Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks during a primary night rally Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina.
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Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks during a primary night rally Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina.

Story highlights

Democrat James Carville said Republicans have a disaster on their hands

Ari Fleischer says Carville misses the appeal of Newt Gingrich to working class

He says the former speaker can tap into widespread dissatisfaction with Obama

Fleischer: Gingrich could blow up his chances, but it's possible he could win

Editor’s Note: Ari Fleischer, a CNN contributor, was White House press secretary in the George W. Bush administration from 2001 to 2003 and is the president of Ari Fleischer Sports Communications Inc. Follow him on Twitter: @AriFleischer

CNN —  

Anytime James Carville, Paul Begala and David Axelrod hold hands and jump for joy, it’s worth pondering how to turn their joy into tears.

They’re jubilant – just ecstatic – about Newt Gingrich’s South Carolina victory.

On the eve of the South Carolina primary, Carville opined in a column addressed to GOP leaders, “Let me break it to you gently – you’ve got a first-class disaster on your hands.”

Not to be outdone, Begala blustered in the Daily Beast, “Above it all we can hear the weeping, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth of the Republican establishment as Gingrich’s victory sends them into full-blown panic.”

Ari Fleischer
Courtesy Ari Fleischer
Ari Fleischer

You know what? If Newt becomes the GOP nominee, they might be right. But they also might be wrong. Very wrong.

I get a kick out of Democrats thinking they know how handicap a GOP race. If Democrats were good at thinking like Republicans, they would see the light and stop being Democrats. But instead, Democrats are so bent on seeing Republicans as a bunch of angry, right wing, intolerant, unreliable extremists that they have a track record of missing the mood of the country, especially the sentiment of people who don’t wake up to The New York Times.

Here’s what Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, said just three months before the November 2010 elections: “Really it’s hard to know where the Republican Party ends and the tea party begins. … So it has really caused, I think, a pretty difficult problem for them going into the November elections because they have candidates … on the extreme right-wing fringe who want to end Medicare as we know it, yank the rug – the safety net out from under our senior citizens. I mean, Americans really are going to have a very clear choice set up in November between moderate Democrats who are centrists, where the country is, and Republicans who are really off on the right-wing fringe.”

Three months later, the tea party led Republicans to their biggest mid-term election victory in 72 years, winning a remarkable 63 seats in the House,along with six in the Senate.

And don’t forget in 1980, Democrats were cheering for Ronald Reagan to win the GOP presidential nomination, thinking he was too conservative and too much of a cowboy to appeal to mainstream voters. Of course, Reagan went on to a 44-state, 10-point thumping of incumbent Jimmy Carter.

Leading Democrats, and the most of the media, similarly dismissed the Contract With America and the possibility that voters could elect the first Republican House in 40 years when that took place in 1994, led by their favorite right wing, unsteady extremist, Newt Gingrich.

Given President Barack Obama’s significant problem winning the support of working class, blue collar Americans, I wouldn’t be so jubilant if I were on the other side. Not only is America being led by a president who thinks blue collar Americans cling to their religion and guns, or that the Cambridge police were “stupid” when they did their job, but the economy is bad, unemployment is high and the debt is out of sight. This president, who was elected essentially having the experience of a state senator, is in over his head and is vulnerable to defeat both substantively and personally.

As anyone who knows Newt knows, he indeed could blow himself up and the dancing Democrats may have reason for joy. But I wouldn’t be too quick to discount Newt’s ability to strike a chord with working class, upset with Washington, ready-for-change voters who will overlook Newt’s personal problems because they’re drawn to his blunt, direct, tough talk.

I also wouldn’t so easily discount the possibility that the anti-Obama sentiment and the desire for deep and meaningful change in Washington might propel Newt to a position none of us, myself included, could have imagined two days ago.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ari Fleischer.