Dear Newt: Please Stick Around as Long as You Like
Much has been written about 2012 GOP presidential primary frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich’s weaknesses as candidates.
Less has been written about how they stand up next to each other, and whom the comparison favors. A close look at their records makes it clear that Romney can only benefit from Gingrich staying in the race as long as possible.
Gingrich will likely help Romney in two ways: first, by making Romney seem more conservative to hesitant members of the Tea Party wing of the GOP. This will happen via Gingrich’s patchwork quilt of liberal positions on such issues as Romney’s role at Bain Capital (“Exploitive!”), Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity (“Right-wing social engineering!”), and Nancy Pelosi’s cap-and-trade bill (“Bipartisan!”).
Second, Gingrich may push Romney to the right on some issues, nudging his competitor to come out more forcefully for the conservative aspects of his platform and commit to them more unwaveringly as campaign promises.
(This is in contrast to the advantage Romney gains by Ron Paul staying in the race, which is for Paul to make Romney seem like a spring chicken with a manly laugh instead of an old goat with a girlish giggle.)
Newt’s attacks on Romney from the left will help Romney develop defenses against the charges the Obama campaign will inevitably fling at him in the general election.
And positions on which Gingrich is good—for example, his promise to repeal Obamacare on his first day in office—may spur Romney to take ever bolder stances. If you have any doubts about Romney fulfilling his oath to issue a 50-state executive waiver, Newt’s upping the ante on Obamacare will make it harder for Romney to back down. Newt’s grandiosity, however annoying and impracticable, will prod Romney to promise and act bigger.
(Give Newt credit, I guess, for proposing too many ideas rather than too few. It’s just that voters get suspicious when the ideas include things like giving the moon statehood.)
Newt’s arrogance and intemperance will make Romney seem even-handed and statesmanlike. Take Newt’s petulant refusal to debate Obama in the general election if the events are moderated by “the media.” And they say Newt won’t help build party unity!
What of Newt’s endless, reckless assaults on Romney? Won’t they hurt Romney in voters’ eyes? I doubt it. Being called fickle by Newt is like being called a blowhard by Al Sharpton.
But it’s not only Newt’s venomous attacks on Romney that will drive voters to side with the former Massachusetts governor. Newt’s pathetic justifications for his dips in the polls and poor recent debate performances belie his claim that Romney is the forked-tongue prevaricator in the race. My favorite Newt excuse, on his Tampa debate with Romney last week, is: “I stood there thinking, ‘How can you say these things you know are falsehoods?’ That’s why I was quiet, because there was no civil way to call him out on what was in fact a series of falsehoods that were astonishing.” Because if there’s one thing we know about Newt, it’s that he’d rather be quiet than uncivil!
Or consider this half-baked zinger, which Gingrich offered as a rationalization for why Romney would win the Florida primary: “He can bury me for a very short amount of time with four or five or six times as much money, most of it raised in Wall Street from the guys who got bailouts from the government.”
Let’s unpack this obfuscating, run-on defense, which sounds like something a Democrat would say. Under normal circumstances, we tend to accept that candidates who raise lots of cash have many passionate supporters. Gingrich himself has been bragging about how much cash he raised after his unexpected South Carolina victory. Now suddenly campaign cash is bad?
“A very short amount of time” implies that Romney will best Gingrich in the polls for just a few days, maybe a few weeks—a mere blip in the unstoppable wave of his opponent’s gathering momentum. Um, wait—doesn’t that precisely describe Gingrich’s standing?
As for Wall Street: Which former GOP Speaker of the House supported the September 2008 bank bailout? Why, that’s right—Newt Gingrich!
Gingrich has threatened to stay in the race until the 2012 Republican National Convention in August. I say bring it on.
Romney doesn’t give the GOP exactly what it wants as a candidate, but what he gives us is better than what any of the remaining candidates gives us—and Newt’s presence in the race makes Romney an especially appealing contrast. Rick Santorum obsesses over social issues and is an unreliable fiscal conservative. Ron Paul is terrible on foreign policy. But Newt is in a category of his own: erratic and reckless, bombastic and bloviating, he alienates independents, many conservatives, and probably his own dog.