But that's on the surface. What does Palmetto State win by Gingrich really say about conservative voters?
Well, we know that SC is a very, very conservative state. Hell, there is no such thing as left of center down there. The closest you'd get is a moderate Republican. So, we know that the voting populous there definitely represents a large number of conservatives, and presumably a good cross section of conservative beliefs on topics such as the economy, social issues, foreign affairs, etc. So, we know that South Carolina is a good test bed for taking measure of where conservatives are at.
Next, we know that the four main candidates - Romney, Newt, Santorum and Ron Paul - all represent different shades of conservatism and personality. All conservatives mind you, but different in some key ways:
- Mitt is the classic upper class "silk stocking" Republican that used to dominate the party before social conservatives took over in the 80s. On the upside for Republicans, he should represent the ultimate outcome of their preferred economic prescription for America. You an economic conservative? Mitt's your man. On the downside for the Rs, he's aloof, from Massachusetts and Mormon. That last one probably being the worst for a party run by evangelical Christians.
- Newt is an old hand in the Republican Party, having been the Speaker of the House in the 1990s. He's an authoritarian, combative and a good debater. On the up side for Republicans, he is seen as a fighter (a bully really) - as someone unafraid to take on Obama with the toughest rhetoric and stances. On the downside for them, he is a walking abomination in terms of their party's claims around support for "family values" and moral codes lifted from the Bible. Newt also has a clear track record of simply changing his stance on things so that he's always on the opposite side of his opponent and can argue with him/her. Oh, and he presided over an expanding Federal government he ground to a halt in the 1990s, lost his Speakership to ethics charges and is corporately indentured as heavily as anyone else running.
- Rick Santorum is THE MAN when it comes to religious conservatism. It doesn't get any more Christ-y than Rick. On the upside for Republicans, in Santorum they have a very clear, very obvious guy to vote for if their issue is moral and family values (as defined by the GOP and conservatives that is). On the downside, some may see him as unelectable against Obama and feel he is not as aggressive as Newt.
- Ron Paul is the libertarian in the group. He believes in virtually no Federal government at all. So, Republicans could see him as champion for one of their big causes, small government. On the downside for them, he also believes Marijuana should be legal, we shouldn't be the world's police and the government has no business in the lives of gay people.
My conclusion is that the SC results show that conservatives are quickly and conveniently willing forget their supposedly strong support for "family," "responsibility," and "fiscal conservatism," and "small government," in favor of a guy they thing will be able to verbally beat down Obama. Essentially, they will sell out their values for an authoritarian guy who they think will thug his way to the Presidency. This trumps other candidates and core beliefs. Truth, adherence to strong principles, small government, ethics, religion, family values...all that stuff can go out the window because conservatives like how Newt can verbally beat someone up.
How else can you explain it? If conservatives' primary objective is to "restore family values," then Santorum should have won the primary.
If they wanted to ensure the continuation of government support for the "supply side" economics they so love (government by and for the 1%), then Mitt should have come out on top.
And, if they wanted to really shake things up and get things back to more of a "state's rights" situation (ask South Carolinians about state's rights...they'll tell you that is why the North started the Civil War. Note: that wasn't the reason and the South started the war...but I digress), then Ron Paul should have won.
But they didn't. Newt did.
Typically, conservatives respond well to being told by a strong man (bully) what to do, how to think, how to vote and what to say about the opponent. No thinking, no critique...just do it. Nixon, Cheney, Haig, McCarthy, Rumsfeld, Limbaugh, Oliver North. Those are the types conservatives flock to, and so is Newt. He always has been.
Luckily, some other GOP primaries are taking place in less distilled conservative states so we may see some more moderation in the vote tallies for the candidates. But, I'll be watching to see if "tough guy" beats out "smart guy," "religious guy" and "live free or die guy."