Wow things change fast. Bachmann, Perry, Cain, even Gingrich himself, have had their moments on top in this season’s GOP presidential race and South Carolina, a state with strong beliefs about resurrection, gave him a political one.
While here in my state we believe Jesus’ rise was eternal, political resurrection can be much more short-lived. For Newt to stay at the top of the Republican field in the Sunshine State and beyond it strikes me he will have to overcome the following five significant challenges that will work to pull him down.
1. Beware of the Fog of War
The fog of war has been described as that state generals face when so much is going on that you aren’t sure exactly what is going on – and when that occurs you can make decisions that don’t work.
Gingrich is light on infrastructure and he is going to be susceptible to falling on this front alone.
There is a great scene in the start of the movie “Gladiator” in which Roman field generals come to ask their leader Maximus what to do with their defiant band of opponents across the valley.
His reply is “unleash hell” at which point the fire soaked arrows start flying, and this week from Miami to Tallahassee every arrow imaginable is going to fly Gingrich’s way.
They are designed to subdue, and at minimum confuse. The former House Speaker has taught many times at the Army War College, and he’d now be wise to pull out his old notes.
2. Not Staying Mad
In Gingrich’s case anger has been his ally in the campaign he’s waged so far, and if he loses it he loses part of his strength.
Monday night’s debate in Florida was such a bore.
Mitt nipped at Newt trying to elicit a reaction. Unfortunately he didn’t get one, and as a consequence it seemed like a high school debate with two guys just prodding each other.
I know his advisers have told him to act “presidential” and calm, but he’s already tried that strategy with calamitous result – remember that “stay above the fray” thing back in Iowa where Gingrich finished fourth?
You know what you get with ten percent unemployment? Pissed off -- that’s where people are and that’s why Gingrich connected in South Carolina.
For example, 157,000 more people voted in this state than in 2008, and that increase alone is more than all the people who turned out to vote in the Iowa caucuses.
Unlike the low unemployment states of Iowa and New Hampshire where turn out was more conventional, they came out here in record numbers because they were upset.
Florida also has a higher unemployment rate than either Iowa or New Hampshire which says to me that Gingrich should best keep his edge.
3. Remaining the Conservative Alternative
Here’s a question for Gingrich: What was up with the waffle you did on sugar subsidies at last night’s debate and letting Romney move to right?
As important as the Cuban vote might be in Dade County or sugar growers in Immokalee, if Gingrich moves from a sweeping conservative message to the uninspiring strategy of cobbling together interests groups, he’s toast.
4. Staying “Unelectable”
More than a thousand years ago Sun Zu wrote an amazingly timely piece for today’s GOP presidential contest entitled the “Art of War.”
Its focus is the study of guerilla warfare and making weaknesses strengths; staying “unelectable” is another of Newt’s strengths.
I say this because someone once wrote “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and in this case it applies.
The Tea Party on the right and the Occupy movement on the left are both using the same jet fuel – frustration with the currently established way. Who in the world would want to be establishment in a year like this?
And yet I remember cringing as I watched Romney bring McCain into South Carolina to stand with him at rallies and tell the crowd Newt Gingrich wasn’t electable!
People aren’t listening to those in power and the establishment in a time when they want to change it.
5. Remembering He’s Not Jesus
No one else is going to mistake Gingrich for the messiah yet this challenge may be the toughest of all for my old boss in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Humility, while being bombastic at the same time, is vital to Gingrich because it’s key to likability.
Through the medium of television the president steps into the living rooms of people’s homes every day, and yes, when he arrives they want to like that person.
We all tend to think we are more important than we are in politics and for the former Speaker to survive this process it will be vital he really understands -- at a gut level -- how it was by God’s providence and forces much larger than him that he won in South Carolina.
It almost could have been Donald Duck. Gingrich just happened to be the last guy on top as people were in search of someone whom they perceived was more conservative than Romney and would carry their passion and frustration to Washington.
If the surging Gingrich understands this point and overcomes the five challenges I’ve laid out above, then he’s on the road that will bring him back to Florida…this summer, in Tampa that is.
Mark Sanford is a Fox News contributor. He is the former governor of South Carolina and a former Congressman.