Is this the man who will face Obama next year?
Is Newt Gingrich just the latest in a long line of not-Romneys to be test-driven by the Nutty faction of the Republicans and ultimately found wanting, or is he something more? It's been argued that whereas Bachmann, Perry, and Cain were new on the national stage and went down when their flaws were discovered, Gingrich has long been a national figure, and his negatives are already known and "priced in" in his current level of support. There are signs that the anyone-but-Romney Republicans are coalescing around Gingrich at the expense of other not-Romney candidates -- bad news for Romney, whose support is limited to the Sane faction of Republicans (apparently about 25%-30%) and who depends on several semi-viable opponents to keep the Nutty faction divided. If the Nutty faction has indeed settled on a single champion at last, there's a serious chance that he will be the Republican nominee.
In some ways I'd like to see Gingrich in that role. He'd clearly be a representative of the Nutty faction, so his almost-inevitable defeat in the general election would discredit that faction and give the Sanes an opening to regain control of the party (whereas Romney losing to Obama would weaken the Sanes relative to the Nutties). And Gingrich is not a sincere religious fanatic like Bachmann or Perry or Santorum, so if he somehow won, he'd be less dangerous as President than they would, though he'd certainly be very bad.
I'm not quite ready to write off Romney yet, though. For one thing, I'm not convinced that the Republicans currently rallying behind Gingrich are, in fact, already aware of all his baggage -- and he has plenty. Even by the standards of Christian Right hypocrisy about marriage, his history of adultery is egregious, and women fundamentalists have often been less forgiving of such behavior in politicians than the men are. His hint of a soft position on illegal aliens touches a very sore spot for Republicans -- that issue was the beginning of the end for Perry. And Gingrich has a history of receiving large sums of money under less-than-honorable circum- stances. Money scandals are less likely to be widely known than sexual ones simply because they're more boring, but Gingrich's rivals will be more than happy to spend from their own resources to enlighten Republican primary voters, in blunt and dramatic terms, about these matters. Check out this ad from Ron Paul:
There are questions on electability. Despite Krugman's already- viral bon mot -- "Newt Gingrich is a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like" -- the man is clearly more intelligent than the not-Romneys who have preceded him. If he says he wants to eliminate three government departments, he will certainly remember which ones they are, and he may well even know who the President of Uzbekistan is and why it matters. This sets the bar awfully low, though. He's not in Obama's league intellectually, nor -- perhaps more important -- temperamentally. He's always struck me as a thoroughly unpleasant guy, the kind of person in whom an act like serving divorce papers on a hospitalized wife doesn't seem at all out of character. This assessment is worth reading:
Gingrich “only has two modes — attack and brag,” explained one veteran GOP strategist.
“He’s going to blow up at some point, and I’m just hoping it comes before he gets the nomination,” said one unaligned Republican insider, who has worked with presidential campaigns before.
And there's the real question -- will Republican primary voters grasp the depth of Gingrich's negatives in time to avoid giving him the nomination? The Obama campaign clearly hopes not; they've been focusing their attacks on Romney, helping to weaken him, as they clearly consider him the most difficult Republican for Obama to beat. Gingrich, with his arrogance, repulsive character, and history of sleaze, would be a far weaker opponent.
[First video above found via Mature Landscaping; second found via Race 4 2012.]
Update: See here for more on Gingrich's colossal ego, including this description he wrote about himself:
"Gingrich—primary mission: advocate of civilization, definer of civilization, teacher of the rules of civilization, arouser of those who fan civilization, organizer of the pro-civilization activists, leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces."
This man has issues.