Can Newt Win?

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

With more political observers declaring the Gingrich candidacy again on the ascendancy, a simple but uncomfortable question is quickly and continually raised by doubters: Can he win?

They ask not about the nomination. The Republican nomination remains a race that Romney, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich seem at times each trying desperately to lose, with Cain seeming to be quickly joining the ranks of Bachmann and Pawlenty of those who have succeeded. The question is simply can he beat Barack Obama.

Newt Gingrich has an extremely long record in public life. He was elected to Congress on his third try and became a back bench bomb thrower, eventually challenging his own party’s structure from within. He managed to put together a coalition that took control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. He presided as Speaker over the first balanced federal budget in most of our lifetimes.

Yet he also was fined $300,000 by the House Ethics Committee. He’s blamed or credited for the government shutdown of 1995 and 1996. He was driven out of his Speakership by his own leadership team after a failed coup attempt against him a year earlier. His current wife is his third.

The record stipulates that Newt has baggage. But as he has wandered through the early part of this campaign under the radar after his initial campaign implosion, Newt got used to commercial flights instead of private jets. A humbling but learning experience, Newt also got practice in checking his baggage.

With politics as sport metaphors becoming all too common, early losses don’t seem to count as much as the later ones. Gingrich’s loss in the season opener doesn’t look so bad in comparison to the drubbing current front runner Herman Cain is taking. The shock value of Gingrich’s failures and shortcomings are long gone. He is a known entity. Anyone looking at the current Republican field likely knows what they are getting with Gingrich, for better or for worse.

Contrast that with the presumed front runner Mitt Romney. He, like Gingrich, is viewed as intelligent and capable. There is little doubt that he could handle the job. But conservatives, fiscal and social, continue to question if he is really one of them.

Gingrich, on the other hand, is so closely identified with conservatism that many Democrats are licking their chops to see him as the nominee. They believe that it will be easy to paint him as extreme, and can reacquaint him with his baggage as an added bonus. The comparison relevant to Gingrich is from his own era as speaker.

Bill Clinton was the candidate that Republicans wanted to face. He brought with him his own special assortment of baggage. He was a known womanizer, with an active scandal open during his campaign. He was also a draft dodger, whereas all Presidents who were elected before him had served in the military.

There was no way he could beat George H. W. Bush, who had just won a war in the Middle East in less time than it took to assemble the troops there. Bush had presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall. His popularity had reached 89%. But in November of 1992, none of this mattered. It was “the economy, stupid.”

Barack Obama has the trophies of Osama Bin Laden AND Moammar Gadhafi, but he also has an economy much worse than Americans faced in 1992. Obama made sure Bin Laden will not be an issue on the ballot in 2012. What will be will be jobs, deficits, and perhaps the greatest uncertainty this country has faced in multiple generations.

Democrats seem encouraged that the Occupy movement is taking hold, feeling this will be their answer to the TEA Party which organized against them to take the House and neutralize the Senate. And the occupy movement may be Gingrich’s biggest bully club.

As best most can discern, the occupy movement is well beyond support of union rights or to protect entitlements. The majority of those protesting seem to be against all capitalism and personal wealth. But someone must distinctly draw this contrast and articulate it to voters.

Gingrich has returned to viable candidate status among Republicans largely on the strength of his debate appearances. The general election debate, given one who can articulate conservatism, will be a clear distinction between a market based free enterprise system and one which the government supplies equal outcomes to all by confiscating the means of production from the producers.

If the issue of this campaign remains “the economy, stupid”, then negative ads about Gingrich’s long viewed baggage will seem quite petty in contrast to distinct visions of the direction of the American economic system. His dirty laundry has been aired, and his bags then checked. This election will ultimately be a referendum on the incumbent. That is, provided Republicans nominate someone who is able to draw the contrast.

27 comments

  1. Eddy says:

    Newt Gingrich is toxic due to trends relating to his favorability ratings. The fact of the matter is, the higher Newt Gingrich’s name recognition goes up, and the more familiar people get with him, the more they dislike him. Compare this to President Obama, who still maintains reasonably high favorability ratings even with his approval ratings in the dumpster. People just don’t like Newt, and the sunshine of a general election campaign will make that very, very clear.

  2. cheapseats says:

    Probably not. I think Newt is quite possibly the smartest and best-informed candidate in the field but he’s just got too much baggage and a lot of it smells really bad.

    He doesn’t have as much appeal as Romney to lots of Republicans and has pretty close to none among Dems and Independents. Character counts sometimes and nobody holds up Newt as a paragon of integrity.

    I think this a book tour for Newt, too.

  3. gsuhistlib says:

    Typo: “There was no way he[Clinton] could beat George H. W. Bush… His popularity had reached 89%. But in November of 2002, none of this mattered. It was ‘the economy, stupid.'”

    It should be November of 1992. Not that H.W. Bush’s popularity mattered much in November of 2002 either… so in that respect, maybe its not a typo.

    And it happens again in the next paragraph.

  4. saltycracker says:

    America loves a repentant sinner and is over incumbents, particularly if other candidates have positions that might pull us from the brink.

    If Newt can verbalize his past mistakes Charlie mentioned above and lay out his future direction it can get interesting. If he doesn’t, the issues will fester and Romney will run with it.

    Unless Herman’s team catches the hail Mary of being set up by the disturbed & left. Then ?

  5. gcp says:

    “He was also a draft dodger, whereas all Presidents who were elected before him had served in the military.” Interesting comment. Wonder if any Repubs are willing to look at Newty’s lack of military service during the draft era.

    • Charlie says:

      Not the point I’m going for there. There were many, including GHWBush himself, who believed that Clinton couldn’t win because the voters wouldn’t support someone for Commander in Chief who hadn’t served in the military. Clinton was the first ever.

      There are quite a few saying Newt can’t win because of his admitted adultery, or other items of in his baggage. Many Dems are as gleeful at the prospect of running against Gingrich because of his baggage as Republicans were about running against Clinton. TWICE.

      My point is bluntly that the precedent is set and recent that voters will sometimes look past some personal issues and choose the person they ultimately want in the oval office.

      • Eddy says:

        Newt’s personal issues aren’t comparable to Clinton, because Clinton never had a net favorability deficit even at the height of the Lewinsky scandal. People liked (and continue to like) Bill Clinton. People don’t like Newt Gingrich, and the more they know about him they more they dislike him.

      • Todd Rehm says:

        “There were many, including GHWBush himself, who believed that Clinton couldn’t win because the voters wouldn’t support someone for Commander in Chief who hadn’t served in the military. Clinton was the first ever.”

        It’s not true that Clinton was the first President who never served in the military.

        The list of presidents who didn’t serve in the military includes FDR, Hoover, Coolidge, Harding, Wilson, Taft, Cleveland, VanBuren, Quincy Adams and Adams, a little under a quarter of those who have served as Commander in Chief.

      • jm says:

        Since 1992 (Clinton vs Bush), the candidate with the least amount of military experience has won.
        Clinton vs. WWII vet Dole
        Vietnam vet Gore vs. G. W. Bush
        Vietnam vet Kerry vs G.W. Bush
        Vietnam vet and former POW McCain vs. Obama

        Are there any candidates with military experience this time around? This could be the first race without a veteran since when? All presidents from GWB back to Truman have served, so it was probably since FDR.

  6. Lo Mein says:

    I don’t believe he can, either the GOP nomination, *or* general election.

    In the general election, RealClearPolitics.com lists the top tier of GOP candidates vs. Obama as: (1) Romney, (2) Paul, and (3) Cain – http://bit.ly/sH3Huo

    In the two all-important early caucus/primary States, they have both Iowa (http://bit.ly/sEizQv) and New Hampshire (http://bit.ly/sqQwck) as only Cain, Romney and Paul in double-digits.

    BUT — it will be interesting to see what happens now that Cain is imploding. Perhaps it will be Gingrich’s turn as Flavor Of The Month, while the other two top-tier candidates just keep on keepin’ on through January 3rd. I’m rather enjoying this race.

  7. debbie0040 says:

    Newt can win. His performance in the debates caused many to take a second look at him. We are electing a “commander-in-chief”, not a spouse in chief. He is clearly not the only the smartest man on the stage in the debates and has a firm grasp on the issues.

    Do not count Herman Cain out. People are incensed about the witch hunt with women coming forward. My opinion is that the latest woman to come forward is a disgusting liar out to make money and gain publicity that is a puppet of Obama and the Chicago style politics.

    I was sexually harrassed in my youth and can assure you I would not come within 100 feet of that person again. I most certainly would not go backstage at an event to meet him and hug his neck..

  8. Herb says:

    3 words, NOT..GONNA…HAPPEN. His skeletons have yet to come out, and Obama leads him by double digits. Seriously, he’s burnt toast. And seriously, when have I ever been wrong on anything?

  9. Three Jack says:

    if the race comes down to mitt, newt and paul, who will conservatives vote for in their respective state primaries?

    mitt may not have any ethical baggage to overcome, but he certainly has a well documented history of taking all sides of every issue both in words and policy. he will likely win new hampshire after a strong 2nd place in iowa with either paul, newt or cain in 1st. he will have early momentum on which to build as the campaign moves south and west. but will conservatives be influenced by those early state results or moreso by his less than stellar record?

    paul is as paul does…he will always garner 8-10%, but never enough to be considered a frontrunner even though he will pick off a few states as he did in 2008.

    which leaves newt. despite all the perceived baggage and questionable decisions like appearing with ‘princess nancy’ in a global warming commercial, he is still the most experienced person in the gop primary. and he has been successful in both the private and public sectors which puts him in a category by himself among the gop field (unless one wants to claim mitt’s tenure as governor was successful). newt can definitely win if he stays on message while facing the inevitable media onslaught about tiffany’s, ex-wives and pac funding. and conservatives will easily decide to vote for newt over mitt if it comes down to those two.

    • Doug Grammer says:

      Ron Paul didn’t pick off any states in 2008. He got 35 votes by winning a few congressional districts or coming in fourth consistently.

        • Herb says:

          For the GOP’s sakes, I hope he does. He’s their only shot at beating Obama. Anyone else would be an electoral disaster for those crazies.

      • Three Jack says:

        my bad doug, i was thinking that paul won in montana and some other western states. either way, he disrupted final outcomes in many states and will do at least as much again this time.

        • Doug Grammer says:

          A disruption, I can agree to that. A viable contender for the GOP nomination, he’s not. His name may be on the ballot, but there’s no way he will win. Newt can. Herman can. Perry, maybe…(that used to be can.) Romney can.

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