With Speaker Gingrich having won South Carolina, and now polling ahead of Gov. Romney in Florida and nationally, there is one question that keeps popping up. What is it about Newt Gingrich that conservatives voters find appealing? Rush Limbaugh has at least part of the answer:
To those of you in the Republican base, this isn’t complicated. Newt is winning. He is on a momentum roll here because he can articulate conservatism, that and he’s willing to take it to Obama. I have said for the longest time that whoever does that, whoever articulates conservatism with passion, with love, cause that’s love of country, with good cheer. Conservatism is inclusive. Somebody who can articulate it happily, proudly, with good cheer cannot be beat.
Rush is right, Newt articulates conservatism. He does it very well and he rarely misses an opportunity to do so in grandiose fashion. This in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal. In all honesty, articulating conservatism isn’t all that hard, especially when our focus is leaning more and more towards conservative populism.
What makes this interesting is that Newt has managed to win by articulating conservatism while having a considerable record of apostasies. Newt isn’t an empty vessel as Rush suggests. No, he is a vessel filled to the brim with ex-wives and mistresses. Newt is a man who sat on a couch with Nancy Pelosi, who favored an individual mandate, who, for all intents and purposes, lobbied for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
So what is it about Newt that allows the conservative voter to so easily look beyond these betrayals?
I attempted to answer this question in a series of tweets last night. To my surprise, Ben Domenech gathered up my tweets and put them in this morning’s Transom. To even greater surprise, Peter Robinson then quoted me in a post at Ricochet.
From @Aaron_RS: “I think much of Newt’s appeal is that he is on a journey of redemption, and the people want to believe they are as well. His conversion, and the broader idea of Americans being able to bounce back. His story fits the mood. You add the redemption theme to Newt being able to appear confident and communicate ideas to people, and you have a result like SC. Mitt, on the other hand, has no redemption story because to repudiate any past position is to admit he was wrong. In the end, Newt is more optimistic while being honest and that goes a long way in building trust. Mitt isn’t getting that benefit.”
Romney, in other words, is the diligent older brother, the one who has behaved himself all his life and just can’t understand why he doesn’t get more credit.
Newt? Newt’s the prodigal son–a sinner like everyone else.
The idea of redemption being a compelling force in this cycle isn’t really all that far fetched. The last decade has left many people wanting redemption. Whether it is because of the war taking its toll, the economy tanking, or the less than subtle feeling that Orwell’s boot is stomping on our human faces forever; the reality is that a lot of people in America are looking for some sort of redemption, political, economic, and even spiritual. And they are getting it vicariously through Newt’s candidacy.
To be clear, Gingrich is not the redeemer, he is but one of the many seeking redemption. And that, when looked at in the right light, is humanizing and, as odd as this may sound, akin to humility. His candidacy revolves around a symbiotic relationship with the angst the voters are expressing. This was made clear last night when the audience was disallowed the opportunity to provide instantaneous feedback. Newt was thrown off his game by not being able to interact with the audience.
Add to this the fact that Newt isn’t simply seeking redemption, he is willing to fight for it by articulating conservatism, and you start to see why his likability is increasing and his negatives are dropping.
We won’t know until later whether this story ends with actual redemption, both personal and national, or if it ends with another betrayal. That said, the circumstances that exist today have made people less apprehensive towards taking this leap of faith.
As for myself, I haven’t decided whether I can support Newt, or that I could defend him for four years. But like Rush said in the transcript I linked at the beginning:
I trust the Republican base. That’s who I trust. I trust the Republican voters. I’m totally confident with them. They are the people in this audience. Why wouldn’t I trust them? They’ll figure this out. They’re not a bunch of brain-dead, mind-numbed robots. This is how democracy works. It’s how representative Republicanism works. It’s what we’re trying to hold onto, for crying out loud.
Aaron B. Gardner