Tim Stanley: Newt Gingrich's South Carolina win proves that the cup is still half full at the Tea Party
JUST three days ago, many pundits were writing the obituary of the Tea Party. The unstoppable rise of Mitt Romney and the hopeless divisions within the conservative field seemed to suggest that the radical grassroots movement had passed away. The movement was over and its supporters were an irrelevance. The Tea Party was dead – long live the Beltway Cocktail Hour!
Then came South Carolina, where religious and fiscal conservatives finally got it together and backed a candidate against Mitt Romney. Exit polls suggest that Newt Gingrich won by appealing to every Tea Party demographic – middle income voters, angry white men, regular church attendees etc. To put it into to perspective, these are the only categories of voter that Mitt Romney won: people with an income greater than $200,000, self-described “moderates” or “liberals”, folks who think religion doesn’t matter in picking a candidate, those who “oppose” the Tea Party.
Gingrich’s victory was assisted by a huge turnout. The record participation of over 600,000 Republicans suggests Tea Party engagement in a way that didn’t occur in Iowa or New Hampshire. Did they come out for Newt or for some other reason? Many of them told pollsters that they thought Gingrich would be a better candidate against Obama than Romney. Gallup’s latest “trial heat” figures certainly seem to suggest that there’s little difference between Newt and Mitt on this score: in a hypothetical general election, they would both take 48 percent to Obama’s 50 percent.