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
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C.
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.
UPDATE: Holy Gonzo! Ali came down to breakfast while I was finishing this post, checked his Twitter and discovered:
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.”
- Jan. 18: Newt Gingrich Mysteriously Cancels Press Conference at S.C. State Capitol
- Jan. 17: Who the Hell Does Newt Think He Is?
- Jan. 17: Is Fox News the Problem?
- Jan. 16: SOUTH CAROLINA GOP DEBATE
- Jan. 16: South Carolina Pre-Debate Thread UPDATE: New Rick Santorum TV Ad in S.C. Hits Romney as ‘Just Like Obama’
- Jan. 16: How Low Will They Go? This Low.
- Jan. 16: A Fitting Finale to the Huntsman Flop
- Jan. 16: My Son, the C-SPAN Star
- Jan. 15: Good-Bye, Governor Asterisk
- Jan. 15: VisitMyrtleBeach.com
- Jan. 15: Santorum in S.C. Says Obama Views America as a ‘Mistake,’ Divides Nation
- Jan. 15: Greetings From Myrtle Beach
- Jan. 14: Romney Leads by 21 Points in S.C.?