So the message South Carolina voters sent was — "Anything goes so long as you attack the media."
Whatever you think about Mitt Romney's shortcomings as a candidate — and I agree with Mark Steyn, who said of his stump speech, "The finely calibrated inoffensiveness is kind of offensive" — embracing Gingrich is like bashing yourself in the face to relieve the pain in your foot.
Certainly it's possible that the voters have done all of us a favor. If Gingrich's success there scares Romney into becoming a better candidate, then it may work out well in the general election.
But really South Carolina — a whooping ovation for Gingrich's denunciation of John King? King asked a perfectly legitimate question. It was Marianne Gingrich, not "the liberal media" who made this a story. Gingrich knows this perfectly well, but he can turn a hangnail into a conspiracy by the media. And so he crafted his reply to leave the second Mrs. Gingrich's agency out of it entirely. "To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary, a significant question in a presidential campaign, is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine."
"Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things," Gingrich added, as if he were the wounded party.
Sorry, but it's impossible to sit still for that kind of cynical manipulation of an audience. Gingrich is not just someone who has "gone through painful things." Instead, he has inflicted pain quite promiscuously to those nearest him and justified it because he was destined for greater things. He cheated on his first wife, Jackie, and then divorced her while she was fighting cancer, telling a friend that she was neither "young nor pretty enough" to be the wife of a president. Jackie was obliged to petition the court to enforce child support and alimony orders. Gingrich later peddled the story that it was she who had wanted the divorce. "He can say that we'd been talking about it for 10 years," she told the Washington Post in 1985, "but it came as a complete surprise."
Gingrich himself contradicted the "Jackie wanted a divorce" account. Attempting to negate the story that he was insensitive about discussing divorce during a hospital visit, Gingrich explained, "All I can say is when you've been talking about divorce for 11 years . . . and the other person doesn't want a divorce, I'm not sure there is any sensitive way to handle it."
Gingrich cheated on his first wife, or in his own words, " . . . I did a lot of things . . . that reflect(ed) how much pain I was in." But he "asked for God's forgiveness" and married Marianne. After finding God, he seems to have misplaced Him, because after cheating on Marianne, divorcing her and marrying Callista, he found Him again, adding piously that "I think most people, deep down in their hearts, hope there's a forgiving God." A bewildered Marianne asked him how he could deliver speeches on family values while stepping out on her. He explained, "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." During the affair with Callista, Gingrich managed to participate in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. And while it's true that Clinton lied under oath, which Gingrich is not accused of, the hypocrisy would have inhibited a man of ordinary decency.
Newt Gingrich is not your average flimflam artist. He is profoundly, fundamentally, transformationally different. With equal passion, and within 36 hours, he can condemn the media for impugning free enterprise and then (in a huge gift to the Obama campaign) slam private equity and venture capital as "rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company." There is no concern for intellectual consistency, party loyalty, or the advancement of an agenda. He will condemn Paul Ryan one day and film a global warming commercial with Nancy Pelosi the next — more a loose popgun than a loose cannon.
This fierce antagonist of liberalism — the roaring lion who tells John King and Juan Williams where to get off — confessed that in meetings with Bill Clinton "I melt when I'm around him. After I get out, I need two hours to detoxify. My people are nervous about me going in there because of the way I deal with this."
"His people" ought to be even more nervous now. I know I am.
To find out more about Mona Charen and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.