Newt’s last stand

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 78 views 

Newt Gingrich’s emotional speech following a rare 2012 primary victory in Georgia was imaginative, policy driven, boastful, and enthusiastic — that last once being especially impressive given the relentless campaigning the third-place presidential candidate has subjected himself to.

Unfortunately, nothing else has gone right for the former House Speaker who, despite the frazzled appearance, may be one of the great political talents of his era, which makes his turbulent turns in this race all the more fascinating. Maybe it was his failed notion of placing everything on the Florida primaries. Or the avalanche of negative advertising he has suffered from cable television pundits and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s massive financial advantages. Or maybe it was just the mean-spirited attacks, coupled with the long history (cutting deals with Bill Clinton during his days in Congress, the sad end to said days in Congress, the messy personal life), that led rank-and-file conservatives in search of a different alternative to the Romney machine.

Clearly the GOP base is not in love with Romney, and this despite his campaign’s relentless efforts to remind voters why they should love him despite a deep-down-feeling that seems to keep that from happening. Because Romney can’t quite sell (on an emotional level) the angry conservative speech that one-third of the country is anxious to eat up, it should be no surprise that the electorate has sought out someone else.

Now many Republicans believe that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, whose conservative bona fides are by no means in doubt, is the best choice to run against and debate President Barack Obama this fall.

Forget for a moment Santorum’s reductive views of women’s rights, or his expansive thoughts of religion in the public square, and still other views sure to turn off independents this November, and concentrate on the present. Midwest conservatives — from Oklahoma to North Dakota to Tennessee, and very nearly Ohio — are making a key point: that is, they would rather be wrong with Santorum then right with Romney. That is startling when considering Romney, despite all his faults, still remains the GOP’s best hope of dethroning what is sure to be the best financed reelection effort in U.S. presidential history.

Adding to Romney’s deficit is the South. It is by no means a given that he’ll come away with a single GOP primary victory south of the Mason-Dixon Line before the Republican convention meets in Tampa. (The Virginia primary doesn’t count since Romney didn’t face either of his chief opponents. And neither do the returns in Florida which, with its cosmopolitan/transplant southern half, is atypical of the region.)

Santorum and Gingrich – mainly the former – are likely to own upcoming primary contests in Alabama, Missouri and Louisiana. As network analysts have noted, perhaps this is the region where a victorious Romney begins searching for a running mate. 
In any case, conservative voters in these upcoming primaries have a tough choice.

Romney seems to want to be president more than he seems to have the makings of quality chief executive; Santorum, who, despite his earnestness, might be too rigid in his views and largely lacking of compromise in his DNA to sit in the Oval Office; and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who continues his campaign in search of love from a party that has never known what to do with his strong independent streak.

And then there’s Gingrich, who has an impressive resume, the correct sound and pitch, and strong opinions which together could have made him the prohibitive frontrunner in a different time and place. But the GOP rank-and-file, sure Gingrich can’t win over independents this fall, has made their choice. For better or worse, this has become a two-horse-race between Romney and Santorum, and everything else is background noise. Which means Gingrich is free to bow out any time he wishes.

But there was nothing conciliatory about Gingrich following the March 6 primary romp back in his home state. He spoke at length about energy policy with all the gusto befitting a longtime policy wonk. You could almost see a professor sounding off as much as a politician grasping for his life’s ambition. And yet Gingrich has been around long enough to leave viewers wanting something different, akin to the fever that befell Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign saga. In that instance, the electorate (enough of it, anyway) was enthralled with Obama differentness enough to put him over. Like Obama, Santorum has that going for him now. And while he may not have enough delegates to catch Romney, he clearly has much more support than Gingrich.

Still, the former House speaker appears stoic in the face of doubt. Drawing out this race for several more weeks, if not months, cannot be good for the Republican Party’s chances to take back the White House. Like a play we’ve already read a million times, does it really all come down to personal ego trumping party agenda?

Except … say this is Gingrich’s last race for anything. What if, after this process concludes, the 68-year-old author and academic never seeks public office again. It is his life after all, and his career, and darn if he doesn’t want to go out on his terms.

Perhaps to Gingrich, based on decades of loyal service to his party, he deserves that much.

Gingrich would be right in one sense. He does deserve that much, as do the many elected officials who never get that deserved last victory lap. But pressing on means continuing to split the GOP’s most fervent supporters — and blocking Santorum from a potentially winning coalition. Not quitting also means helping ensure that America has three consecutive two-term presidents (Clinton, Bush, and Obama) for the first time since the early 19th century (Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe).

Newt Gingrich, ever the historian, must be aware that he is doing much to make this mere possibility into a healthy probability.