Hot-headed South Carolina and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are made for each other. The state first to secede from the Union about 150 years ago remains defiant, mischievous, and unreconstructed. Not all states are created equal.
South Carolina, shall we say, made its name early as the troublemaker. To this day, it doesn't like to fall in line and sends elected representatives to Washington cut from that cloth. Down home in Charleston, men especially still brag on the firing on Fort Sumter, the shots and blockade that started the Civil War. Very nice.
So natch Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina Republican presidential primary over the front-runner, former Gov. Mitt Romney. There was no way the most viciously verbose and confrontational politician in our time was not going to win over the weekend. Just like the confident, beautiful people of the New England Patriots were going to see their football team beat the sincere, scrappy Baltimore Ravens, any which way. Gingrich's victory was destined by the order of the political court.
The 243,398 Republicans who voted for Gingrich in the Palmetto State gave him the first statewide win of his life. Remember, the former speaker only ever faced voters in a congressional district in Georgia. He is not necessarily a man of the people, no matter what the South Carolina verdict. Not that I care, but Romney does not need to fear the writing on the wall yet.
Gingrich, like his new best friend state, is an outsider of the establishment. Gingrich, like South Carolina, home to the the Citadel, likes starting the political equivalent of war, although he never did military service. Gingrich, like South Carolina, is steeped in history which each are capable of entirely misreading and handing down like lore.
A few facts on Gingrich's own history. As House speaker, he was awed by President Clinton's political prowess and brilliance, as Washington Post associate editor David Maraniss pointed out on Sunday's Post op-ed page. He knew he had met more than his match. Later in Clinton's presidency, he masterminded the House impeachment strategy, carried out by then-Rep. Henry Hyde, that nearly doomed Clinton's fate. The Monica Lewinsky affair was only a vehicle. No moral umbrage was involved, as we now know Gingrich was then having an affair with an aide on the Hill, now his third wife Callista Gingrich.
Vengeful hypocrisy still cuts deep. If Gingrich had his way, Clinton would be as gone as the good King Duncan in Macbeth. Sen. Lindsay Graham, then a South Carolina congressman, was one of Hyde's dozen helpers. This was only over a dozen years ago, but it seems like "history" we have forgotten. That's what Gingrich is counting on when he talks about God's forgiveness and "despicable" debate queries. That's what columnists forget when they write that Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr was solely responsible for the whole tragic circus.
Some more history on South Carolina. When the greats gathered in a room to invent the Republic and its rules, South Carolina's men were most adamant about protecting slavery as an institution. That was formative fruit on the tree since. A South Carolina congressman caned a Massachusetts senator for his abolitionist views on the Senate floor before the Civil War broke out. As noted, they were first to fight "the Yankees" and call themselves another country. Over much of the 20th century, the stubborn Strom Thurmond of South Carolina made an indelible mark as an arch-segregationist, a senator, and a presidential candidate. Former Sen. Ernest Hollings, the bright and capable junior senator with the low country in his voice, was thankfully a reminder of the good men and women from that state.
The Confederate flag has flown over South Carolina for too long. Not only up in the air but in the hearts of men. Gingrich won in a state that is, in a sense, another country.