While the fierce anti-government absolutism of the 75 percent is the renewal of a creed that dates back to the Goldwater era, the cultural revolution is a recent phenomenon. Sarah Palin was the pioneer. Her ascent to the McCain ticket was almost immediately followed by the revelation of the out-of-wedlock pregnancy of her daughter Bristol. Enthralled with Bristol’s grizzly mama, the party instantly forgave the transgression, which the younger Palin would shamelessly turn into a multimedia show-business career, replete with an ungainly stint on Dancing With the Stars. (Another klutz and lapsed GOP moral scold, Tom DeLay, had preceded her onto that dance floor.) The messiness of the Palins’ domestic arrangements, later merchandised by the family’s own reality series, was applauded, not condemned, by their fan base. “She is beautiful, well spoken, and a sinner, but aren’t we all?” was Sean Hannity’s take on Bristol. Had she or her mother or perhaps even Levi Johnston had a “wardrobe malfunction” on-camera tantamount to Janet Jackson’s notorious Super Bowl misadventure, chances are the 75 percent would have ridiculed any public condemnations as a humorless overreach by insufferably p.c. liberals. It’s impossible to imagine the new GOP majority following the right’s previous template of demanding that the Federal Communications Commission punish any offending network.
This relaxed moral flexibility has been highly visible as Trump, Cain, and Gingrich have enjoyed their star turns in the Republican field this year. Once-powerful family-values hucksters like Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer have tiptoed around candidates’ marital pratfalls rather than rail against them; Hannity took the easy way out with Cain by refusing to believe his multiple accusers even as they threatened to reach a total of 999. After Cain dropped out, The Wall Street Journal editorial page didn’t fault him for his apparent misbehavior, only for his campaign’s “inept” efforts at crisis management. Gingrich’s infidelities have also been largely forgiven once he figured out he could retrofit them into a Christian redemption narrative and wrap them in the flag. (He confessed that his affairs were “partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country.”) The recent Times–CBS News poll found that while only 8 percent of Iowa’s white Evangelical Republicans cited Gingrich as the candidate who best shares their values, they still rated him as their top presidential choice.
Among those same voters, Romney (ranked fifth for president, behind Michele Bachmann) fared even worse on the values question—at 7 percent. Even allowing for the hits Romney takes with some Evangelical Christians for being a Mormon, that poor showing is astonishingly low for a candidate who is fond of boasting, especially since Newt’s reemergence, that he has been married to the same woman for 42 years. What Mitt doesn’t understand is that Gingrich’s personal life, like the Palins’, looks more like America than his does in the day of Modern Family. He doesn’t realize that parading his own picture-perfect, intact, shrink-wrapped domestic bliss carries a whiff of condescension and privilege, perhaps even more so than Callista Gingrich’s brandishing baubles from Tiffany. In a country riven by class war, the resentments are not only about money. Ann Romney’s smug campaign-trail mantra—“No other success can compensate for failure in the home”—is as tone-deaf as Mitt’s observation that “corporations are people.”
Like Romney, almost every Republican gatekeeper was startled when Gingrich, long given up for dead, improbably staged at least a brief resurrection. The list of those who lined up against him is almost epic in its length and breadth: Rove and Noonan, of course, but also National Review editorialists, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Savage, Kathleen Parker, Alan Simpson, David Brooks, Joe Scarborough, Tom Coburn, and Peter King, not to mention Republican campaign hands like Alex Castellanos and Mike Murphy, and even Glenn Beck. Many of them have expressed a similar (if less histrionic) disdain for most of the other non-Romneys as they’ve cycled through—Paul, Palin, Bachmann, Trump, Cain. The gulf between the party’s Establishment and its troops could not be more stark.
Along with Rush Limbaugh, the most conspicuous conservatives missing from the list of Gingrich haters are Rupert Murdoch, who knows how to cover his bets, and most of his current stars. It was on The Wall Street Journal op-ed page that the Newt surge was anticipated in early November by Dorothy Rabinowitz of the paper’s editorial board, in a prescient piece titled “How Gingrich Could Win.” Her fellow board members, both in print and on their own Fox News program, have tended to be supportive of Newt (his $1.6 million take from Freddie Mac aside) and contemptuous of Mitt. Further empirical evidence of this tilt could be found in the airtime Roger Ailes bestows on Republican contenders. In a December 20 Media Matters accounting of the minutes Fox devoted to each candidate since June 1, Gingrich came in second to Cain, with Romney finishing behind Bachmann, Paul, and Santorum in this unofficial Fox primary. In Mitt’s most newsworthy appearance on the network, all it took was straightforward questioning about his record by the affable anchor Bret Baier to melt him down into a puddle of patrician prissiness.