What exactly is the argument in favor of nominating Newt Gingrich? I ask that honestly, after debating one of his supporters. The reasons seems to break down into three general categories, none of which from my standpoint have the slightest thing to do with either electability or suitability.
The first argument is that Gingrich really takes it to the media and gets why conservatives feel so aggrieved. Well, that certainly qualifies one to be a talk show host and a scribbler of anti-elite screeds, but how does that get you elected president? Aside from the hard core Republican base, no one really cares, as an electoral matter, if the media are fair or not. Voters oddly think the election is about them — their future, their economic well-being and their safety and security. Does an independent voter in Ohio give a fig whether ABC News was right in running the Marianne Gingrich interview? It’s laughable.
Moreover, for a candidacy about “change” and “ideas,” as Gingrich claims,this is the most tired and irrelevant message: The elites are out of touch and ridicule conservatives. What the president is supposed to do about that is unclear. And in the final analysis it’s not what Republicans care most about. They care about ousting Obama and rolling back Obama’s agenda; frankly, they’ve given up on the liberal media.
The next argument is that Gingrich will “out debate” Obama. This is probably the silliest rationale of them all. The likelihood of multiple Lincoln-Douglas debates is tiny, and the thought of Gingrich stalking Obama around the country pleading for him to debate is not, I would suggest, a selling point. The real debates are few in number and would be unlikely, in any event, to actually help Gingrich. It is in that setting that his incendiary rhetoric, his penchant for insults (“food stamp” president) and pie-in-the-sky schemes (kids as janitors), would turn off any non-core Republican voters. And if you expect Gingrich to comprehend this, curb his tongue and broaden his appeal, you’ve got the wrong candidate. Self-disciplined he is not.
The next argument Gingrich’s defenders raise is that he did a lot for conservatism in the 1990’s. Let’s say that is correct and that the Contract with America outweighs his disastrous speakership and the angst he caused Republican office holders. So what? Is the presidency a prize for “service to the party”? If a candidate’s achievements twenty years ago are his best calling card, is there a problem?
A variation of this argument is that Gingrich is anti-establishment and will bring about “fundamental change.” Well aside from the need to get elected and the ability to implement one’s ideas (neither of which is a Gingrich strength), when Gingrich has been in power or made policy choices his positions have more often than not been establishment-friendly and decidedly unconservative: the individual mandate, ethanol subsidies, support for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (in office and afterward), TARP, Medicare Part D and climate change. He talks a good game, but in practice his policy choices have been anything but revolutionary. In fact, he attacked as too radical the most innovative idea from Republicans in recent years — Medicare reform.
If you are a hard core conservative, there is a solid conservative choice in Rick Santorum. If you are more centrist or a moderate, there is an experienced executive who instinctively favors private enterprise. But Gingrich? I don’t get it. And the inability of his supporters to present cogent arguments on his behalf is telling.