Will Newt Gingrich once again be savior of the Republican Party? More importantly, can he?
While he may not have thrown his proverbial hat in the ring officially, make no mistake about it — former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will be among Republicans vying for the GOP nomination and the chance to take on incumbent Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012.
Long before President Obama took a seat behind the Resolute Desk, and indeed long before the first vote was even cast five months ago yesterday, I predicted that a Barack Obama victory in 2008 could usher in 1992 all over again. After former President Bill Clinton’s victory over George H. W. Bush, two years of underperforming markets in part led to a radical change of the congressional power structure in 1994. Newt Gingrich and the Contract For America were at the middle of that Republican transformation — why couldn’t he be at the middle of a bigger sea change in 2012?
Every move the former House Speaker makes, whether in response to legislation spearheaded by current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or to speeches or promises made by President Obama, has become more and more calculated as the Democratic Party power base takes America further and further away from the principles set forth by our Framers. Gingrich is making no secret that he plans to inject himself into nearly each and every issue, and has done so artfully and reliably enough to garner attention from conservatives searching for a savior to deliver America from the overreaching policies and projects and plans put forth by Obama’s White House and Pelosi’s Congress.
Just today, for example, Gingrich appeared along with South Carolina Gov.–and likely challenger for the GOP nomination–Mark Sanford on Fox News Sunday where he weighed in on a number of issues, including but not limited to the recent ballistic missile test undertaken by North Korea. All that was missing from Gingrich’s answer? A podium, Barack Obama, a moderator, and a national television audience. From Politico.com:
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told “Fox News Sunday” that he would have disabled the long-range missile before North Korea launched it, saying too many people “do not appreciate the scale of the threat that is evolving on the planet.”
“One morning, just like 9/11, there’s going to be a disaster,” Gingrich said. “I have yet to see the United Nations do anything effective with either Iran or North Korea.”
Reacting to President Barack Obama’s speech in Prague, Gingrich called the plan for a Global Summit on Nuclear Security a “wonderful fantasy idea,” saying Russia and other nations can’t be trusted.
“What are they going to promise, and why would we believe them?” Gingrich said. “It’s very dangerous to have a fantasy foreign policy, and it can get you in enormous trouble.”
Host Chris Wallace asked Gingrich: “So you’re saying that President Gingrich would have taken out that” missile?
Gingrich replied: “There are three or four techniques that could have been used, from unconventional forces to standoff capabilities, to say: ‘We’re not going to tolerate a North Korean missile launch, period.’ I mean, the world’s either got to decide that North Korea is utterly dangerous … I’d recommend, look at electromagnetic pulse, which changes every … equation about how risky these weapons are.”
His “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” mantra became the focal point for Republicans when talk turned to energy issues during the recent presidential election. His book, Real Change, was released in 2008 and evoked, with a soothsayer’s precision, the underlying themes of both the election and its aftermath. His Web site, American Solutions, is reminiscent of an Internet destination developed by a man seeking office, providing an issue-by-issue breakdown of current problems and feasible solutions.
Make no mistake about it — Newt Gingrich will be running in 2012. The question, however, is whether he can win.
I don’t think so.
Obviously, while it cannot come soon enough, the 2012 presidential election is still quite a way off. Certainly, matters of geopolitical import can change overnight. However, my down-in-the-mouth attitude toward a Gingrich candidacy has nothing to do with his command of the issues, with his knowledge of facts, or with the obvious advantages and feasibility of his solutions. After all, if facts, solutions and issue focus mattered, I’m not sure America would be in the predicament she finds herself in now.
The problem with a Newt Gingrich candidacy, sadly, is perception. If Barack Obama were a normal president, given the circumstances we find ourselves in now and only imagining the circumstances in which we’ll me mired after another three years, it might be enough to tout a reversion back to policies which strengthen the United States in terms of our economy, our national security, our morality and more. In that case, appealing to the American public with a message rooted in common sense, optimism, cogent ideas and steadfast principles might be enough regardless of the delivery mechanism. Gingrich would certainly fit that mold. Barack Obama, however, is no normal president. He has followers, disciples, people for which no indiscretion is too egregious, no failure too sacrosanct so as not to be forgiven, or at worst blamed on someone else.
Newt Gingrich, hat in the ring or not, may simply–and sadly–be perceived as “old-hat.”
To win in 2012–not to mention in 2010–the GOP must be able to permeate the iron lung of messianic zeal created by the White House in partnership with the American mainstream press. For any Republican to prevail, confidence in The Chosen One must be shaken and questions must be raised. Those questions, however, cannot simply be raised to the American public, but rather by the American public.
How do you transform a public so willing to bestow divinity but equally unwilling to challenge it? It begins with empathy, and it begins with humility.
Genuine empathy and humility, and more precisely the extreme lack thereof in the American political landscape, is why Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was able to resonate with so many people last fall despite being admittedly in over her head on an issue-to-issue basis. She was the woman juggling a baby and a shopping list in your supermarket, the woman juggling a family, career and mortgage in the house next door. Palin truly may not have been prepared to assume the presidency, but she was your neighbor, your co-worker, your local PTA leader, and she certainly hadn’t failed at anything else.
Newt Gingrich is on the other side of that perceptional spectrum, so far removed from the contexts and concerns of everyday Americans that any amount of empathy and humility, no matter how genuine, will be received as anything but. The middle of that perceptional spectrum was found and dominated by former President Bill Clinton. Clinton, a likeable former Arkansas governor, wagged that smelly index finger at the television cameras and explained how he felt our pain — and millions believed it.
To win in 2012, the GOP must find and nominate a man or woman who similarly resides in the middle of that spectrum, neither too folksy nor too wonkish, someone who can project that genuine empathy and humility while simultaneously fostering the confidence that he or she can do the job and turn things around. Right now, it seems, the known entities among the Republican Party’s pre-season hopefuls find themselves on either one side or the other: Mitt Romney exudes know-how and elicits confidence but lacks commonality, Mike Huckabee resonates with everyday Americans but his flippant likeability and nanny state tendencies work against the inspiration of confidence, Newt Gingrich may have the specifics but he’s the consummate Washington insider, and Sarah Palin is Newt’s opposite.
Thankfully, the Republican Party has a wealth of solid conservatives from which to choose, people like Sen. Jim DeMint, Rep. Paul Ryan, Rep. Mike Pence, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Gov. Mark Sanford, Gov. Bobby Jindal and more, virtual unknowns to the American public able to be shaped and guided toward the middle of that perceptional spectrum without any compromise of principle.
And that, I think, is where Newt Gingrich fits in best. Gingrich should be the man in the candidate’s ear, the shadowy figure at stage left. There is no doubt that, 15 years ago, Gingrich was indeed at the forefront of the resurgence of conservatism in America — this time around, as instrumental as he must be the forefront must be inhabited by someone else.