Tidbits on the trail

    South Carolina snapshots, on the low road to Saturday’s big vote:Rick Perry voted himself off the island today, having completed what one Perry donor reportedly calls “quite possibly the worst-run presidential campaign of our lifetimes.” Actually, the campaign went bad as soon as Perry started to run his mouth, and reveal to anticipatory Republicans that he didn’t know very much – and that what he knew he couldn’t articulate.There’s no need here to recap his stumbles and blunders; indeed, I’d argue that he began to go downhill on the night when he was booed by the usual audience agitators for defending the Texas policy that provides college tuition aid to the offspring of illegal immigrants. He was coherent, even eloquent, on that point. But his stand on principle ran afoul of the right-wing hostility toward immigrants, the same hostility that will depress the GOP’s share of the crucial Hispanic vote this fall.All told, Perry’s crash should be a reminder, to pundits and handicappers everywhere, that it’s foolish to devote so much ink and cyberspace to prospective candidates who are pristine before they take the plunge. The mantra last summer was, “Perry has never lost an election,” but there’s a heap of difference between batting .390 in the minor leagues and playing for real in The Show.Who knows, maybe Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour and Chris Christie grasped that concept when they opted to skip 2012.——-Perry endorsed Newt Gingrich, just in time for Newt to take a late hit from his ex-wife. Excuse me, his second ex-wife.Marianne Gingrich will surface tonight in an ABC News interview. The timing – on the eve of the primary, when Newt is fighting for a big share of the evangelical Christian vote – is no accident. She’s clearly hoping to wreck his candidacy, seeking payback for all the times that Newt entertained future wife number three in the bedroom that belonged to wife number two.It’s not news, of course, that Newt is a hypocrite on the issue of the marriage sacrament, having inveighed against Bill Clinton’s infidelity while conducting his six-year affair with Callista. What’s news is that Marianne seeks to derail her ex-spouse by sharing some seamy details – namely, that the affair with Callista was conducted “in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington,” that Newt had sought an “open marriage” (shades of the libertine ’70s!) so he could enjoy both mistress and wife, and that Newt would phone her to say “I love you” with Callista listening in.Oh, did I forget to mention that, according to Marianne, Newt moved to divorce her just months after she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis? That rings a bell. Newt had moved to divorce Marianne’s predecessor after wife number one was diagnosed with cancer.My advice to Callista? Eat very well and get regular checkups.——-Meanwhile, there’s more news today on the religious-right front. James Dobson, one of the movement’s most prominent leaders, endorsed Rick Santorum. Dobson, a veteran radio host, could aid the sole remaining Rick in the fierce competition with Newt for the evangelical vote in South Carolina. Dobson said: “The institution of the family is the key issue facing this great nation. It is the foundation, the bedrock, upon which every dimension of Western Civilization rests. If it is undermined or weakened by cultural and governmental forces, the entire superstructure will collapse in short order. And indeed, today it is in serious jeopardy. The very definition of marriage is threatened, which has implications for the next generation and the stability of society itself. Of all the Republican candidates who are vying for the presidency, former Sen. Santorum is the one who has spoken passionately in every debate about this concern.”Newt has to be exasperated. A few years back, mindful that he might map a presidential bid, he went on Dobson’s radio show; amidst much gentle prodding from the host, he confessed all marital sins and sought Dobson’s blessing. And it was all for naught.Now, with other evangelical leaders joining Dobson in a late push for Santorum, Newt faces the unhappy prospect of sharing most Christian conservative voters with Santorum. That would greatly enhance Mitt Romney’s chances of finishing on top, the outcome that evangelical leaders dread most – and it would be a virtual replay of what happened in 2008, when John McCain finished first in part because Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson divvied up most Christian conservatives.The religious right leaders flexed pivotal muscle for George W. Bush in the 2000 primary, but its clout has been muted ever since.——-I wrote here yesterday that many white South Carolinians tend to be tone-deaf on matters of race. Here’s a classic example:During a Newt event yesterday, a woman in the crowd praised him for his debate confrontation Monday night with Fox News moderator Juan Williams. Williams, who is black, had suggested that Newt’s characterization of Obama as a “food stamp president” was offensive to blacks. Newt had forcefully disagreed.The woman in the crowd triggered a round of sustained applause when she said, “I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for putting Mr. Juan Williams in his place.”Not the best choice of words. But at least she referred to that uppity moderator as “Mr.”——-As for Mitt Romney, he managed yesterday to resurrect a blatant lie that we blessedly hadn’t heard for a few years. Miffed by Newt’s claim that he, Newt, had helped create millions of new jobs during his congressional tenure, Romney’s rebuttal went like this: “Congressmen taking responsibility or taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the Internet.”Good grief, isn’t it enough that Romney keeps recycling the lie about how Obama supposedly travels the globe apologizing for America? Or voicing the lie about how Obama has never proposed a job creation plan? Why reach back for a lie that is so 12 years ago?For the umpteenth time: Contrary to what George W. Bush said in his standard 2000 stump speech, and contrary to what Romney is saying now, Al Gore never said he invented the Internet. He told CNN in 1999 that, as a congressman, he “took the initiative” to create the Internet, providing federal research seed money. He never claimed to be Thomas Edison; rather, he was the go-to Washington guy for government-assisted university research – as the early Internet inventors have pointed out. One such pioneer is Google executive Vincent Cerf, who said in 2000, “There is no question in our minds that while serving as Senator, Gore’s initiatives had a significant and beneficial effect on the still-evolving Internet. The fact of the matter is that Gore was talking about and promoting the Internet long before most people were listening.”But Romney said it because a fact-free voter is still a voter worth wooing. And we can safely assume that more falsehoods will fly tonight, at the next debate.Yes, people, there’s yet another debate. I would suggest, at this point, that American interrogators torture their terrorist suspects by forcing them to listen to the audio over and over. Imagine what valuable intel those bad guys would willingly cough up.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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