The Rasputin of Republican politics is finally dead. I think. Yesterday’s blowout victory by Mitt Romney in the Nevada caucus followed by Newt Gingrich’s bitter, angry press conference (sort of a combination of Howard Dean’s scream and Richard Nixon’s White House farewell speech) confirmed what we strongly suspected in Florida: Gingrich’s presidential campaign is caput, whether he knows it or not.
Before Saturday’s humiliating loss, many conservatives were already signaling to Gingrich that they’d had quite enough of him. Bob Tyrell Jr. wrote: “Sure, we loved his one-liners singeing the tail feathers of the liberal media and politicians. Yet, we have to put someone up against President Barack Obama who can win.” Gingrich’s political demise at the hands of a culturally square Mitt Romney, as Tyrell points out, is fitting:
Newt’s failure is part of a larger failure: the infantilism of the 1960s generation. In his narcissism, impulsiveness and deviancy, Newt is at one with the Clintons. Mitt — and for that matter, [Rick] Santorum — are just the opposite. They are straight arrows and duty-bound. They would not be a riot of scandals in the White House, but is it not about time that we leave the scandals to Hollywood?
This country is facing its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. President Obama offers us what Romney calls crony capitalism. Romney is right, and crony capitalism means more Solyndras. Congressman Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, has served up a budget to cure the nation’s ills and head us on a course that will not end like Greece has ended.
Romney is not far from the Ryan budget, and he can move even closer. Newt can be forgotten.
What conservatives shouldn’t forget, however, is the lesson of 2012: The self-promoters (Gingrich, Herman Cain) and the blogs and radio talk show hosts who tout them (hereinafter, collectively, “the Performers”) do not have the interests of the Republican Party at heart.
The GOP wins when it fields electable, responsible candidates who can hold together a right-center coalition and govern effectively. The Performers flourish when they can distract the electorate (by railing at the media, for example), decry any form of political compromise and heighten conservatives’ sense of persecution. The GOP’s nominee can’t afford to scare voters with extreme rhetoric; the Performers insist upon doing do. The GOP can prevail only by sticking close to the issues voters care most about; The Performers need to perpetuate the Culture Wars. The GOP wants to win races; the Performers want attention.
The mistake that much of the conservative media made in this election was taking the Performers too seriously. They became convinced that early national polls made these characters legitimate “front-runners.” They forgot that a presidential campaign requires organization, money and discipline. Those who pointed out that these were not serious conservatives or electable candidates were labeled defeatists, stalking horses for Romney or — gasp! — part of the establishment. (Cue the chord on the pipe organ.)
Thankfully for the Republican Party, conservative voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and now Nevada, even those amused by the Performers, chose electable, thoughtful conservatives instead. They found the least flawed candidates and the most plausible opponents to take on Obama.
Some in the conservative media are quite glum about this. Romney isn’t a movement conservative. They bemoan that he doesn’t “get” them and refuses to stick to their script. He doesn’t even seem to care what they write. He may decide to — cue the music, again — compromise with the Democrats if elected. He could redefine the party as one bent on reform and not deconstruction of the federal government. Well, the aggrieved conservative media can take it up with the the millions of voters who have now cast ballots. Among the available choices they seem to prefer Romney.
Gingrich’s campaign reaffirmed that conservatives may like the Performers’ show but they want real candidates to run the government. Newt is now a bit player with a shrinking fan base. In venting against Romney last night, vowing to go on to the convention, claiming this was merely a win in a Mormon state, blaming the media for the negative tone of the campaign and whining about once again being outspent by a wide margin Gingrich ceased even to be entertaining. He was, to be blunt, pitiful.
In this primary season we have learned that Republican voters are less interested in ideological perfection or political vitriol than in character, competence, electability and common-sense conservatism. Republican voters are no longer inclined to indulge the Performers. Newt’s public meltdown on Saturday night guarantees that won’t change anytime soon.