Today’s Courier Herald Column:
And so, with the suspense out of the way, l’ll first say a few words about the favorite candidate in Georgia’s Super Tuesday contest, Newt Gingrich. Newt was the first Congressman I ever met. Members of my family and friends were among his first campaign volunteers and backers when he first ran for Congress against Jack Flynt – twice- and lost. They were still there when Flynt retired and Newt beat Virginia Shapard for the open seat.
Like many who have been around Georgia politics from the times when Republicans barely counted as a minority party, I’ve been pulling for a Newt comeback. When he’s good, he is among the best politicians of the past century. He virtually single handedly changed the mindset of Congressional Republicans from a group willing to take crumbs off of a Democratic table to one that thought they could become – and did become – a majority.
But when he’s bad, he’s horrid. I will not bother to recount the well known baggage he brought into this campaign. In his public shot of redemption, however, he receives decidedly mixed marks. His ability to turn debates back on the “elite” media when he felt that the questions asked did not address the contrast needed to be drawn with the status quo of the Obama administration makes many of us yearn for that Newt to get a clean shot at debating the President.
The risk involved in making this choice exposes Republicans to a risk that he can go through the general election portion of the campaign with a focused, disciplined message. He has yet to prove he can do this for more than a period of weeks, and then only when not the front runner.
Worse, he continues to take issues off the table for the general election. Beginning the campaign by torpedoing entitlement reform as “right wing social engineering”, he’s more recently adopted the class warfare rhetoric of the Democrats when attacking Mitt Romney. His SuperPAC even has the audacity to be running an ad saying Mitt Romeny isn’t like us. One woman says Romney probably doesn’t even pump his own gas.
Here’s a thought: Who is more likely to pump his own gas? The guy who drove cross country with his family and an improperly stowed dog when he easily could have afforded to have flown, or the guy that had to get his credit line from Tiffany’s increased from a half million dollars to a cool million and believes the going rate for a historian’s retainer is seven figures?
Yes, Romney has been a wildly successful capitalist. God bless him, even if there was a significant amount of luck involved. But he’s a guy that drives his family on vacations. Family – including his one and only wife. He’s a guy that gives more money to his church than he pays in income taxes, unlike Rick Santorum who told FoxNews on Sunday that because he has 7 children he can only give 2% of his million dollar plus income to charity. Romney has 5 children and manages to well exceed a ten percent tithe.
The reality is that Mitt Romney is not liked by social conservatives because he doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve. Some may have problems that he is a Mormon. Romney has lived a public life that embodies what evangelicals claim to profess, without the added chest thumping of modern day Pharisees who seem so concerned about making others live by their doctrine that they have no time to do so themselves. I’m fine with Romney as a social conservative.
The issues that should give Republicans an edge in November are more of the fiscal variety, however. With these, Romney is the only one of the leading candidates that has real executive experience. He’s been a Governor who had to govern with a decidedly Democratic legislature. He’s been an incredibly successful venture capitalist. And in a pinch, he managed to step in and fix the Salt Lake City Olympic Games.
In each of the above, he was not charged to be a pontificating legislator, whose sole talent is giving good speeches about how conservative a government should be. He was charged with doing, and graded on results. Being an executive requires pragmatism. Ideologues hate pragmatists. Not coincidentally, ideologues are rarely given complex tasks that people expect to get done.
Romney has been a frustrating candidate. I would like to say I knew for certain what his policies are on many issues. Instead, he’s chosen to sit on an early lead and focus on organization. I suspect that by the time the votes are counted Tuesday, we’ll have a good idea how well that organization worked.
At the end of the day, my vote doesn’t go to the best candidate. It goes to the person whom I think has the best chance to be a successful President. Romney’s experience earns him that nod.