The Post’s Amy Gardner reports: “The tale of two Newts is more than a parlor game for politicos. It has become an emblem of a politician who is acting as his own senior adviser — to a candidate who can be his own worst enemy. While Gingrich’s rhetoric has always been both a strength and a weakness, the liabilities have been amplified by his budget-strapped presidential campaign. On-the-ground operations are virtually nonexistent, leaving the campaign with little more than a candidate and his words to propel itself forward — and not much of a team to keep him on track.”
Put differently, without a phalanx of aides to cover and spin for him, Gingrich’s essential character and instincts come through. It has led him to make bad choices, lash out in anger and attack the principles he is supposed to advocate. The notion of a New Newt was, as I and others argued, fanciful. And we see once again in Gingrich’s political implosion, that character matters more than money or rhetorical skills or ideology, especially when the stakes are very high.
One benefit of a political nominating process that is derided as alternately boring and infuriating is that in the face of ludicrous debate questions, hecklers in crowds, opponents’ attacks, inaccurate reporting and constant scrutiny we learn something about these people, which in the long run is more valuable in assessing their fitness for office than whether they favor a 28 or a 20 percent marginal tax rate.
Political activists and conservative bloggers are obsessed with ideological purity to the exclusion of everything else. (No wonder they are in a perpetual funk.) That idealized state of perfect conservatism is not only unattainable (and one blogger’s purity is different from another’s), but it is largely irrelevant. Even if such an ideal conservative could be elected, his views would be subject to compromise and revision, and new issues never contemplated would arrive on the scene. Intricately detailed pledges to special-interest groups and the ability to check each and every box on the roster of conservative issues are not the end-all and be-all of selecting an electable and worthy nominee.
In the flame-out of Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich we saw the inescapable consequences that flow when candidates lack essential qualities of honesty, prudence, focus and self-discipline. For those not straining to ignore the obvious, these flaws were apparent from the beginning of the campaign and the outcome was entirely predictable. These aspects of public character are a better predictor of success in the nomination process and a more vital consideration than willingness to march lock-step with the most virulent conservative voices in the party.
It is interesting that the two most likely nominees, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, in their personal lives have been exemplary. They have devoted spouses and loving families and have both demonstrated loyalty and courage in standing by loved ones (Romney’s wife, Santorum’s daughter) with serious health issues. Both have demonstrated an impressive work ethic. Both are intellectually vigorous and informed about the world and public policy. Neither derides public service.
These candidate have their faults, to be sure. But they won’t falter because of defects in character. And whoever prevails, we can be reasonably certain, will not be hobbled by the penchant for self-destruction and anger that are once again proving to be Gingrich’s undoing.