How Newt Won in Carolina: By Playing the Hate Card

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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:

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Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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