What are we to make of the ascension of Newt Gingrich?
Perhaps the day has finally, belatedly, blessedly arrived when the Republican Party has found the transformational, revolutionary figure it’s been pining for. Perhaps the GOP has awoken to the charm that was always there: the constant use of “frankly,” the know-it-all historical references, the grandiosity, the bombast. Perhaps Republicans have found the fresh face they feel they need—in a 68-year-old man who first ran for Congress in the Nixon administration.
Or perhaps not.
More likely the Gingrich surge is just the latest Republican tulip craze (count the pedantic historical references I use in Newt’s honor!)—with Newt simply serving as the latest vessel for the ABR movement: Anybody But Romney.
Mitt Romney has been running for president nonstop for about five years now. And he has gone from 25 percent in the 2007 Iowa caucuses to 18 percent in the latest Bloomberg poll of Iowa voters. He’s the Harold Stassen of 2012. Face it, Mitt: they’re just not that into you.
Republicans, apparently, will date anyone before they’ll marry Mitt. Remember their brief fling with Donald Trump? Then, after he decided not to throw his hair into the ring, they fell for Michele Bachmann, the Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya of the far right. Then it was Rick Perry—the guy who claims he jogs with a loaded gun (without a safety) tucked into his shorts. And now that they’ve tired of Herman Cain’s, umm, hands-on style of leadership, it’s Newt’s turn.
And so, like MacArthur, Newt has returned. I, for one, could not be happier—but then again, I’m a Democrat, so I have to take my political pleasures where I can find them. I seriously doubt Newt will be the GOP nominee. But a guy can dream, can’t he?
Maybe Newt can be the Tea Party’s Baron von Steuben, disciplining a ragtag insurgency. Newt could go down in history as having contributed crucially to reelecting two Democratic presidents. During Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign, Gingrich perfectly served in the role of villain. Facing a moderate Republican war hero, the moderate Democratic non-war hero was in a bind. Demonizing Bob Dole was going to be somewhere between difficult and impossible, though Lord knows I tried. (I still cringe when I think about the time I said Dole looked like he wanted to club a baby seal.)
But Newt was a godsend: within weeks of the 1994 GOP landslide—before he’d even taken the speaker’s gavel—Newsweek’s cover dubbed him “The Gingrich Who Stole Christmas.” When he whined about his seat on Air Force One coming home from the funeral of the assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the New York Daily News’s cover featured Newt in a diaper with the headline “Cry Baby!”
While Dole was looking for ways to avoid a government shutdown, Newt was looking for ways to cause one. He overplayed his hand so terribly that Clinton was able to draw a line in the sand like Col. William Barret Travis. Newt’s intransigence allowed Clinton to show resolve, and the Comeback Kid was reelected by relentlessly attacking what his ads called “Dole-Gingrich.”
I fear the dream won’t last, alas. At some point Republicans will wise up and nominate the zillionaire layoff artist with the square jaw and the Slinky spine. But I’ve been saying that all year, and I’ve been wrong all year.
I really can’t imagine how it must pain Mitt Romney. He must feel like Adm. Pierre-Charles Villeneuve at the Battle of Trafalgar. What does the guy have to do to win? He’s changed so many of his deeply held convictions that he’s reduced to bragging that he hasn’t changed wives or religions. Newt has changed wives and religions, and the base still likes him better than Romney.
There are only two months until the Iowa caucuses. After Newt does a Hindenburg, that’s still enough time for a Santorum Surge and maybe even a Huntsman Hiccup. Anything, anything other than a Romney Romance.