By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Three quick thoughts about the Republican race

Flag of the Cayman Islands

Three quick observations about the state of the Republican presidential campaign:

• It’s been a very bad week for Mitt Romney. First came his peevish debate performance Monday night. Then came his admission that his tax rate is half that of ordinary Americans, followed by the revelation that he parks a great deal of his wealth in the Cayman Islands.

But one thing the media are unlikely to back down on is their insistence that he’s “two for two” going into Saturday’s South Carolina primary, even though we’ve known since Jan. 6 that Rick Santorum may have beaten him in the Iowa caucuses.

Now the Des Moines Register reports that the best numbers we’re ever going to get show Santorum ahead of Romney by 34 votes. Apparently the votes from eight precincts have been lost, so we’ll never know exactly who won.

Still, the media’s insistence that Romney had “won” Iowa by eight votes was never based on anything more than a provisional count that crumbled within hours. If it was all right to report that Romney won Iowa then, it’s certainly all right to say Santorum won Iowa now.

Does it matter? No. But it was the media that told us relentlessly and breathlessly for many months that it did matter. So surely it matters that Romney apparently came in a narrow second, eh?

• Will Fox News allow Sarah Palin to take part in its post-debate spin tonight now that she has essentially endorsed Newt Gingrich for president? Tune in and see.

• I thought it was crystal-clear that Gingrich was being racially provocative when he got into his food-stamp exchange with Juan Williams on Monday night, and I’m amazed by those who refuse to see it that way. So I was delighted to see this report from the road in today’s New York Times, which ends:

“I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for putting Mr. Juan Williams in his place,’’ she said.

The audience burst into sustained applause.

Any questions? And don’t miss Charles Pierce: “What Newt Gingrich is doing down here is running a campaign that is pure George Corley Wallace, straight out of 1968 and 1972.”

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  1. Stephen Stein

    Just some observations of my own – finally it has broken through to mainstream news that Romney didn’t win Iowa. Perhaps it will be more difficult for the media to keep on claiming it.

    I really like Charleston, SC, so much so that my wife and I continue to consider retiring there. But it really is different. We looked at real estate down there a couple of years ago and found some nice properties, but we were struck by the name of the town – Secessionville. (Say what, now?) Ironically, it’s in one of the more liberal parts of the state.

    We’re leaning against it – the land there is less than 5 feet above sea level, so it behooves a good global-warming-believing liberal to pass on it. Plus, in Hurricane Hugo, it was 10 feet BELOW sea level. Not so good.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Stephen: By the way, I don’t think the media have any particular interest in giving Iowa to Romney. It’s just that the caucuses were over, and they moved on. But if you’re going to have an election (or even a pseudo-election), doesn’t it matter who wins?

  2. Stephen Stein

    Oh, one more – ABC’s going to run their interview with Marianne Gingrich (wife #2) 2 days before the primary? What are the ethics of the media engaging in this kind of “October surprise”? (My guess is it’s along the lines of “Ethics, schmethics – think of the ratings!”)

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Stephen: Yes, an interesting question indeed. If she only became available now, would ABC also be accused of managing the news if it refused to put her on until after the primary?

  3. IMVHO, reporting Romney as the winner in Iowa made a fairly big difference, Dan. You know how some voters are sheeplike. If you tell them who the frontrunner is, or who the supposed winner will be, they run to jump onto the bandwagon. They’ll vote for that person because they wish to be identified as winners themselves.

    We who follow politics closely, and those who only think about it for one or two days either side of an election, are entirely different animals. And we’re in the minority.

  4. Al Fiantaca

    The Santorum victory in Iowa was never going to accomplish anything as far as who the final nominee of the party was concerned. What it was going to do is expose, by Iowa’s certified vote tally, the divisions in the party and the deep dissatisfaction with Mitt Romney on the part of the fundamentalist religious wing of the primary voters. The Romney camp is upset by the flip flop in results, as evidenced by their effort this morning to claim his second place showing as a victory.

    @Stephen: I hear what you say about Charleston. Some years ago, I looked into some places in the south that I had traveled to many times as a place for possible relocation. Ultimately, their politics and religious behavior turned me off, and I concluded that many places that you love as a vacation destination, tarnish when you look at them with clearer eyes as a permanent residence. Secessionville, wow, and the worst thing is how proud they are of the name. S.C. has a reputation, going back to the earliest days of the country, as a place for this kind of behavior.

  5. Al Fiantaca

    Marianne Gingrich’s interview shouldn’t change anyone’s opinion about Newt. That die has been cast, and he couldn’t be any more inappropriate after it than he already is. As for why the media is running it, Dan said it best when he said: “Ethics, schmethics – think of the ratings!”. Look at the evening news on any of our local Boston stations, and tally just how much of their alleged news is actually news, and how much is entertaining animal stories, amusing stories from the other side of the world, or promotions for entertainment programs on their network. Last week, Channel 4 ran cute stories from Australia 3 or 4 days running. The problem is they have too much air time for their news programs, and devote most of their time trying to keep views happy and coming back until the final sign off.

  6. Stephen Stein

    @Al – I went to the local chapter meeting of “Drinking Liberally” in James Island and met a lot of local liberals (this was in April 2008, so there was ample excuse for drinking). They do exist, and they’re a hardy but small band. I was impressed that the locals were able to slow development of Folly Beach so that it didn’t turn into a clone of Kiawah or Myrtle Beach, and stayed the funky, laid-back place that it is.

    Well, that plus the fact that just about everything in Folly Beach can be thought of as temporary, pending the next big hurricane.

  7. Paul Rickter

    I’m amused by how quickly the right wing forgets who its heroes are. A little over a year ago, Juan Williams was the toast of conservatives everywhere after he was fired from NPR for saying things on Fox News that were perceived as anti-Muslim. Now, he’s a very convenient target for Newt’s dog whistle — and the fact that he has a Latino-sounding first name is a nice bonus. “Mr. Juan Williams” was a convenient example when they wanted to bash NPR, but when he shows that he doesn’t know “his place,” that’s a different story altogether.

  8. Laurence Glavin

    Glad you provided a link to a Charlie Pierce commentary. I just wanted to add that he posts SEVERAL commentaries almost every day at, so I’d advise your own readers to add Mr. Pierce’s locutions to their daily browse.

  9. Aaron Read

    It’s not just SC. Every Christmas I drive with my inlaws through the town of “White Settlement, TX” on my way out to Coleman, TX. It’s a suburb of Fort Worth.

  10. Nancy Mades

    What, exactly, was the stunning revelation that emerged from the Marianne Gingrich interview? The fact that Newt Gingrich suffers from MDD (morality deficit disorder)isn’t new news. The fact that very often exes really, really dislike each other isn’t new news either. To me the most interesting thing was that after such a bitter betrayal and divorce and so many years later she still keeps his last name. Creepy.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Nancy: I know what you’re saying, but the “open marriage” accusation was new, and toxic enough that Newt decided he had to deny it rather than fold it into his standard “I was lost but now I’m found” rhetoric.

  11. Rick Peterson

    I could swear I heard the author of an Esquire Gingrich piece on my car radio yesterday? I thought he said that the “Open Marriage” news has been around for 6 months. I still think that Brian Ross’s sudden industriousness (and the dropping of an f-bomb by a small child on “Modern Family”)may be no more sinister than a ratings ploy so that ad sales reps can make their Q1 quotas).

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Rick: I guess that’s true. I thought the “open marriage” thing was exclusive to ABC, but it wasn’t.

  12. Mike Benedict

    Who would’ve thunk it that the Republican candidate most in favor of a plural marriage would turn out to be Newt?

    Still chuckling over that little development.

    Coming this fall on Fox: America’s Biggest Hypocrites!

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