By Manifesto Joe
Well, shut my mouth! He's popular in the South!!
Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who bears a resemblance to actor Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg in The Dukes of Hazzard), didn't merely win the South Carolina Republican primary Saturday. He administered a serious ass-kicking to former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, with about 40 percent of the vote to Romney's distant second at about 28 percent.
It's not that Gingrich winning in South Carolina was surprising. It was the margin of victory that was stunning. With news from Iowa that former Penn. U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum was the actual winner of the Iowa caucuses, it's now definitely still a three-person race. (U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas will carry a loyal libertarian following all the way to the convention, but he has no real chance at the nomination.)
The GOP dilemma
All of this seems to leave the Republican Party in a quandary -- some conservatives are calling on their peers to unite behind one candidate, namely Romney, if they are to have a good chance of voting President Barack Obama out of office. But the stalwarts on the far right aren't buying that.
They keep bolting to Gingrich and Santorum. There's a sentiment among them of anybody-but-Romney, as Romney is widely perceived as much too "moderate" for them to stomach.
Also, the questions about the money Romney has squirreled away in the Cayman Islands are likely to come back to haunt him for the duration. As one all-too-representative of the 1 percent of the superrich who've been getting ever richer at the expense of the rest of us, he has little appeal to the working-class redneck element in which the GOP has made such powerful inroads since 1980.
Santorum doesn't seem terribly sullied, but that sweetheart real estate deal will come back to haunt him, too. And then there's all the quid he's made as a lobbyist since leaving the Senate. It's not exactly the resume of a Washington outsider.
Gingrich isn't exactly a Washington outsider, either, but his reign as House bad boy began 17 years ago, and he's been out of elective office for over 13 years. His sins may be the most forgivable of the GOP contenders.
The worst of it, for evangelical types, is that he's a serial adulterer. Yes, many Americans forgave Bill Clinton for that, over and over. But there are a few differences. Clinton, for all his indiscretions, has had only one wife for decades. Boss Hogg goes through them like cars, trading in the old one for a new model after 100,000 miles and repair bills.
First he married one of his high school teachers, a woman 7 years his senior, after he graduated and became eligible. There's nothing very unusual about that age difference anymore, but one can expect a woman with a 7-year head start to show some age eventually. Boss Hogg's first wife, I've read, was hospitalized with breast cancer when he served her with divorce papers.
Then he married his second wife, erstwhile his mistress during the first divorce. Years later, he became involved with an aide who is now the current Mrs. Gingrich. Wife No. 2 now alleges publicly that Boss Hogg asked her for an "open marriage" so that he could have both her and the mistress. Eventually he asked her for a divorce -- by telephone.
It turned out that Wife No. 2 came down with some nasty illness like multiple sclerosis, which she says was exacerbated by the stress of the divorce. Seems like Boss Hogg dumps 'em just as soon as there's a problem like that.
It's the big head that's the problem, not the little one
As cold-blooded as Boss Hogg's behavior has been, that's not what personally bothers me most about him. Having a philanderer for a president doesn't disturb me much -- a few presidents regarded as "good" or "great," namely JFK and FDR, are now almost as well-known for their extramarital affairs as for their performance in office.
It's the schmuck stuff that comes out of Boss Hogg's mouth, like wanting to replace union school janitors with part-time underage kids, that I find far more disturbing. As president, I suspect that he would try to get batshit insanity like that written into law.
There's also the hypocrisy problem. Boss Hogg was going around the country giving speeches on traditional morality and family values at the time he was alleged to be pursuing an open marriage and/or divorce from Wife No. 2. And, after leading the charge to chase House Speaker Jim Wright out of office on an ethics rap over some petty book deal, Boss Hogg later gets hit with a monumental ethics judgment over -- guess what, a much bigger book deal!
In any case, Boss Hogg seems to be largely forgiven and very much back in the fray. But it's looking like anybody that the Republicans are looking over now will have a tough time taking out Obama. They've all got baggage that the president simply doesn't have.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas