On Friday, I suggested that Republicans “could pull a name out of a hat and find a more consistent and personally stable conservative” than Newt Gingrich. Many smart conservatives seem to agree. (Victor Davis Hanson points out that with Gingrich as the nominee the GOP would forfeit the “crony capitalism” issue; No one has been a bigger crony than he.)
The latest and perhaps brightest warning flare to the right is sent up by George Will. There are too many delicious lines in his column from which to choose a favorite. (e.g.,“There is almost artistic vulgarity in Gingrich’s unrepented role as a hired larynx for interests profiting from such government follies as ethanol and cheap mortgages”; “Gingrich, who would have made a marvelous Marxist, believes everything is related to everything else and only he understands how.”) George patiently explains to those who think the conservative movement began with the Internet and is defined by those who can burnish the most withering rhetoric: “Conservatism inoculates against the hubristic volatility that Gingrich exemplifies.” Yes, Gingrich is what conservatism aims to save us from.
Now, George would choose Texas Gov Rick Perry or Jon Huntsman. Ramesh Ponnuru would take Mitt Romney. There is also Rick Santorum to consider. Reasonable conservatives differ on the alternative, but other than sheer contrarianism and temporary amnesia it is hard (for those who want to maintain the ideological health of the conservative movement and win the White House) to justify embracing Gingrich. That he is more “gregarious, upbeat” than he used to be is no reason to choose him as president or to declare he has turned over new leaf.
For those conservatives who are not systematically averting their eyes, Gingrich every day gives Republicans further reason to conclude there is no “New Newt,” only the same disorganized egomaniac who drove his House caucus to revolt. Politico has a handy list of the past few comments, which reveal how little he has “matured” despite his claims to the contrary:
“I helped lead the effort to defeat communism in the Congress,” Gingrich said this week on Sean Hannity’s show.
“I’m going to be the nominee,” he informed ABC News while in Iowa.
“I was charging $60,000 a speech, and the number of speeches was going up, not down,” Gingrich said in South Carolina, explaining why he didn’t actually need his consulting fee from Freddie Mac. “Normally, celebrities leave, and they gradually sell fewer speeches every year. We were selling more.”
“The degree to which I challenge the establishment and the degree to which I’m willing to follow ideas and solutions to their natural consequence without regard to Republican or Democratic political correctness makes me probably the most experienced outsider in modern times,” he told Radio Iowa.
The silliest argument for Gingrich (which happened to be the same we heard in defense of Perry and Herman Cain) is that there is no other choice. But there is a stage filled with candidates. And of course, after exhausting other options, Republicans could agree, as Ponnuru urges, to pick Romney. Or, as an e-mailer suggested to me, “Serious people are going to have to ask Paul Ryan to change his mind. He doesn’t have to formulate his positions. He knows them. Any truly wise person running for office would adopt them. Better figure out a way to get the message to him and make a convincing case that he accept a draft. It’s time to throw out business as usual and organize a “Draft Paul Ryan” campaign that rallies conservatives to a real conservative who can indeed stand to-to-toe with President Obama and win next fall.” No, the e-mail didn’t come from Bill Kristol.
I’d like to think a late comer to the race is still possible, although it remains improbable. But then I never imagined Gingrich would con (however temporarily) so many. If after a few contests Romney hasn’t won over the party, the wave of sanity builds (i.e., dread-of-Gingrich becomes conventional wisdom) and the race bogs down, there is perhaps the potential that a reliable, well-known conservative figure out there — e.g., Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ryan, Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) — will be commandeered to get the GOP out of a bind.
Whatever option concerned Republicans may favor, the first order of business is to persuade primary voters and caucus attendees to avoid panicking and resist the urge to stampede over a cliff. It took time for the base to come to recognize that Perry and then Cain were not capable of leading the party to victory. The starting point for a wise selection comes with the recognition that Gingrich is the antithesis of what the party needs. Certainly establishment conservatives (concerned about electability and political sobriety), social conservatives (dismayed by his multiplicity of character flaw) and Tea Partyers (dedicated to rooting out the noxious dealings between special interests and Congress that made Gingrich rich) can agree on that.