The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Fear & Loathing: Breakfast of Champions UPDATE: Rick Santorum Wins Iowa; Perry Will Quit and Endorse Gingrich

Posted on | January 19, 2012 | 40 Comments

The National Affairs Desk at McDonald’s in Greenville, S.C.,
11:10 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2012

My 13-year-old son Jefferson and I got back here at 2:30 a.m, and woke up Ali Akbar, in whose hotel room we’re crashing through Saturday. The topics of discussion were (a) the Republican primary and (b) why Tabitha Hale hates me. But we didn’t talk long, because I was so dead tired that despite a day spent guzzling coffee I soon fell asleep.

Wednesday was one of those days when I wish I’d stuck with that forklift-driving job I had before I got into the news business. We set out early for the scheduled Newt Gingrich press conference in Columbia that didn’t happen.

After blogging about that debacle, we headed back on the road to Rock Hill, where Mitt Romney was scheduled for a 3:15 p.m. rally at Winthrop University. We got there in time, but Mitt was late — it was 3:44 p.m. before they finally introduced the singer who would perform the national anthem. We didn’t stick around to hear Mitt because we were due in Spartanburg for a Rick Santorum town-hall event at 5 p.m.

Do a Google Map search for directions from Rock Hill to Spartanburg and imagine, dear reader, what feats of vehicular prowess were required to drive that route in barely an hour. Somewhere between McConnells and Jonesville, we were just one special-effects stunt away from remaking Smokey and the Bandit.

Alas, there were no open drawbridges to jump.

People wonder why I drive this way and I answer that I have no choice. It’s not just professional necessity, although the need to save time from Point A to Point B is a strong argument in favor of high-speed driving. And there is also the hereditary factor, the hillbilly NASCAR gene that inspires me to drive like a moonshiner fleeing revenuers. More than either of those factors, however, the reality is that when you have to drive a lot of miles — and our total mileage yesterday was 479 miles — driving fast helps relieve the inevitable fatigue. It’s not just the adrenalin rush of taking tight curves on a two-lane road at 75 mph, but also the constant keen-eyed vigilance necessary to avoid unpleasant encounters with law enforcement.

So we got to the Rick Santorum town-hall event in Spartanburg and, with apologies to the senator, it was one of the dullest such events I’ve covered during this long campaign trip that began when I flew into Cedar Rapids the day after Christmas. And the very dullness of it caused me to change my plan.

What I had originally planned to do Wednesday was to finish the day with that 5 p.m. event, find a McDonald’s (where the free WiFi is a traveling blogger’s best friend) and write my American Spectator column before heading back to Charleston. But we’d missed both Newt and Mitt and this boring Santorum event wasn’t much in the way of news. There was one more event on Santorum’s schedule, however: An 8 p.m. appearance at the Pro-Life Presidential Forum in Greenville. So I asked directions from a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer — who had his 4G iPhone handy — and we set off.

When we arrived at the Greenville Hilton, I realized this was perfect. The parking lot was full of vehicles with Ron Paul bumper stickers and the chartered bus by which the Gingrich campaign transports its vast press corps — yes, he has a bus just for the reporters exclusively covering him — was parked by the hotel entrance. It hadn’t dawned on me when I’d seen this event on Santorum’s schedule that the  forum sponsored by Personhood USA was a multi-candidate affair. Newt, Santorum and Rick Perry all spoke in person, while Paul appeared via a live satellite hookup from Washington.

So we went inside and sat in the back row, amid several other reporters, and I opened up my laptop to take notes. But then I glanced at the screen of the laptop of a reporter sitting in the row ahead of me and saw a headline at Drudge that turned out to be the lead of my column:

GREENVILLE, S.C. — While Newt Gingrich was onstage Wednesday night at the Pro-Life Presidential Forum here, journalists in the back of the Hilton Hotel ballroom were learning — via their laptops, iPads, and cell phones — that Matt Drudge had just broken an exclusive story that might completely change the race for South Carolina’s crucial Republican primary.
“NEWT EX-WIFE UNLOADS” was the banner headline, linking to Drudge’s own report that Gingrich’s ex-wife Marianne had given a two-hour interview to Brian Ross of ABC News with “explosive revelations.” According to Drudge, there was a debate about the “ethics” of airing the interview prior to Saturday’s primary vote here, but the Associated Press subsequently reported that ABC is “likely” to broadcast it late Thursday night on the network’s “Nightline” program. According to the Washington Post, an ABC spokesman has indicated the network will release excerpts from the interview during the day on Thursday.
Depending on what that interview contains, its potential to have a last-minute impact on the South Carolina primary results is difficult to calculate. However, no one can doubt that it may devastate Gingrich’s prospects to become the “Anybody But Mitt” candidate whom many conservatives have hoped would prevent the nomination of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. And it is just one of many twists and turns in the hard-fought campaign here in the state where Republicans proudly boast, “We pick presidents.”

Read the whole thing and keep in mind under what conditions it was written. By the time we got to the nearest McDonald’s, it was 9 o’clock, and the dining room of McDonald’s closes at 11 p.m. So I had two hours to finish that column — more than 1,000 words long — summarizing and analyzing the key developments in the South Carolina campaign. And I got it finished (including a quote from a Santorum supporter who had just happened to be eating at the same McDonald’s) just about the time the manager came over and told me it was time to lock up for the night.

All I needed enough time to get on my e-mail program and send the column to my editor, but the Internet connection had timed out (as it does after two hours) and they were ready to clear the dining room. But the guy mopping the floors told me that, if I sat right outside the door, I could still reach the WiFi signal, so that’s what I did. Lisa Graas called while I was sitting on the sidewalk, and we talked for a few minutes while I got hooked up to the WiFi again, and then Jefferson took a picture — the one at the top of this post — to capture the sad reality of the “glamorous” life of a freelance campaign correspondent.

Once I’d sent the column, we got back in the car, stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank and started the 207-mile drive back here to the hotel. I decided to give Ali a call and tell him we’d be arriving in the wee hours, and when he answered the phone, there was a lot of noise in the background. “I’m in a bar in Charleston. Everybody’s here, man. Tabitha Hale says ‘hello.'”


While I was toiling in a desperate last-minute rush to hit deadline at McDonald’s in Greenville, Ali was partying with Tabitha in Charleston. Because I’m “Not Good Enough for BlogCon.”

The ironic indignities of my vagabond existence are such that it’s best not to think too much about it. I woke up before 7 a.m. today, after about four hours sleep, and brought my laptop down here to the hotel lobby to eat the complimentary breakfast and write this account of what I did Wednesday. Just so you know that I’m not imagining all this savage craziness.

You really should hit the tip jar.

UPDATE: Holy Gonzo! Ali came down to breakfast while I was finishing this post, checked his Twitter and discovered:

A. The final count in Iowa shows that Rick Santorum won by 34 votes; and
B. Rick Perry has decided to drop out and endorse Newt.

This last bit of news contradicts my column, where I said an early dropout by Perry “seems unlikely, given that Perry has in recent days made pointed references to the Alamo, where Texans famously fought to the death.” But things that are “unlikely” have a tendency to happen when the going gets weird and the weird turn pro.

There’s no time to analyze either of these developments now, because I’ve got to shower and get ready for an 11 a.m. Perry press conference. Ali quoted me in a Tweet: “Ali, it didn’t get weird til you showed up. Just a coincidence I’m sure.”



  • Opinador Compulsivo
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  • Finrod Felagund

    Interesting, Erick Erickson called on Perry yesterday to drop out and endorse Newt.

    Whoops, you already covered that in your American Spectator article.

  • Finrod Felagund

    I don’t put too much stock into what bitter ex-wives say.  You should hear what my ex says about me; she makes Bill Clinton look like an honest man.

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  • richard mcenroe

    You should when Gingrich fails to even contest it rather than face discovery, as he did.

  • richard mcenroe

    Longtime Gingrich Supporter Welcomes Him Back…

  • Anonymous


    I shall say it one more time: Get thee a 4G Internet whatsit.

    Heck, just get a SPONSOR for a 4G whatsit. Maybe one of the companies that offers them, or maybe a Tip Jar regular who’d be willing to just pay the bill and have the thing sent to you in return for a small “sponsored by” notation in the sidebar.

    Imagine the time and mileage savings — and the scoop potential when something’s breaking and you’re looking for a McDonald’s while all those rich MSM types are just pulling out their iPhones or whatever —  of being able to blog from anywhere with cell coverage without having to look for a free-Wifi restaurant.

    You pull off a lot of good stuff. Sometimes even great stuff. And sometimes 20 minutes of driving around while others get the jump on you can be the difference between the former and the latter.

  • richard mcenroe

    Great minds think alike.  How we wound up on the same sheet of music, I dunno…

  • ThePaganTemple

    It gets worse. There were seven or eight precincts that didn’t turn in their vote totals. Clearly the precinct leaders or whatever you call them didn’t like the results, so they “lost” them. That Romney, he sure does have some deep pockets doesn’t he?

  • Anonymous

    We need not agree with each other — or for that matter with Stacy — on politics in order to notice that he’s a helluva a writer and one of the hardest-working people in the journo biz right now, and want to see him properly equipped to keep getting the job done.

    Stacy is the Private Joker of political journalism. He’s silly and he’s ignorant, but he’s got guts, and guts (and a 4G modem … and a black Mustang … and a wife who will put up with it) is enough.

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  • Pathfinder’s wife

    Oh, I don’t know; I read an article on it this morning, and it wasn’t just philandering.
    The guy came across looking like an ammoral, bullying pig (which may indeed be an accurate character portrait).

    First thing I could think is “well, this won’t play well with traditional religious folk”…now I’m thinking “this won’t play well with women” either…”and some men aren’t going to like it as well” (I’ve met a few men who were victims of the wife who wanted an open marriage — it was awful, what a terrible thing to do to your spouse, the one you love’s heart).

  • Anonymous

    But, we are told that the “fix isn’t in” by our Republican “betters.”  Its just our bitterness, right? 

  • steve benton

    CONGRATULATIONS!!!! YOU HAVE JUST WON MITT ROMNEY  AS YOUR CANDIDATE!!!! Let me say that slowly…. Mitt Romney. As far as I am concerned, we deserve  a candidate like a Mitt Romney. You reject a real conservative, and you waddle around with Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and other various and sundry little league candidates. Malkin should be proud as well. Nice job electing the rino, Stace.

  • Mike G.

    Wish I’d known you were going to be this close. I’d have made the drive to meet up with ya. ‘Course, about the time you were pulling into Spartanburg, The wife and I were still at the shooting range popping holes in silhouette targets. But Greenville is only 40 miles east of where I lay my hat.

    I’ll be in Columbia tomorrow for a couple of hours or so in the early afternoon.

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  • Quartermaster

    From what I understand, most swingers have been divorced at least once. Personally, if you aren’t going to be exclusive in your relationship, then there’s no reason to be married anyway.

  • Quartermaster

    But Romney is no where near as powerful as Bush. I’d like to see him affecting things after being out of office like Bush has.

  • Finrod Felagund

    The thing is, if you talked to my ex-wife, she’d tell similar stories about me.  She could talk about how my now-fiancee moved in with her and me while we were still married, and never mention how that was her idea in the first place.  She’d also never mention how she encouraged said relationship so that she could go off on weekends and do her own thing by herself, and wouldn’t have to hear me complain about never getting to spend a weekend with her.

    Three sides to every story, as the old album puts it.

  • Mike Rogers

    Great picture. Please congratulate Jefferson on capturing the moment.
    When I first saw the picture, and read the words about improbable feats of driving, my first thought was that you were writing from a jail cell in Hazzard County for bodacious crimes against dirt roads in a beat up Dodge Charger!
    Then I realized that it is in fact a statement of freedom- those yellow bars cannot imprison the wifi signal, and neither rain nor sleet nor dead of night can keep Stacy from meeting the Spectator deadline. They REALLY should pay you more!

  • Mike Rogers

    And great vindication!
    In one morning, the phantom menace melts away, and Santorum gets to declare a real win in Iowa!
    Now, if Newt would just bow out and endorse Santorum…… (well, you can dream, can’t you?)

  • ThePaganTemple

    I can afford to wait a while before casting an irrevocable judgment. If by the time the winner-take-all primaries take place sometime in March (or is it April) then if the choice is down to between Mitt and Gingrich (or Mitt and Santorum) and Mitt wins fair and square, I might be able to accept Mitt. But if this current bullshit keeps up and we keep a conservative vote divided between Santorum and Gingrich, and Mitt glides on in there with appreciably less than fifty percent of the total vote, I’m not supporting him. By March or April, Newt or Rick one or the other needs to do the right thing and drop out if the other one has the momentum. Anything else and I’ll look at the lesser candidate as a stalking horse from that point on. Ron Paul of course is irrelevant as the number of votes he takes from the other candidates will be negligible-at best.

  • ThePaganTemple

    Why should he do that? He’s ahead of Mitt now in some polls in South Carolina, he just picked up Rick Perry’s endorsement, which should be good for at least one or two percent more, and probably more than that, and on top of that Santorum is either tied or behind Ron Paul, way down below Newt, and Mitt.

  • Mike Rogers

    Tongue-in-cheek comment for Stacy’s benefit 🙂
    Right about now, the winning strategery would be for Santorum to make a pact to be Newt’s veep (and conscience), and the two of them to
    take out Romney and Paul.

  • Adjoran

    The difference being we know for a fact what sort of fellow Gingrich is.  He’s abandoned two ill wives to marry employees with whom he’d been having affairs.  He has the ethics of a snake and is vain and arrogant. 

    Of course, what she says must be judged through the filter of the whole situation but that doesn’t mean it can be dismissed out of hand.

    Some of the reports were saying there was no blockbuster, which makes me wonder why she said that years ago.

  • Adjoran

    The fact is there was no great candidate for us this year, including Palin – her high negatives are less understandable than Newt’s, but no less real.

    Now look back and pick out the great candidates for President – in either Party – since WWII, and you may begin to see the problem.

  • Adjoran

    My first thought was, “Which county paints their jail bars yellow?”

  • ThePaganTemple

    I don’t think Santorum should drop out either at this point. But I do think Newt or Rick, one of the two, should drop out by the time the winner-take-all primaries commence.

  • Adjoran

    If he’s going to be Newt’s conscience, he’s going to need a whole different set of values.  “Newt-centrism,” you might call them.

  • Finrod Felagund
  • Adjoran

    One will.  After February – now almost a “Bye Month” thanks to Florida – the cost just for traveling to all the states is going to rise beyond what someone can raise.

  • richard mcenroe

    Ohhh, she left him because he cheated on while she was sick; why, Newt’s the real victim here!

    Never mind running out on his wives, he ran out on an entire Congressional district that had just elected him.

    The ‘man’ quits when it counts.

  • Pathfinder’s wife

    Kind of goes back to what Quartermaster just said: if you know, in your heart of hearts, that you are not someone who can remain constant, then don’t get married again, and again, and…

    No matter what, the optics don’t bode well at the very least.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, Richard, why should Marianne’s daughter know better than you that the “sick wife” story is a LIE.

    And God forbid you should let 5 seconds of Google interfere with the narrative.

  • ThePaganTemple

    Larry Sabato told me last night over Twitter via private message that six of the precincts were Santorum’s and two went for Paul. So there you have it. Two of Romney’s closest rivals in the caucuses got cheated out of some votes.

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