Newt’s Back, This Time With Forward Momentum

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Last May, on the eve of Georgia’s State GOP convention, I asked if the Newt Gingrich that would address the local faithful could demonstrate through word and action what he has learned since his exit from elected politics. There is little question that Gingrich is a bright man, and what he knows is not in question. But what he had learned from mistakes made in his public and personal life were a lingering issue. A week later, we had a preliminary answer.

Following his speech to the Georgia GOP, he began a week that included torpedoing Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposals on Meet The Press, was “glitter bombed” at a book signing, and asked by an Iowa voter on camera when he was going to get out of the race to quit embarrassing himself. He responded to his stumble by taking a Mediterranean cruise during which virtually his entire staff quit. It was, by any objective measure, a horrible official start to a campaign.

The result was a loss of momentum, endorsements, and fundraising. Former Governor Sonny Perdue switched his support to Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty without as much as a phone call to Gingrich. With fundraising drying up, there was not a quick move to replace staff, and the campaign soon announced debt of roughly $1 Million. Gingrich, as John McCain had done 4 years earlier, was reduced to flying commercial for campaign appearances usually without staff in tow.

As Gingrich faded to the background, Tim Pawlenty was unable to capitalize on his newfound supporters. He withdrew from the race after a dust up with Michelle Bachmann prior to the Ames Iowa straw poll which left her in the spotlight and his campaign hemorrhaging cash. On the day of the straw poll, national numbers placed Bachmann on par with Mitt Romney as the front runners in the GOP race. Less than a week later, Rick Perry was a candidate and the presumed front runner, also having poll numbers comparable to Romney. Thirty days later, Herman Cain had the same supporters, with Bachmann’s campaign on life support and Perry fighting for 4th place with Gingrich.

Anit-“Establishment” Republicans have been searching for a “Not Mitt Romney” candidate since this race began. Romney, for his part, has been dutifully bouncing between 25 and 30% in national polls. That’s enough to call him a front runner, but leaving 70% of GOP voters available for anyone else. Romney has yet to demonstrate he can attract the supporters when other candidates stumble.

I wrote at least 3 columns and appeared on Atlanta news 5 times to discuss Gingrich’s early troubles. While never specifically saying his campaign was over, I distinctly remember telling WXIA that I didn’t see his path to the nomination. There were too many other candidates with something to offer. Yet this changed with Cain assumed the “front runner” mantle several weeks ago.

Gingrich, rather than attack Cain in any way, has been especially cordial. While going out of his way to be kind to Cain, is also ensuring that he is not alienating Cain’s base of supporters. Earning their support will be crucial if they ultimately decide not to vote for Cain, or if his troubles continue to grow to the point that he is no longer a viable candidate.

The two candidates from Georgia have both placed markers to be the “ideas” candidate. Gingrich, however, is an experienced politician who understands Washington and how to run national campaigns. Cain continues to have difficulty answering basic questions, and has a campaign manager who would probably be the issue in the campaign had accusations of past sexual harassment not hijacked Cain’s message last week.

I had the opportunity to meet with Gingrich in Atlanta last week, and it is clear things have changed in the campaign. He is again surrounded with staff, and there is a certain buzz & energy about their business. New polls show Gingrich in third place, behind Cain and Romney, but ahead of Perry and the others. There also seemed to be the discipline that was so lacking under the former structure. Gingrich is once again poised to make a move in this race.

For this to happen, however, he must convince the voters currently backing Cain, Perry, and Bachmann that he can be the “anti-establishment” candidate. I asked him how someone who was once Speaker of the House becomes anti-establishment. He reminded me that real conservatism is anti-establishment, just as Reagan was the anti-establishment candidate when he ran, and further argued that Reagan was still anti-establishment when he left office. He believes the ideas in his new Contract With America are sufficiently anti-establishment, and that as voters learn about them, he’ll be able present a choice that is a break with the status quo.

Newt left Atlanta to attend a debate with Herman Cain Saturday evening. I was probably one of the few in the South who tuned in to C-SPAN instead of CBS for Alabama-LSU or ESPN for Arkansas-South Carolina. The display was kind to both, but kinder to Gingrich. It was clear that the philosophies of both candidates were similar, but the grasp of the issues and the mastery of debate nuance were on the side of Gingrich.

Time, however, is no longer on Gingrich’s side. There are less than 3 weeks until Thanksgiving, when voters will mostly turn their thoughts to family and friends until Christmas. Iowa holds their caucuses during the Sugar Bowl on January 3rd. Gingrich has managed to overcome his initial rough start, and is in position to be “not Romney”. Cain’s rough week combined with Perry’s inability to stabilize his campaign and frame a direct message is providing an assist.

Questions remain about Gingrich’s electability, and those will be addressed in a follow up column. For now, however, the fact is that he is at least in as good or better position as Perry or Cain to win the nomination, and is fast closing the gap with Romney. While time is not on his side, momentum is. That is the race that matters for Gingrich at the moment.

20 comments

  1. John Konop says:

    In all due respect Charlie, Newt is a very bright guy who throws red meat at the base to look like an outsider. Does you really think Newt can run as an outsider? How will Newt explain to the TEA PARTY base that he is the father of individual mandates in healthcare? If Newt could be Newt,and not have to placate to the base, he would actually be a very good candidate. He gets in trouble when his red meat comments turn ugly and irrational.

    Romney Knocks Newt Silly: ‘We Got the Idea of an Individual Mandate From You’

    http://nation.foxnews.com/mitt-romney/2011/10/19/romney-knocks-newt-silly-we-got-idea-individual-mandate-you

    • jmanuola says:

      It isn’t difficult at all to explain how Romney’s idea of an “individual mandate”, though he may suggest it came from Newt, is clearly not the same thing as Newt has espoused over the years. There is a significant difference between mandating a person buy insurance to cover their financial obligations due to medical care received and mandating individual responsibility for the financial costs of your care. Newt has always advocated individual responsibility. That responsibility will obvious, more often than not, take the form of insurance. But Newt has never advocating making insurance the sole avenue for that responsibility. The line may seem fine but the difference is enormous.

    • BJ Van Gundy says:

      So. Let me get this straight. Newt supported a HillaryCare alternative that was promoted by the Heritage foundation 17 YEARS AGO…. and you and Romney cite that as your basis for being against Newt? Seriously?

      From Saturday night (which is ~206,000% closer to today than a position from 17 years ago… do the math):

      NEWT: “Paul Ryan would fundamentally change Medicare by getting younger Americans into a premium support model — I do not favor a mandatory premium support model. I want us back into the habit of giving Americans a range of choices so people have those choices in the free market that would beat out the bureaucratic system. They need to go to something because it is better for them not because the government forced them. Americans are not going to let politicians impose things on them.”

      He’s not the “father of individual mandates”. He didn’t create the concept. The Heritage Foundation did. Newt agreed with it 2068 times as long ago as his comment from Saturday Night… that he DID come up originally.

      • John Konop says:

        BJ Van Gundy,

        I actually support mandates for healthcare, cars……… ie personal responsibility. And it seems Newt does as well still!

        …..NEWT: “Paul Ryan would fundamentally change Medicare by getting younger Americans into a premium support model — I do not favor a mandatory premium support model. I want us back into the habit of giving Americans a range of choices so people have those choices in the free market that would beat out the bureaucratic system. They need to go to something because it is better for them not because the government forced them. Americans are not going to let politicians impose things on them.”…..

        And Newt did work with the Heritage foundation on the concept and was the voice promoting it before Romney/care. In all due respect anyone who knows anything about the history of this issues knows Newt was the MAIN GUY behind the idea. My point is the irrational side of the GOP party does not support this rational idea. And the reason I did not support Obama/care is because it did not go far enough dealing with the cost curve. If the GOP was really outrage about the cost of Obama/care and not just using mandates as a BS issue, the first legislation they would get rid of is THE BUSH 2 Drug Prescription bill that will BK the country without any help from Obama/care. But people like you on both sides would rather have an irrational debate about killing grandma and death panels rather than dealing with the issue. And people like you on BOTH sides are to blame for the current healthcare crisis we are facing.

        • BJ Van Gundy says:

          Wow. How exactly do you make statements like this:

          “But people like you on both sides would rather have an irrational debate about killing grandma and death panels rather than dealing with the issue. And people like you on BOTH sides are to blame for the current healthcare crisis we are facing.”

          Without having ever talked to me, let alone having talked to me about healthcare and what I believe, you blame ME “for the current healthcare crisis we are facing”?

          Seriously??!!

          I’ve read your stuff before. Now knowing that you speak/write without actually knowing anything… I’ll not bother in the future.

      • John Konop says:

        From the very liberal Newsmax……………..

        ….“You can see all the things we did to stop it at HealthTransformation.net. I am for the repeal of Obamacare. I’m against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone, because it is fundamentally wrong, and I believe, unconstitutional.”

        But some analysts say Gingrich appears to be parsing words. In his new statement, Gingrich says he opposes a “federal mandate” requiring individuals to buy health insurance, but leaves the door wide open for states to impose such mandates.

        In previous comments about mandates, Gingrich did not stress any distinction between a federal and state mandated program. In an email sent to the former House Speaker, Newsmax posed seven detailed questions, including how Gingrich would require every citizen in the United States to get health insurance or post a bond, if he didn’t enforce the mandate at the federal level.

        Although Gingrich offered no specific responses to the questions submitted, his press secretary, Rick Tyler, stated in his e-mail reply: “Newt is one of the most vocal critics against Obamacare and has called for its full repeal. He is also against a federal individual mandate.”

        And a review of Gingrich’s statements, articles, and websites shows that, contrary to the tenor of his video, he has not been consistently forceful in his criticism of Obama’s insurance mandate.

        Posted on the HealthTransformation.net site Gingrich references is a 2007 op-ed he penned for the Des Moines Register, which states: “Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it

        “However, an individual mandate must take one’s income into account, and more importantly, it is an acceptable option only when the larger healthcare system has been fundamentally changed. It is unjust to require an individual to buy into a broken and dysfunctional system.”
        Many conservatives aren’t pleased with Gingrich’s nuanced position. The influential American Spectator blog headlined Monday that “Gingrich, Romney Implode on Healthcare.”……

        http://www.newsmax.com/InsideCover/gingrich-health-care-insurance/2011/05/16/id/396587

  2. NoTeabagging says:

    Another sign Newt is back, He has set up campaign digs at 3110 Maple Dr, 4th Floor, Atlanta.

    Cain should take after Newt’s foibles. Get all the crap out of the way early and hope folks have forgotten about it after the holidays. Too bad Herman’s distraction wasn’t launched until after the holidays. As it is, folks will forget about it, or as usually happen with news trivia, it will be overplayed to death until nobody freakin’ cares ( ETA: about two more days).

  3. GaConservative23 says:

    If Newt or Cain win the nomination, we will have 4 more years of Obama.

    I like both of them; Newt for his ideas, Cain for his attempts at good ideas and his likability / appeal to the average person. But neither can withstand the oncoming Democratic onslaught the Republican nominee will face. Newt’s marital history and well-known temper will be front-page news and Cain will be asked detailed policy questions that he has proved to not be great at answering (not to mention the alleged sexual harrassment).

    It may not be fair, but it’ll happen.

    • ZazaPachulia says:

      GaConservative23, If a Cain or Newt nomination means four more years of Obama, who do you think has the best chance to beat Obama? I personally think both Newt and Cain have at least as much of a shot as Romney, but I base that on nothing other than ‘gut feeling.’

      Nice column Charlie. I was just thinking about Newt over the weekend and wondering if he could re-emerge somehow… (I also bet Pawlenty is wishing for a do-over right about now).

      • GaConservative23 says:

        I think Romney stacks up much better against Obama than Newt or Cain.

        It’s all about the independents.

      • jmanuola says:

        I don’t think Romney stacks up well against Obama at all. I think his nomination will pour kerosene on the fire of Ron Paul supporters to egg Paul into a third party candidacy. Paul would pull no less than 5-8% of Romney’s GOP support. I also know far too many TPers who would simply stay home or not vote on the presidential ticket at all if Romney wins.

        If the only reason why anyone would think Newt wouldn’t make in a campaign against Obama is his “baggage”…let me remind you that this current president will have 3/4 of a billion dollars to spend to literally destroy ANY GOP candidate. Romney will not escape the Obama smear machine known as the MSM either. This nomination process has got to be about finding the best candidate with the best ideas for restoring our country from the devastating blows inflicted upon it by the far left.

        We have to decide, no matter who ends up gaining the nomination, whether we are going to sit idly by and allow the far left smear machine to steal another election from us.

  4. slyram says:

    Charlie: At this time, Newt seems like Speaker Gingrich rather than the red meat guy Konop mentioned. I want a Georgian on the ticket next November and if Obama isn’t president, I would take Newt or Cain.

    Since Obama has won the Dem primary already, Red state Democrats should support one of these southerners (or Perry) in the primary.

  5. cheapseats says:

    Newt may be next week’s flavor in the musical chairs of the GOP front-runner game.

    I imagine that almost every GA Dem will turn out to vote for Cain but it will be because they consider him the weakest of the weak candidates. Very sad. I used to vote this way but now I actually care about my country more than politics.

    Can’t say that I’ll definitely vote in a Presidential Primary at all right now – nobody is inspiring me and *almost* nobody is scaring me enough. For those hard-cores who say “anybody is better than Obama”, I say you need to look closely at Perry, Bachman, and Cain – you can’t tell me that really you want any of those 3 representing our country on the world’s stage.

  6. Herb says:

    I hope Gingrich gets the nomination. His skeletons will fall out of the closet faster than you can say “Obama 2012!” He’ll lose 503-35.

  7. SallyForth says:

    PUH-LEEZE People! Stop calling Gingrich a “Georgian”!! He definitely is NOT. He was born in Pennsylvania, moved to Carrollton, GA, in the 70’s to teach at a junior college and spend all his spare time running smear campaigns against Congressman Flint. After he bumped him out, Newt moved to Washington in 1979; he maintained a shell legal residence in Marietta until 1999, but everyone knew he actually lived in DC all those years. After he was caught siphoning money from nonprofits and campaign funds, he resigned as Speaker in order to avoid criminal prosecution. Of course he then came out as a full-on resident of Virginia for the last 12 plus years – so he has actually lived in DC/Virginia for the last 30+ years.

    Newt is not a Georgian – he only used our state to further his own corrupt political ambitions. As we say in these parts, Newt is “from” either Pennsylvania by birth or Virginia by current residency and the largest part of his adult life. It gags me every time I see print media call him a Georgian or hear it on radio or TV. He definitely is NOT – I wish they would all stop insulting our state like that….

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