TheDC’s Jamie Weinstein: Newt delivers potentially game-changing performance

If former House Speaker Newt Gingrich does the impossible and somehow defeats Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination, analysts will look back and say the upset was sparked Monday night at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

The knowledgeable, rhetorically gifted Newt Gingrich conservatives love showed up at the Fox News/Wall Street Journal debate and shook the house. Instead of shining by attacking Romney, he thrived by battling his old antagonists: the “elite” media and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Asked by debate co-moderator Juan Williams whether he could understand why his comments that “black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps” and that “poor kids lack a strong work ethnic” and perhaps should “work as janitors in their schools” were insulting to Americans — especially African-Americans — Gingrich dismissed the notion out of hand.

“No, I don’t see that,” he said bluntly to wild applause.

“New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union. You could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out,” the former House Speaker said.

“They would actually have money in their pocket. They would learn to show up for work. They could do light janitorial duty. They could work in the cafeteria. They could work in the front-office. They could work in the library. They would be getting money which is a good thing if you’re poor. Only the elites despise earning money.”

Williams followed up by asking Gingrich to respond to emails that suggested Gingrich intended to “belittle the poor and racial minorities” with his words.

“Well, first of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history,” Gingrich responded to more cheers.

“Now, I know among the politically correct you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable. Second, you’re the one who earlier raised a key point: The area that ought to be I-73 was called by Barack Obama a corridor of shame because of unemployment. Has it improved in three years?  No. They haven’t built a road, they haven’t helped the people, they haven’t done anything.”

“So here’s my point,” he concluded. “I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness. And if that makes liberals unhappy, I am going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn some day to own the job.”

The crowd again erupted, rewarding what sounded more like a sermon than a debate answer with what pollster Frank Luntz later said was the first standing ovation he had ever witnessed during a presidential debate.