It’s perfectly reasonable for conservatives to look for a candidate who didn’t support an individual mandate. If that’s the most important or even a top concern, a voter should absolutely look for an electable conservative who doesn’t have that track record. What is not logical, however, is to choose someone with the exact same issue, plus a load of other baggage.

Let’s start with NewtCare. Politico reports: “If Republicans are flocking to Newt Gingrich to get away from Mitt Romney’s health care problems, they could end up with a nominee with … awfully similar health care problems. Or maybe worse: While Romney signed a state mandate into law, Gingrich once went a step further and advocated a federal one. Gingrich backed a federal mandate in the early 1990s as an alternative to the health care proposal Hillary Clinton pushed. Today, he describes himself as ‘completely opposed’ to the federal mandate in the health reform law President Barack Obama signed last year.” I suppose Mitt Romney can at least take pride in standing by his plan rather than shedding his skin for the sake of an election. And as Politico points out, Gingrich has done far worse than Romney in certain respects:

In 2000, he praised Don Berwick, whose recess appointment to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is expiring amid opposition from Senate Republicans.

As founder of the Center for Health Transformation, Gingrich also has supported using electronic health records in evidence-based medicine, a concept that some backers of the health law liken to “comparative effectiveness research.”

And he once wrote an op-ed praising a Wisconsin health system’s approach to end-of-life care — which later got embroiled in the charges that the Democrats’ health reform law would include “death panels.”

If some conservatives think Romney is handicapped in taking the fight to President Obama on health care or can’t be counted on to repeal Obamacare, is Gingrich any better?

The problem some conservatives are seeking to “solve” — find a more ideologically pristine nominee than Romney — should lead them to Rick Santorum or Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), not Gingrich, who, in addition to NewtCare, has defied the right-wing base on illegal immigration.

But Gingrich’s problems aren’t only ideological. Already some conservatives are having qualms about the man behind NewtCare. Maggie Haberman reports: “In their latest missive, the group Iowans for Christian Leaders in Government has struck with another email about the GOP race — this time taking aim at social conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats.” The gist of the e-mail is to take issue with Vander Plaats’s past support for Jim Nussle and potential support for Gingrich, which the group claims, reflects a “willful disregard of personal behavior.” In other words, just as it became untenable for Christian conservatives to excuse Herman Cain’s behavior, anti-Gingrich groups and supporters are going to make it very uncomfortable for values voters to stand up for Gingrich. Once again, you have to wonder why social conservatives wouldn’t look to less-problematic candidates. In a thought-provoking column Peter Wehner suggests some criteria by which to assess presidential candidates. The last is especially relevant to this discussion:

Is the nominee steady, well-grounded, discerning, self-disciplined, and wise? Are they people of integrity? Are they consumed by their resentments or are they free of bitterness? Are they disposed to view opponents as enemies? Do they learn from their mistakes and are they open to new evidence? In a crisis, do they demonstrate equanimity or erratic behavior? Are they tempted to cut ethical corners in the quest for power and success?

It’s a puzzle why Gingrich’s glibness should count for so much and these factors for so little with some in the conservative base.

Gingrich is a skilled self-promoter whose belief in his own spin gives the appearance of earnestness. He was a historian, not a lobbyist. He’s a rock-ribbed conservative, not a unprincipled pol. He is dedicated to family values, not a serial violator of them. Well, that’s what Gingrich tells himself, but really, are conservatives supposed to buy it?