As we move through the Cinderella cycle of campaign 2012, where someone is trying to make the slipper fit, watch for Newt Gingrich to grasp the magical shoe next. His grip won’t be that strong, but he has some important qualities that will warrant another look. I won’t say a new look, because every Republican has looked at the former speaker many times over the years.
Gingrich has one big thing going for him. He’s a fresh thinker and possesses such clarity of thought and compelling logic that he can be almost hypnotic. When you listen to Gingrich, you think you might actually learn something. But when Newt talks, you have to have thick skin, because you must be willing to be talked down to, and you will be challenged to think big.
When I was an advisor to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, I sometimes accompanied him to events where the leader and the speaker would both give remarks. Lott would get up and give a fine presentation for 15 or 20 minutes. Gingrich would then proceed to the podium and, with no notes, mesmerize the crowd for 50 minutes. The cooks would come out of the kitchen, and the banquet staff would all freeze to listen. The next day, I’d tell Lott that the speaker had a plan for the year 2100, but that he had a plan for later that afternoon. We had a gap in our planning.
As with all things, men of a certain age suffer diminished capabilities, but Gingrich still has some of the old magic left. The upcoming congested debate schedule will play to his strengths.
But Gingrich probably has a ceiling. He can never get 50 percent of any group. Actually, he shouldn’t be running for president. We should make him an oracle. He should grow out his hair, wear a robe, and wander the globe dispensing wisdom. Sort of a Gandolf the White look and role.
It’s easy to see how Gingrich gets another look, but hard to see where he wins a caucus or primary. For instance, he probably couldn’t win state-wide in Georgia.
Rich Bond, who ran the Iowa campaign for George H.W. Bush in 1980*, was the first to enunciate the classic formula for winning there. Organize, organize, organize, and then get hot at the end. By all accounts, Gingrich is omitting the part about organizing. He doesn’t have a foothold in New Hampshire, and he isn’t southern or evangelical enough for South Carolina.
But, he is smart, and those brains will be on display in the coming weeks. He could emerge as the Republican thinking-man’s candidate. I think that candidate tops out at about 12 percent in 2012.
(* Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly stated that Rich Bond ran George H.W. Bush’s Iowa campaign in 1988.)