An examination of the somewhat bizarre process by which the next Republican nominee for president is being selected — and the current standing of Newt Gingrich in that process.
The process of selecting a Republican presidential candidate to oppose Obama resembles a combination of American Idol and Whack-a-Mole. The contestants compete in preliminary popularity rounds and the people vote via opinion polls. The last idol standing will be the nominee. But during the process, different candidates pop their heads out of their holes, only to be whacked back down by the media – who discover that the candidate: allegedly, sexually harassed women or was inexperienced (unlike Obama, of course) or couldn’t utter a coherent sentence or, worst of all, consulted for Freddie Mac. It’s enough to make one pine for smoke-filled rooms.
The latest “mole” to poke his head out of his hole is Newt Gingrich. Thus far, the whacks administered have not been sufficient to drive him back into the ground. Perhaps that is because an insufficient amount of time has elapsed since the whacking began. But should the bashing of Newt achieve the same effect as it did with Bachmann, Perry and Cain (in that order), there will be no more moles left to whack. Indeed, the other bobble head idols are actually rigid, not movable. Romney has been stuck at 20-25% forever – reflecting the rough percentage of Republican voters who desire a pragmatic, “moderate,” establishment-friendly candidate who will – at best – ameliorate to some extent the harsh consequences of the super-liberal Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda. Paul is stuck at 10% — reflecting the rough percentage of Republican voters who are more libertarian than conservative. And both Santorum and Huntsman are stuck at essentially zero. Neither is going to get his head above ground.
So if Newt gets whacked, then with all the moles buried, Romney wins by default. But the conservative voters of America are truly alarmed at the havoc wreaked by the Obama-Pelosi-Reid wrecking ball. Many see the forthcoming election as an opportunity to historically reverse America’s liberal slide over the last century into a collectivist, social welfare state. Some of them see 2012 as the last opportunity to do so. Mitt Romney is not going to lead the conservative resurgence those voters seek. So perhaps, sensing this, the Idol voters will decide that they might as well choose the last mole standing.
Each of the four moles (i.e., Bachmann, Perry, Cain and Gingrich) has expressed the intention of leading such a conservative resurgence. But three of them have been whacked – and their candidacies appear hopelessly damaged. That leaves Newt.
I was a big Newt fan in the mid 90s. He conceived of the idea of ending the Democratic stranglehold on Congress and, amazingly, he brought it about. The Contract with America was brilliant. It articulated a relatively simple, but forceful program for conservative governance. His accomplishments included balancing the budget and welfare reform. The latter is particularly important. Why? Well, it is widely recognized that the conservative movement rests on a three-legged stool: (i) fiscal prudence and commitment to free markets; (ii) strong national defense; and (iii) traditional values. The latter has a cultural as well as a political component – so, not only a reverence for individual liberty and limited government according to the consent of the governed, but also strong families and communities, a reliance on faith, and a commitment to high morals. Reagan succeeded brilliantly in addressing (ii); he was somewhat successful in (i); but he never touched (iii). Newt did – and if his writing is a guide, he will again. The importance of doing so is addressed by the author in another article.
But alas, Newt had some serious flaws. He could be nasty and haughty and abrupt with people; he was sometimes quixotic in both personal and public behavior; his self-confidence occasionally tipped over into arrogance; and he had lapses in judgment (his global warming commercial with Pelosi, e.g.). He lost his grip on power and faded from the scene. But I continued to read his books and follow his ideas through the 00s. On the printed page, in videos and in personal appearances, he continued to formulate and articulate, in clear and convincing fashion, strongly conservative ideas and policies. He seemed to understand well the damage that the increasingly liberal hegemony was inflicting on the country and he had concrete and workable ideas for reversing the trend.
I recall, as my disappointment with George W Bush mounted, thinking that maybe Newt would be the one we needed. (Actually, from the moment I heard the phrase “compassionate conservative,” I knew that W was not the one.) Sensing that the tea leaves were unfavorable, Newt bypassed 2008. But then, to the surprise of many, he threw his hat in the ring for 2012. My initial reaction was: they’ll crucify him. They didn’t have to; they ignored him. And he didn’t help his cause with early missteps like alienating his staff and criticizing Paul Ryan. Yet, here he is: the last idol – or is it mole – standing. Perhaps it is an accident. Newt was hanging out down in the cellar with Santorum and Huntsman (and Johnson during his brief appearance). Was it pure chance that the Bachmann, Perry and Cain moles popped before Newt?
In fact, I believe something more profound is going on. During the summer, Newt was no better off than Santorum, who is another credible conservative. Why didn’t Santorum pop? The answer is in the Idol process – that is, the debates. It is clear to any dispassionate observer – and even more so to the forlorn conservatives who are paying close attention – that Newt is the sharpest tack in the bunch. He is quick, articulate, clear and commanding. He disarms the moderators, never criticizes his opponents and answers questions confidently, intelligently and crisply. More importantly, he explains the conservative philosophy in memorable terms, and he highlights brilliantly the vast difference between his political/cultural beliefs and those of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid team. He can be a little rough – e.g., when he characterizes the Super Committee process as a “stupid” idea (although events are proving him to be correct). But I believe the Republican electorate is responding positively to him for two main reasons: (i) they believe he easily is the best choice among the idol candidates to defeat Obama in a debate setting; and (ii) he is a reliable conservative spokesman – not a flip-flopper like Romney and far more able than Bachmann, Perry or Cain to explain the conservative agenda. Whether the general electorate will resonate to him remains to be seen.