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The New Hampshire primary solidified the idea that there are three major factions in the Republican Party: social conservatives, libertarians, and fiscal conservatives. These three groups represent different ideas, different sections of the country, and different priorities, and each group really does not think highly of the others. The South Carolina Primary placed the spotlight on social conservatives; and no surprise, Newt Gingrich, a social conservative and former Speaker of the House from neighboring Georgia won the contest.

While it was highly unlikely that Mitt Romney a Mormon, Ron Paul a staunch libertarian, or Rick Santorum, who has been very behind in fundraising, were going to carry the first primary in the heart of the Bible Belt. What was surprising about this contest was the margin of victory by Newt Gingrich and the apparent lack of concern from South Carolinians about Newt Gingrich’s moral indiscretions.

The leading story in the days prior to the South Carolina Primary was the revelations from Newt Gingrich’s former spouse about his past moral indiscretions, and then Speaker Gingrich attacking debate moderator John King for beginning the debate with questions about these issues, which illustrated a clear lack of contrition on the part of Speaker Gingrich. While it has been known for years about Speaker Gingrich’s past, what made these revelations different were the details.

Moral indiscretions, particularly those that are sex-related, have always been important to social conservatives, who are a core constituency in South Carolina for Republicans. It was moral indiscretions that indirectly led to President Clinton’s impeachment, and him almost being removed from office, which was championed by Speaker Gingrich. During that same time Speaker Gingrich’s replacement, Rep Bob Livingston resigned as Speaker-Elect of the House of Representatives because of the same type of issues. In the current election, a month prior to the South Carolina primary, Herman Cain dropped out of the race because of a series of allegations regarding his sexual indiscretions.

Social Conservatives place sex-related issues such as abortion and gay marriage ahead of fiscal issues, so in a sense it was surprising that Speaker Gingrich maintained strong support among this community despite these allegations.

One of the reasons may be that the Republican field is still weak; even with Rick Perry, John Huntsman, Michelle Bachman, and Herman Cain out of the race, there really is not a conservative left in the race who effectively blends each of the three factions of the Republican Party. It appears that South Carolinians stuck with Gingrich because of his strong appeal to social conservatism and him being more viable than Rick Santorum, who has failed to leverage his victory in Iowa to respectable performances in other states. Newt Gingrich’s challenge going forward is convincing many conservatives outside of the south that he is a viable candidate for the presidency, via fundraising and getting major endorsements, and shedding his image of inflammatory and divisive politics.

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