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It would be a tragic mistake to count any GOP candidate out of the primary race, if recent events are any indication. With the cloud of speculation over potential entrances by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie having dissipated, voters are beginning to re-analyze the candidates who have so far been committed to seeking the nomination. The decline of Governor Rick Perry in the polls, and the rise of Herman Cain, goes to show just unsettled the field still is. Enter former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been considered dead in the water almost as soon as the 2012 race began, especially, as consultants jumped ship early, citing lack of organization and discipline from Newt Gingrich himself.
Yet, on a shoe string budget, left to fend for himself, and having been written off by everyone including Saturday Night Live – which featured a skit of Gingrich being asked if he really wanted to be President by the moderator, to which his impersonator simply replied, “no” and cheerfully left the debate stage – Gingrich has been slowly and meticulously piecing together a sturdy and intellectually formidable campaign. Finally, the results of Gingrich’s effort seem to be paying offwith recent polls showing him holding at an average of 8.2%, and steadily rising.
Last week, I had the fortune of meeting Speaker Gingrich at a screening of his and his wife’s new film, A City Upon A Hill, an event held by the Columbia Tea Party, in Columbia, South Carolina. The movie, a montage of historical scenes from American history, pieced together to highlight its theme of American Exceptionalism; overlaid with narration from Gingrich and numerous other conservative thinkers. Yet Gingrich was the real magnet of the event.
It is not hard to understand why Gingrich is attractive to GOP voters. His conservative record extends decades before the political emergence of the others. He is seen as a hero within the GOP for engineering the “Contract with America” in 1994, giving Republicans their first majority in Congress in forty years. Gingrich’s brain was once described as a “National Treasure,” complimenting his immense intelligence, that judging from this event, is even more impressive in person. Fortunately, his importance was not lost on the attendees; most members of the Columbia Tea Party were above middle age or retirees.
Gingrich’s speech or answers to audience questions was not a compilation of talking points. He didn’t talk down to the voters as other candidates often do, and the audience thanked him with their numerous standing ovations. Gingrich also did not attempt to play to the desires of the crowd, remaining authentic throughout. When asked by an audience member whether he would support the “fair” tax – a popular issue among Tea Party voters – Gingrich politely responded with a “no,” and went into a detailed explanation why not, and his own solution. Yet, this did not affect his support from the audience.
The Tea Party seems to be split on their choice of candidates, but Gingrich is still a contender. On September 26th, Tea Party Nationfounder, Judson Phillips, announced his endorsement for Gingrich, citing electability, conservatism, overall vision, and skill displayed in debates as key motivators. Unfortunately for Gingrich, the form of the Tea Party movement has a number of organizations, and is not very cohesive generally. Phillips’ support only shows that Gingrich still has a fair shot at the nomination. A large number of Tea Party voters are pulling for Hermann Cain as well.
Gingrich himself attributes his success to his demeanor in debates; keeping his campaign positive and focused on the message. He feels the public does not want to see him attacking other candidates. So far, Gingrich has upheld his promise – also known as Ronald Reagan’s11th Commandment to not attack other Republicans – and his exceptional comments during the debates receive favorable acknowledgment from viewers. Tuesday’s Bloomberg TV/Washington Post debate was no exception. Part of the excitement is what he will say when he gets a chance at the microphone, and rarely does Gingrich disappoint.
It is nice to see Gingrich back on track, although he must beware to avoid his old campaign pitfalls. As mentioned earlier, Gingrich’s campaign seems to be run solely on his own persona, and not that of advisers. The floaters visible at this event seemed disorganized and off-putting. Even though they were low level volunteers, it is important for Gingrich to make sure that nothing is holding him back. He may be brilliant and eloquent, but there is still a void in quality campaign tactics.
He revealed to attendees at the next day’s breakfast meet and greet, that he wanted to put together a youth movement for his campaign. His idea focused on getting college and high school organizers talking to their peers about the future of Social Security. For those wondering what careers the future holds for them, as most students are, retirement is not an issue that motivates them into action. Rachel Keane, 17, of Stanley, North Carolina, who will only be old enough to vote in the general election, yet is still remarkably involved politically, remarked “I think Social Security must be an important issue. I am tired of people complaining about it, but not telling me why.” Through my discussion with her and her father, Whit Keane, an entrepreneur, this is not a small matter, as her knowledge of political issues far exceeds many twice her age. Despite this, both expressed that Gingrich’s platform resonates well with them, and that it would be a shame if Republicans overlook such an important political thinker, with such a wealth of knowledge and experience.