Hugh Hewitt

Will ABC's interview of Marianne Ginrich matter in the South Carolina primary?

Will Mitt Romney's wealth and "effective tax rate of 15%" hurt him in the Palmetto State?

Will the endorsement of Rick Santorum by key Evangelical leaders over the past weekend in Texas swing him crucial support on Saturday?

Answers on these questions in a moment, but first a reminder that those are the wrong questions.

This is a 13 state election: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. These are the states into which will pour perhaps as much as two billion dollars in advertising and campaign ground game for they are the states "in play" in the fall. The three questions above should be reframed and asked again: How will those issues play in those states? South Carolina will vote "red" regardless of wh is the GOP nominee in 2012. But if the Republican nominee cannot take most of these 13 other states, he won't be moving into 1600 come January of 2013, and a second four years of President Obama's uniquely destructive presidency will have begun.

ABC's manipulation of the Marianne Gingrich interview, and indeed the network's willingness to even go and get it, also should remind every voter that no subject will be out-of-bounds for the president's legion of pals in the Manhattan-Beltway media elite. Drudge reported yesterday and the New York Times confirmed today that there was an internal debate at ABC over when to air the Marianne Gingrich interview. Some are alleged to have thought it "too close" to the voting in South Carolina, but of course such considerations didn't stop the nets from running with the George W. Bush DUI in 2000 or the Los Angeles Times from sitting on --still, four years into his presidency-- the Rashid Khalidi dinner tape. MSM runs or doesn't run the stories it can control and can manipulate based on very strange calculations that always seem to end up helping the Democrats.

The Bain stories didn't start with MSM, and it wasn't the timetable they or the Obama campaign would have preferred. But they couldn't control the story. The same is true for the tax returns. The drumbeat for Mitt Romney's tax returns began weeks ago, and not just from the MSM but also his opponents. They want to see not whether he is wealthy --he is-- or if he paid his legal obligations --no one doubts that he does-- but whether there isn't some negative stories to be manufactured from data about his life. MSM got on the train because it was leaving, but they would have preferred an October departure date. This is why primaries help prepare GOP candidates prepare for the general election, by flushing out most or all the issues that MSM will have fed to them by the Chicago gang come the final weeks of the contest.

The big endorsement of Rick Santorum by key Evangelical leaders? It didn't get play in the MSM beyond a single day. It didn't interest the overwhelmingly secular media elites, so it didn't have legs.

Fine, I say. That's the way campaigns are run. But correct for the lie of the green. An example: Every time you hear "Romney tax returns," substitute "Obama's college and law school transcripts" and ask yourself why we have never seen how the wizard at Occidental, Columbia and Harvard Law actually fared in class? Would those transcripts matter on how we evaluate his presidency? Of course not. We don't need to know that he wasn't the brightest star in the universe to assess the real damage his limitations and ideology have done the country. But that data might have helped in 2008 when the president was being hailed as the smartest guy ever to run for the presidency. It may have impacted the Obama train if voters had actually possessed had some data on how he actually performed when in settings on which his performance depended on the accumulation, retention and application of fact and theory. A day or two of the news cycle on how the president actually performed in school might have been of great help to Hillary especially back when the early primaries set the Obama train on its tracks. But the questions didn;t get asked, the deamdns were never made, and we still don't some very basic data abut the president's alleged exemplary academic career.

The point today is not what the president did in the classroom 30 years ago, it is that we never got his transcripts in 2008 or even demands for them, but we will get a two-our interview of Marianne Gingrich's years-ago divorce. Just like we will never get a former senior staffer in the Bush White House asking would-be Democratic presidents about whatever is the equivalent to the "banning contraception question," but we do get George Stephanopoulos asking such an inane question at a GOP debate. (Memo to Newt: If the question comes up tonight, reframe it this way: "Why is ABC asking my ex-wife questions when they won't ask the president of the United States about how he did in classes at Harvard Law? Either neither is relevant or both are." The crowd will go nuts.)

For two takes on the Manhattan-Beltway media elites handling of campaign stories, read my interviews from Thursday with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and CNN's John King, who will be moderating the South Carolina debate Thursday night.

What these interviews confirm is that the game is rigged, and not because John King is unfair --he isn't-- or Bob McDonnell was uniquely slammed by the MSM --he wasn't- but because the CNN anchor and the McDonnell campaign in 2009 are just excellent examples of the way big media has evolved in the U.S. It is very far to the left --so far to the left that it is at least partially unaware of how biased it is.

Rigged games can be won, however, and that's the question for tonight, Saturday in South Carolina and January 31rst in Florida (or indeed today in Florida where hundreds of absentee ballots are being cast): Which of the three GOP candidates left standing can win in the fall under these media conditions? With Governor Perry dropping out of the race, the GOP's choices are Mitt, Newt and Rick. Ron Paul doesn't have a prayer of gaining the nomination, so I leave his candidacy aside. Which of these three will play best in those 13 states? That is the question.

We got a glimpse from Quinnipiac polling yesterday, which ran head-to-head match-ups in Ohio. The results: Obama leads Romney by 2 points in the Buckeye State, Santorum by 9 and Gingrich by 14. That's a statistical tie for Romney versus the president and a blow-out for the other two. If the GOP nominee loses Ohio by seven or more points, that's a blowout that would telegraph a national wipe-out, and the Republicans will lose the presidential election and the Senate, possibly even the House.

If the Republican nominee wins the Buckeye State by four or more, a landslide could be developing and the GOP will certainly hold the House and gain the Senate.

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich will argue that they can move those numbers mightily, that they can raise the money and build the networks, and most importantly, take on the president on the issues and crush him in the debates, and perhaps they can.

But if your life, the lives of your family, your fortune and future prospects all depended on the data before you, and you knew how the media would be aggressively assailing whomever is the GOP nominee, which candidate would you support? Got an answer? Then ask if your answer would be the answer of a majority of voters in those 13 states.


Hugh Hewitt

Hugh Hewitt is host of a nationally syndicated radio talk show. Hugh Hewitt's new book is The War On The West.