In December of last year, Fred Grandy, a former Iowa congressman, called Newt Gingrich the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the 2012 field. He may have had a point.
As Obi-Wan put it to Darth Vader, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” With the comments of the mainstream media, the other candidates, and the Republican establishment, Gingrich, prone to grandiose statements, could be forgiven for thinking there is a grand plot against him. Perhaps it’s because there is. But these efforts may ultimately fail because they give Gingrich just the juice he needs to come working. Gingrich is even planning on giving a “visionary” speech on space, the final frontier, later this week. Gingrich has, according to Scientific American, become one of the nerdiest candidates of the race. Its familiar territory for the man his hometown press once called “Newt Skywalker.”
We’ve been here before with the punditocracy discounting the political talent of Gingrich. Rick Tyler, the longtime Gingrich aide who now heads Gingrich’s Super Pac, made a famously over the top pronouncement, assailing all those who counted Gingrich out. Jonathan Lithgow even did a dramatic reading on Bill Maher’s show, but the joke is now on those who counted Gingrich out and they aren’t laughing.
No less a conservative doyenne than Ann Coulter accused the voters of South Carolina of preferring Gingrich’s “snotty remarks” than Romney’s substance. The lady of the right knows of what she speaks. She criticizes Gingrich for his “glib, cheap shot,” but if Coulter (and the rest of us) can make a career of invective against the media and the Democrats, why can’t Gingrich make a candidacy? Sure, his presidential campaign may not look like other campaigns, but then again Newt Gingrich has never looked like other politicians.
Gingrich’s success is in spite of all the money arrayed against him. Today, from Politico, comes news of how the establishment is, lockstep, trying to ruin Gingrich’s candidacy with a $10 million campaign in the Sunshine State. They will, according to Politico be:
- Hitting Gingrich on the issue of character as “an issue, not a subtext,” a top adviser said. This will include direct references to Gingrich’s ethics troubles in the 1990s, his work for Freddie Mac in recent years and his erratic past. The dirty work of hitting Gingrich on marriages will most likely come from surrogates, not Romney. “Character is a big part of leadership,” Romney said on “Fox News Sunday.”
- Reviving the “unreliable leader” attack that worked so well in Iowa. Remember, the super PAC attack on Gingrich worked marvelously in Iowa, so the Romney camp is eager to return to it. Look for lots of talk about Gingrich’s criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan last year.
- Making private pleas to Washington officials who worked with Gingrich to detail in public how wildly unpredictable he was in Congress. “Newt is a force of destructive energy,” a top GOP official emailed right after Gingrich won in South Carolina. A top Romney official, when asked to lay out the coming argument, managed to smuggle the word “erratic” into three straight sentences. Get used to hearing it.
But each of these arguments will ultimately fail because they can be easily rebutted. “Character is a big part of leadership” will be Romney’s refrain, but how can Romney make that argument when he is so often accused of political opportunism and flip flopping? Surely character demands political courage.
While the Washington elite cares a lot about Newt Gingrich’s harsh comments for Paul Ryan’s plan–which he has since qualified–the rest of us aren’t necessarily persuaded that Paul Ryan’s plan ought to be the only plan on the table. Besides, Gingrich has offered his own solutions to Medicare, based on Ryan-Wyden’s solution. Gingrich has no shortage of ideas on government entitlements and as the only candidate running who engineered a fundamental reordering of government (welfare reform) and who tried, according to a book, titled The Pact, to privatize Social Security and Medicare with Bill Clinton, he has a wealth of experience on that topic.
He has worked to end entitlements and not create new ones, something Romney father of RomneyCare can’t claim. Indeed, Romney’s aides decamped to Washington to help Obama create Obamacare, so he bears at least some of the blame for its paternity. If RomneyCare is a cousin of ObamaCare, it is not a distant one. Romney’s argument that RomneyCare is a state solution and that Obamacare is a federal one is parsing the constitution’s text a little too close. “States’ rights,” to quote Calvin Coolidge–the last Massachusetts conservative to be elected to the presidency–is not a “right to engage in wrongdoing.”
The other major attack on Gingrich is that he is “erratic,” but Gingrich can easily overcome this by saying that he is “unpredictable” and that that unpredictability is exactly what we will need to overcome Obama. Compared to the studied, focused-grouped Romney Gingrich’s approach might even be refreshing. It’s why so many people tune in to Gingrich despite his flaws and why so many people are off put by Romney despite his pedigree. Gingrich “connects,” as we so often hear, while Romney repels.
“Newt is a force of destructive energy,” as a GOP consultant claims (without his name, of course) but maybe the force is strong with him? Who says that destructive energy is necessarily a bad thing? If Gingrich weren’t destructive of existing power structures, the House would never have flipped Republican. And even though he was a hypocrite in his personal life, if Gingrich hadn’t been so single-minded in dislodging Clinton and making values an issue, the evangelical Bush would never have defeated the amoral Al Gore.
Yes, Gingrich resigned his speakership, but so did Margaret Thatcher when the weaker members of her faction defected. Sometimes bold leaders aren’t embraced by their party until much later.
To be sure, Newt Gingrich has his negatives, but Hilary Clinton had higher ones and she was nearly president. His negatives are a result of having all the right enemies.
Gingrich has negatives, well, so what. As Winston Churchill–to whom Gignrich fondly compares himself–would put it, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood for something, sometime in your life.”