Bill Murchison
One South Carolina Republican woman said she craved to see a "bulldog" at the top of the GOP ticket. That would describe Newton Leroy Gingrich all right. The next follow-up question went un-posed: Do you want a bulldog heading up the executive branch of government, and if you do, to what end? -- so he can leave teeth marks on legs all over Capitol Hill? Or so he can get a few useful things done for the sake of a country in crisis?

In South Carolina, Gingrich seemingly closed the sale with customers alarmed enough over the national predicament to vote for the bulldog, in hopes he can win next November. Or alternatively -- as one Gingrich voter suggested to Rush Limbaugh -- to send a message to Romney: Get your act together, big boy; start talking us through these times.

The message, by the Monday after primary, seemed to have gone undelivered. Perhaps the government postman hadn't yet gotten there. At all events, Romney was attacking Gingrich as "erratic" -- which, though true, may not be quite the point. What George Will, the commentator, called Romney's "Romneyness" -- his seeming inability to connect with voters -- stands potentially between the candidate and the White House. What's the essence of the man? What inspires him? What dreams does he dream?

The desire for a "man on horseback" -- booted, spurred, ready to lead the surging masses forward to liberation -- is probably primordial. It speaks to a human desire for action amid crisis. Men on horseback rarely turn out the way their cheerleaders and encouragers hope, but in bad spots, such as the one we're in, historical precedents bother relatively few.

Sometimes things actually work out. Winston Churchill, to whom Gingrich likens himself with a certain liberty of expression, was the real article -- a British bulldog possessed of wisdom and energy that completed the persona of an inspired wartime leader. Where Winston and Newton conspicuously diverge is in-- what to call it? -- the memory department. Churchill stood for an England whose ideas and traditions bore a patent 700 years old and more. The ideas of a literal horseback-riding conservative, Ronald Reagan, were of similar vintage, with a post-"Mayflower" twist. This breadth of memory helped explain the calm and the affection that made his candidacy so appealing.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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