After watching Herman Cain's demonstration of how not to respond to lurid accusations, I puzzled whether there was, in fact, an effective response to such attacks. How do you answer the question "Have you stopped beating your wife?"? It would seem that, as in the case of Bill Clinton, it's almost better if the charges are true; because then you can bite your lower lip and ask for forgiveness, which seemed to work for him. Newt has shown us another way to go. The press by virtue of their job description often plays the role of whistle-blower, but when the whistle-blowing seems petty or vindictive the whistle-blower becomes a tattletale, and nobody likes a tattletale. When the tattletale uses the information to punish someone, they become a bully... and when a bully gets a smackdown, everyone cheers.
Interestingly, I thought this would have been the best explanation Newt could have given when he went negative on Romney in New Hampshire. All the pundits criticized him for being the "Angry Newt", but frankly, his criticism of Romney is what has exposed the chink in Mitt's armor, and he could have easily justified the attacks by explaining that you can't just let a bully keep hitting you, eventually you have to hit back. Unfortunately for Newt, he wasn't taking my calls! Newt's angry responses to Juan Williams and John King needed no explanation, and resulted in standing ovations. It turned the victory I predicted in South Carolina into a landslide, and may have changed the dynamics of the race going forward.
Why? Several reasons. First, Newt took every demographic, even married women and independent voters. He was also seen as the candidate most likely to beat Obama in November. These were all weak areas for Newt going into South Carolina. The sense of Romney being the inevitable nominee is gone. Florida has become almost a make or break state for Romney if Newt continues to play it smart (and if new revelations about Gingrich don't "pop up", a la Herman Cain). South Carolina's other big loser, Ron Paul seems to have retreated to the fringe from whence he came, and Florida will only underscore that, leaving Newt as the "anti-establishment" candidate (Relax Paulites, I've been wrong on Ron before!). Santorum is dead, he just doesn't know it yet. I expect like Perry, Huntsman, and Bachman, internal polls will cause Rick to pull out before Florida, but it probably doesn't matter. Most of Santorum's support will go to Newt. Finally Newt has channeled what is this campaign's overriding emotion, anger, with an oratory brilliance seldom seen in todays over handled politicians. Now violence and anger are not generally things we find attractive in people, but when they are in response to injustice, then we call it righteous indignation, and the emotion that it arouses is what made Sylvester Stallone a superstar.
The one thing Newt needs to be careful of going forward is that he doesn't become the new bully. He should stop calling for Santorum to withdraw, that will happen on its own, he needs to continue to praise Ron Paul's positions on the economy and respectfully disagree with him when necessary, and be very cautious in attacking Romney, attacking only when he is attacked. Likewise with the press, they are not beyond the public's sympathy, and Gingrich's jabs could be overdone. Right now his only safe target is Obama, and that is where his angry flourishes should be aimed; unless attacked by someone else, in which case people are always up for another "Rocky".
IMHO: There was only one winner coming out of South Carolina, and three losers. Gingrich has shown himself a formidable tactician and it is now up to the other candidates to rise to the challenge. Santorum is without the resources, and Paul is without the political will or savvy to do so. That leaves Romney, who certainly has the resources, and organization to overcome this setback, and Gingrich may not ride this wave forever. Either way, the greatest challenge either of these candidates faces is not in this race, but waiting in the White House.