How Newt Won in Carolina: By Playing the Hate Card

How did Newt do it? How did a candidate who seemed near death only a week ago rise up to win in South Carolina? He did it the way he always does it: By playing the hate card. And this time he did it in a particularly creative way.

Let's revisit the key moment.

Gingrich was in a tight spot. To beat Mitt Romney, he needed to pick up a lot of the family values vote--yet, awkwardly, one of his ex-wives had just said that he once asked her for an "open marriage." And now, in the opening moments of a crucial televised debate, John King of CNN was confronting him with her claim. Oh, the bitter irony: You're standing onstage next to a Mormon, and you're the one who has to defensively insist that you don't favor polygamy!

But to imagine Gingrich as conceiving his predicament this way--as needing to actually respond to the allegation--is to evince a misunderstanding of the basic tactical algorithm that has governed his career. Here is the algorithm:

1) Assess your audience. What kinds of people do they hate?

2) Convince your audience that you, too, hate those people.

3) Repeat.

Conveniently, a group this audience hated was in the room that night: the elite liberal media. Indeed, it was a member of this group that had asked Newt the question about his wife!

You may object that John King, who asked the question, seems like a non-ideological news reporter. True. But he works for CNN. And when you're in a southern state, and your target audience is the more conservative part of the Republican party, that fact alone will do. All Newt had to do to win the audience over was express contempt for King and his colleagues in the elite liberal media. And Gingrich does contempt very well!

The rest is history:

Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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