FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Why I’m Looking At Newt
I’m beginning to like the idea of a Newt Gingrich candidacy.
I said it.
Seven or eight months ago I would have called the nice guys in white coats if I’d even thought the thought but today it is not only thinkable it may be necessary.
I was just pondering Erick’s early morning post and it struck me that this is where I am:
I do know. And if I must choose between Mitt and Newt, I would choose Newt in a heart beat. It is hard to dislike a guy who can filet his opponent with a smile and a side of fava beans and a nice chianti.
But are we sure he’s the guy?
Battered old infantrymen don’t get invited to a lot of elite parties, especially ones that involve a lot of fun people and really good food, so when I accepted such an invitation last year to a small gathering featuring Newt Gingrich there was no way I was going to turn it down. I’ve never been a Gingrich fan, per se. I loved it when he was Minority Whip and hijacked the nascent power of C-SPAN to excoriate Tip O’Neill’s majority and when he drove Speaker Jim Wright from power. And then there was the metaphorical storming of the castle in 1994. Great theater, to be sure, but against that has to be balanced the failures of 1995 through 1998. Failures that can largely be laid at the feet of Mr. Gingrich.
On a personal level, I found his treatment of the Battle of Gettysburg (Gettysburg, co-authored by Gingrich and William Forstchen) to be much more insightful than 99% of the historical works and wanted to bend his ear about a pet theory of mine.
The party was everything it was billed to be and more.
My key takeaways were: 1) Newt is an extraordinarily smart guy, 2) he knows that, 3) he won’t rest easy until you know that, and 4) he’s not a guy with natural leadership talent. I’ve been in similar environments with (okay, I’ll name drop) Bobby Jindal and John Boehner and they both fill a room with their presence and have the rare ability to make you think they are really interested in the point you’re making, regardless of the merits of the point.
The other thing that was really obvious is that he is an idea generating machine. The man has the savant’s ability to tie together disparate threads and weave a convincing narrative and seemingly plausible ideas from those threads. Note I said “seemingly plausible.” This set my teeth on edge because I served under a couple of guys like that in the Army and they kill organizations. A constant stream of ideas from the boss will just flog an organization into numb indifference. You stop doing anything because before you can accomplish Idea A you’ve received directions for implementing Idea N. Or as General Sir Alan Brooke said of Churchill, “Winston had 10 ideas every day, only one of which was good, and he did not know which it was”.
When he intimated he was going to create an exploratory committee for a prospective presidential run early in 2011 I had two thoughts 1) he’s kidding, right? and 2) he has a new book coming out.
As the campaign season began, I was a resigned if unenthusiastic Romney supporter. But, as I feared, the people fluffing Romney were so odious that supporting Romney during the primaries became impossible.
My personal choice is Rick Perry for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately for the country, there are a lot of people out there who correlate glibness with intelligence. It’s a false correlation on a lot of levels. I’m afraid, however, Rick Perry blew a winning hand with his debate performances. Anyone who says he is dumb should evaluate where they are in their career versus where Perry is before slinking away in shame but one of the features of our age is that a meme can be created in seconds and no amount of effort will change that. As the poet said:
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
So while I hope Governor Perry can pull this out, I’m not willing to bet $10,000 on it.
This leaves me between Romney and Gingrich.
The more I see of Romney the less there is to like. His much touted business experience amounts to serving a company which specialized in the financial equivalent of Arab slave raids rather than creating products and jobs. I don’t see his business experience as being superior to that of Gingrich who has developed several successful companies. Romney’s tenure as Massachusetts governor was not only not conservative but it was disastrous for the State GOP. When Romney took office in 2003 the Massachusetts House had a 136D/23R mix. By his last year in office that mix was 141/19. While one can argue that nominating liberal judges, supporting gay marriage, initiating carbon caps, and imposing a health insurance mandate were all mitigated by Romney — I think that is booshwah but I’ll stipulate it for this essay — one thing that was his responsibility as governor was electing Republicans. There is no way to blame the decimation of the Massachusetts GOP on anyone else.
What we’re left with in Romney is a clear picture of a man with no guiding principles beyond self interest. That is a recurring theme at Bain, as Massachusetts governor, and in now two runs for the presidency. He seems by all accounts to be a pleasant guy, unless you actually refuse to genuflect in his presence as Brett Baier discovered, and good family man. Of course, if you’re his dog, you better learn to like the view from the roof of his car.
I have a lot of doubts about Gingrich. He has a self destructive tendency. He has hubris by the truckload. He does not, in my estimation, build deep loyalty in his staff. Infidelity… While his changes in positions, to me, are mitigated by the fact that his bread and butter since 1998 has been in being quotable and provocative. This stands in contrast to Romney’s innumerable positions which were taken either while he was running for office or in the single instance in which he was actually elected to something. But still I do have concerns over what next great idea a President Gingrich may come up with. Different contexts and different causes for worry.
Beating an incumbent is always difficult and Obama looks to be the most beatable incumbent since Jimmy Carter. But we always have to keep in mind that we are defending a House majority and we are within striking distance of taking the Senate in 2012 as well as trying to take the presidency. Which, between Gingrich and Romney, will do the best job of winning seats down ballot. There is no question. Gingrich ended a half century Democrat monopoly in the House. Romney could not run for re-election in Massachusetts. Yes, Romney is not a professional politician but it is the voters not Romney that have seen to that.
In the final analysis, I think Gingrich will become a street brawler in order to win and I think Romney thinks the position is owed to him. Against Barack Obama I know who wins and in the final analysis we are in this to win.