Newt is different. The first three anti-Romney’s started with little name recognition and, fighting for attention in a crowded field, were perhaps unfairly painted as one or two dimensional: Bachmann (woman; social issues); Cain (pizza man; 999); Perry (Texas governor; lousy debater). Under the media’s glare one or two missteps could be fatal. In contrast Newt has a long history with the media and older voters and fills the room; the debate format of the election cycle has been perfect for him; in response to any criticism there is the “but what about…” reaction. I like Romney, but find myself asking:
1. Would Newt be a good president? Is he smart enough? Check. Does he understand how Washington works? Check. Could he assemble a financial team to address our short term and long term financial problems? Check. Would he project confidence internationally? Check. Would he address the big issues affecting the future of the nation? Check.
2. What about his policy positions? Would he bring fresh thinking to large problems – health-care; immigration? Check. Would he be the House Speaker Gingrich of the 90s with his Contract with America leading the fight for balanced budgets and government reform? Or would he be the private citizen gadfly of the Bush era, advocating for the health-care individual mandate, Medicare Part D, sweeping immigration reform, and housing largesse? Criticism of Paul Ryan’s 2010 budget proposal as “right wing social engineering? – perhaps a plaintive cry for attention; maybe a disqualifying true reflection of orientation. Count on big ideas – liberal or conservative.
3. What about his personal problems? Lobbying for Freddie Mac? – ugh, definitely an “inside the beltway” profiteer, but at least he’s not a banker. Serial matrimonial unfaithfulness? – a problem with the Christian conservatives and women. Americans are not as forgiving as the Italians (Berlusconi) or the French (Strauss-Kahn) unless you are a Democrat (Clinton or Kennedy or Kennedy.) Perhaps his eleven-year marriage to Callista constitutes adequate atonement.
4. Could he win the election? This is really question number one for most Republicans. (For the Democrats who hope that the Tea Party wave has crested, Sorry.) Public polls, as reflected by Real Clear Politics, generally show Romney running stronger by low single digits against Obama nationally and in key states, but there are outlier polls and Gingrich is definitely surging. Expert pundits disagree who would be stronger. Given the Obama campaign’s focus on Romney, it would seem that the White House’s internal polling shows Romney to be stronger opponent and that they would like to help defeat him in the primaries.
With the Iowa caucuses on January 3 and the New Hampshire primary on January 10, the contest will move from Gingrich’s forte of debates to a phase where Romney’s superior fund-raising and ground organization will hold the advantage. For one, I would love to see a series of Gingrich-Obama debates, but not enough roll the dice. The good news is that either would be a fine president.
And a piece of advice for “Newt 3.0″ if he feels a need to break out – “True Financial Reform” is a popular cause looking for a courageous champion.
This week’s bonus is comments on Newt by two well-regarded conservative commentators – George Will and Charles Krauthammer .