South Carolina Fight Club

Back in 2008, when poor Mike Huckabee couldn’t eke out a win South Carolina, some of his evangelical supporters were fond of saying that they liked him because he spoke “from us” not “to us.” Newt Gingrich’s win last night shows that this formulation didn’t matter this time around either—voters pulled the lever for Gingrich not because he spoke from or to them—but in their minds, for them. Against Obama, the “elites,” the radical secularists, the European-style socialists, the anti-colonial Kenyans, the shari’ah law fifth column, the media, John King, Juan Williams, and all the food stamp “thems.”

Go read Jamelle Bouie’s account in The American Prospect. He’s been on the trail for the long haul, and has been doing some very keen reporting:

I managed to grab a nice spot at the base of the platform where Gingrich would give his address and met Raymond Moore, a school custodian from just outside of Columbia, “He doesn’t take anything from anybody,” Moore said about Gingrich. “He’s a bit of a tough guy, and I think America needs that right now.”

As Wayne Slater puts it in the Dallas Morning News, the gospel in Gingrich land is “Our mano can beat up your mano.”

The religious right hasn’t coalesced comfortably around a presidential candidate since George W. Bush. That’s two election cycles now in which there’s been a mad scramble to endorse anoint a suitable candidate. The majority, but certainly not all, of the religious right leaders endorsed Santorum. What does Gingrich’s South Carolina win say about that?

It says, for one thing, something I’ve been arguing since 2007: that grassroots activists don’t care about those leadership endorsements. But it also says that the “one of us” formulation is off the table. (Recall, if you can, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, the quintessential “one of us” candidates.) That “character” doesn’t really count, not that there was much sincerity to that to be begin with. Santorum at least plausibly plays the role of faithful husband, a role portrayed as crucial, and indeed above all others.

Except, South Carolina voters tell us, the role of battle commander.

UPDATE: Peter Manseau perfectly rewrites the iconic Fight Club quote for me: