Tell Her Majesty that I just don’t KNOW…

Yesterday, two representatives from Her Majesty’s Government came to see me to talk politics, as they periodically do.

It can be fun to play the local expert, whether for national or foreign media, or in service of the Special Relationship — especially if you’re an Anglophile like me. Maybe I can’t see “Tinker, Tailor” where I live (yet), but I can contribute to a report that might, just might, cross a latter-day George Smiley’s desk. OK, so it’s not very likely, but hey, I can dream…

The temptation is to sound like you really know what’s going on, even if you don’t — like The Tailor of Panama, or Our Man in Havana. But I’m not the type to mislead HMG. Perish the thought.

So yesterday, I had to tell my visitors that I just can’t explain what’s happening in the South Carolina primary, and therefore can’t predict anything. And that’s the unfortunate truth.

I don’t know why Newt Gingrich is suddenly leading by double digits in polls in South Carolina, other than it’s his turn. I don’t know whether that trend will continue, because I don’t understand the dynamics that led her to this point.

And one of the problems is this: I’m not hearing from people who are Gingrich fans. I have to acknowledge that maybe there are things I don’t hear, or am not exposed to, because I’m no longer the editorial page editor of the state’s largest newspaper. Maybe that’s why I feel like I understand what’s happening now less than I understood the situation four years ago.

But you know what? So much of what I was hearing and seeing then was through my blog. I wrote relatively little about national politics in the paper, so most of my interactions in that area were online. And to the extent that I was seen as someone engaged in writing about the presidential race, it was online. For instance, a number of the national and international media types who were interviewing me initially didn’t even know I worked at the newspaper; they had come to me as a widely-read blogger.

And I’m more widely read online now than I was then. My monthly page views are at least four times what they were then. And yet…

  • My traffic hasn’t been steadily climbing in the months leading up to the primary, the way it did four years ago. It hit a peak in August, then dropped a bit.
  • I  haven’t had a request for an interview from national or international sources since I spoke with E.J. Dionne at the start of November, which would be weird anytime, but especially with a primary coming up.
  • I just don’t run into people who are excited about the upcoming primary, either online or in person. Think about it — beyond Doug’s perpetual support for Ron Paul, who have you seen here who is pumped about a candidate? Well, it’s like that in the wider world. Quick — name five people you know who are eager to vote for Newt? You probably can’t. I know I can’t. People may be saying they’ll support Newt when a pollster asks, but they’re not going around bubbling with public excitement about it.
  • There were several national and international advocacy groups that had set up SC offices for the duration four years ago — and they had done it months before now. By the summer of 2007, they were up and running. This time, I know of one such group that has started a local office in recent months — One, the Bono group. I know a lot of nonprofits are far less flush with money than they were then, but it’s still remarkable.

Yes, I know that the buzz in SC should only be half of what it was four years ago, since only one party is having a primary. But it’s really much less than half. Things just feel dead by comparison.

I think one reason for that is expressed in that same Winthrop poll I referenced above. It also shows that 59 percent of those polled — and that includes Republicans — believe that Obama’s going to be elected. That, combined with a lower energy level (compared to last year) among Tea Partiers, has led to a really subdued campaign.

In a normal campaign, the fact that Newt is so far ahead, this late, would mean that he had it more or less locked up. This year, I don’t know. The polls give so easily this year, and can so easily take away. And this is Newt Gingrich — a guy with a well-known talent for self-destruction.

Normally, at this point, South Carolinians would be coalescing around the Republican most likely to with the nomination — usually, the establishment. A Bush. Bob Dole. John McCain. Now, the very definition of what it is to be a Republican — much less a South Carolina Republican — is more up in the air than at any time I remember.

So it seems to me there’s a better-than-even chance that SC won’t pick the eventual winner this time. The whole process is too wobbly, and less susceptible to steadying factors than in the past. And if that happens, there will be even less energy, and much less national attention, focused on the SC GOP primary four years from now.

But I just don’t know. When it’s hard to explain why what is already happening is happening, it’s very hard to predict what will happen next.

14 thoughts on “Tell Her Majesty that I just don’t KNOW…

  1. tired old man

    great observations

    part of it is that we are all tired, tired, tired of politics in general and Republicans in particular.

    The latest is that the SC Republican Party doesn’t want to pay for ITS presidential primary.

    It has offered to pay the first $180,000 of the est. $600,000-plus cost, forcing counties to pick up the remainder.

    So maybe the taxpayers ought to count just the FIRST 180,000 primary ballots and sell the rest to the Republican Party for a buck a piece.

    I can rarely find any genuine concern for the common good being expressed by Republicans. Instead, it is like they are the party of the whiney, spoiled rich kids.

    And it is impossible to summon the remotest hint of admiration for the the crop of contenders (both national and state) bearing the GOP label.

    Since they seem to be bought and paid for by the ultra-rich interests, I guess the rest of us consider it a done deal — so much political road kill.

    Reply
  2. Scout

    If I was the sort to be bubbly about a candidate, I would be bubbly about Huntsman. Instead I tend to be the sort that usually is disappointed with election results.

    Reply
  3. `Kathryn Fenner

    Somebody at Rotary was pushing for Newt to speak, but Rodger nixed it. He might be able to steer you to the person. On the other hand, that was then, this is now.

    Reply
  4. Juan Caruso

    “That, combined with a lower energy level (compared to last year) among Tea Partiers, has led to a really subdued campaign.”
    Accurate.

    “And this is Newt Gingrich — a guy with a well-known talent for self-destruction.”
    Accurate.

    “So it seems to me there’s a better-than-even chance that SC won’t pick the eventual winner this time. The whole process is too wobbly, and less susceptible to steadying factors than in the past.”
    Accurate.

    “It also shows that 59 percent of those polled — and that includes Republicans — believe that Obama’s going to be elected.”

    Possible, because the alleged Republican strategy is to win a Senate majority and let Obama flounder for his second term. This strategy is logical only in a corrupted sense and unsavory to the majority of American voters calling themselves conservative.

    In addition, there are growing investigations into voter fraud in Georgia and Indiana, with more to follow. People who have voted in long lines are not going to take kindly to “grand theft election” as just a misdemeanor much longer.

    The Solyndra loan also gave it the
    equivalent GDP of a minor nation. Was it charity, sound business acumen, or use of taxpayer funds for kickbacks to a Chicago lawyer’s presidential campaign.

    Too early to agree with the Winthrop poll, Brad. Want to know why? South Carolinians of the non-Democrat persuasion believe heartily in secret balloting. There is no way in h$ll they are ever going to level with pollsters who have their address and merely dialed their telephone number.

    I will be as curious as you to see how it all eventuates. My clan of over 24 Caruso voters has refused to participate in polls or telephone surveys of any kind since coming to SC. We are not unusual.

    Reply
  5. Steven Davis

    They mentioned tonight that Ron Paul is only one point behind Gingrich in the latest GOP Iowa poll… 22% to 21%.

    Reply
  6. Nick Nielsen

    It could simply be that SC Republicans are looking at the primary leader board and asking themselves, “Really? Are you kidding?”

    And I won’t complain if your final supposition is correct…

    Reply
  7. Boyd Summers

    I have not heard one of my GOP friends say they believe Gingrich is electable in a general election.I agree with you, having Gingrich at Rotary would be a trip..

    Reply

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