My, how the times change. Who would have believed even a couple months ago that Newt Gingrich would sweep CatholicVote’s Thanksgiving straw poll by a whopping 44%?!
What’s propelling the Newt surge? My take is that many GOP primary voters are looking for someone who understands how the heck Washington works (or doesn’t) and who can explain to them in a believable way how he plans to fix it. In 2008 America elected a President with only a couple years experience as a junior Senator from Illinois and look where that got us.
Newt has his baggage, to be sure, but most GOP voters tuning into the debates this year don’t follow politics very closely (they are understandably busy with living their own lives) and, at first glance, Newt is impressive. He’s been involved in these issues now under debate for literally decades, and his memory and experience serves him well. It’s not surprising that in these unsettling times GOP voters are turning to the candidate who looks like the grandfather who has seen it all and, even more importantly, understands this particular American moment in terms of the history that got us to this moment and how historical challenges similar to this one were eventually solved and overcome.
In terms of substance, Newt far exceeds the monotonous droning of Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 mantra, and the Texan “let’s shoot all the bureaucrats” solutions proposed by Rick Perry. He’s got a real grasp of all the issues, as opposed to Ron Paul’s tunnel-vision. And people view Newt as a cheerful warrior who can crack jokes and point out the absurdity of the left, in many of the ways that Rick Santorum does not or chooses not to. Michele Bachmann has had her day, Jon Hunstman will never have his because he’s done precisely nothing to earn it. Mitt Romney, as polished as he is, has managed to turn off more voters in running for the nomination than he has won. There’s more reasons to explain why Romney hasn’t caught on and why it’s still doubtful to me that he ever will.
So where does that leave us? With Newt.
At least, for now. I forget where I read this but someone pointed out that these next few weeks will tell us a lot about how much Newt has learned from his time out of politics. If he has learned greater humility, for instance. If he grows into the role that is possibly opening for him as the Republican nominee or if he takes it as a boost to his ego.
As I’ve written before, I haven’t decided who I support in this primary and I certainly haven’t endorsed anyone. I doubt, at this point, I will endorse anyone. The question for me is who will take on President Obama in the general election.
I would say that the ruminations of Mark about Newt’s wealth and lifestyle don’t seem on-point. Much of what is criticized about Newt’s affluent lifestyle could be equally applied to Mitt Romney. Senator Obama was no pauper but people seemed to believe that he could empathize with their plight (wrongly, I would argue, but that’s not because of Obama’s current affluence, it’s because of his worldview). The unfortunate fact of national politics these days is that you typically don’t have what is required to run for President unless you have significant personal resources, period.
No, instead I think we should be focusing on Newt’s character. The mainstream media and the left have had decades to develop personal attacks on Newt, some of them founded, many of them overblown and some of them outright false. We owe it to ourselves to examine this man’s record as we would any serious candidate for President, and not simply rely on the media-driven narrative which has so often poisoned our political discourse.
Anyway, those are my first thoughts on Newt. With less than a month to go until the Iowa caucuses, this interminable primary season is at last bounding into the final chapter. Who writes that final chapter and wins the nomination is anyone’s guess.