Whether Newt Gingrich will run for president, and whether he can win the Republican nomination, not to mention the general election against a Democratic rival, is a tenuous set of propositions.
In reality, he has a high set of negatives working against him. His enemies — and they are many — portray him as an ideologue, more motivated by old-line Republican scripture than by political compromise. Opponents also gleefully point to his “dark side,” citing his failed marriages, extramarital affairs and other insensitive behavior, allowing Democrats to point the finger of hypocrisy to smear any Republican who dares to talk about “family values.”
If Mr. Gingrich should decide to enter the race, all of the 1990s baggage concerning his book deals, GOPAC and other scandals would be likewise disinterred to knock him off his perch as a viable candidate.
That said, one can only lament the present state of the Republican Party and its current crop of presidential candidates on the stump in comparison to Mr. Gingrich. When Newt gives a speech, audiences generally stand up and cheer, blown away by his depth of thought and his ability to express his opinions cogently and forcefully.
The other candidates, including those on the Democrat side, sound like so many drones, rehearsed by handlers who feed them reams of talking point memos. Worse, they fall back on cliches and platitudes designed to curry favor with audiences instead of convincing them about their own understanding of the issues.
More pointedly, the other candidates struggle to portray themselves as experienced and ready for the job, with such statements as, “I am a successful businessman and was governor of a state,” or, “I have been in the Senate many years and understand how government works,” or, “I was mayor of New York City and guided it through September 11,” and so on. Though these qualifications might be admirable on a resume, they are merely the bragging rights of professional managers, necessarily qualities but not alone sufficient to be an inspired leader.
This is where Newt is in a class by himself. The most intellectual of any of the candidates, and with the background of a history professor and author, Mr. Gingrich has clearly thought a great deal about government and how it works, how it doesn’t work, and how it could be better once certain elements are reformed.
The other candidates all say, “Elect me president and because of my qualifications, I will do a good job for you.” By contrast, Newt engages the minds of his listeners by saying, “We should change this and this and this, which, if done, might actually make the government effective.”
In other words, Mr. Gingrich presents himself not so much as a person seeking high office than someone who has carefully thought about issues and policies, and how a correctly focused government might impact them, from a conservative point of view. The assumption is, of course, that he would make the best candidate to bring about these changes.
Already Mr. Gingrich has been calling for reform of the nominating procedures, which he sees as a “greedy, stupid process” and a “grotesque dance,” with consultant-scripted candidates showcased entirely in inappropriate forums — a lowbrow pageant that does not serve the country well in selecting the right person for the job.
Mr. Gingrich is also finely attuned to foreign policy, offering expansive, well-thought-out replies to pointed questions to which other candidates seem only to give rehearsed and ineffectual answers.
In a forceful speech at the National Press Club last week, Mr. Gingrich warned about the dangers posed by militant Muslims around the world, and how the present State Department response to it is, at best, schizophrenic (my words), especially in dealing with the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia.
“We’re sleepwalking,” he said, “we’re on the edge of a precipice. The Iranians are desperately trying to build nuclear weapons and they will use them.”
It is unfortunate that the former Speaker of the House — so thoughtful and analytic, and so powerful and inspiring a communicator — should be relegated to the sidelines of the political process offering only commentary.
In explaining her success in politics, Margaret Thatcher said, “First you win the argument, then you win the vote.” At this point, however, it’s not clear how the Republican Party can use Mr. Gingrich’s arguments or Newt himself to best advantage.