrich term, not whether we’ll want to let him go after one.

"It's not that I'm a good debater," Gingrich said in his victory speech on Saturday, "it's that I articulate the deepest felt values of the American people." He just doesn't see any need to live them. In September 2010, ex wife No. 2 (Marianne) told John Richardson of Esquire  that Gingrich told her, “It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.” Richardson this week added a postscript to the Marianne Gingrich interview, insisting that the focus on Gingrich's infidelity misses the real problem: "the ferocious and manic drive that ... collapsed in a breakdown so severe his own Republican peers had to force him out of power." That, and her conclusion about his financial ethics and heavy lobbying since leaving Congress -- that he chose corruption.

In the end, none of that mattered in the place where "values matter." In a state where 65 percent of Republican primary voters self-identify as evangelicals or born-again Christians, voters abandoned their standard bearer, Rick Santorum, and overwhelmingly chose to dance with the devil who speaks in dulcet tones -- because he looks more like a winner.

(Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.)