It is the great irony of Gingrich's political life that despite his reputation as a man of vision, he owes most of his success not to grand plans but to sheer force of personality. And if there is one thing Romney conspicuously lacks, it is force of personality. (Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are not exactly overflowing with it, either.)
"I think one of the great weaknesses that Republicans have is that they're boring," he mused here Wednesday, addressing a jam-packed crowd of several hundred at a barbecue joint outside Greenville, proceeding to a critique of his party's communications strategy on entitlement reform.
"They're boring! They don't know how to communicate!" he said. What about Reagan? somebody asked. "Reagan was an FDR Democrat and a movie star. He wasn't a normal Republican," Gingrich lectured. "I'm a student of Reagan. I'm not a normal Republican. This is part of why the Washington establishment doesn't like me. I think being interesting beats being boring. I think communicating beats hiding."
Peevish, pedantic, grandiose -- Gingrich is all of these things, and you don't have to spend much time around him to start rolling your eyes. ("I really am a bold change agent," he reflected, pensively, at one point.) But he's also a tremendous amount of fun, especially if he's on your side. His audacity is breathtaking, his imagination infectious, his humor as vicious as it is delectable.
Gingrich projects the promise of a total victory for the conservative argument in the war of ideas: "I believe we can go into every neighborhood in America, in every background, and say to people, 'Would you rather your children had dependence, with food stamps from the government? Or independence, with a payckeck from a job? And I believe we will win that argument everywhere, and I think we can set up a campaign this fall of extraordinary proportions by bringing the country together."
So, fine, Gingrich is a blowhard. But he's a very good blowhard.
Gingrich's latest resurgence is being attributed to his glorious debate performance Monday night, in which he excoriated African-American moderator Juan Williams for a question about racial sensitivities, to the delight of the Republican crowd in the debate hall and, judging from the commentariat, around the nation as well.
But he was doing surprisingly well here even before that, clocking in at a solid second to Romney and a healthy 10 points ahead of the third-place tie of Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. It was as if the state of South Carolina collectively went on vacation a month ago, when Gingrich was last flying high as national frontrunner, and is only now tuning back in.
Gingrich remains a healthy margin -- 10 points or so -- behind Romney in the latest reliable public polling. Whatever positive momentum he's currently enjoying could well be squelched by the reams of attack ads now on the airwaves in South Carolina, another debate Thursday in which he'll likely be a target, and the blockbuster interview with his Marianne Gingrich, which stands to bring the issue of his messy personal life back to the fore.