By Paolo von Schirach
December 13, 2011
WASHINGTON– If the Republicans really want another four years of Barack Obama, they should nominate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as their candidate, as opposed to picking Mitt Romney or any other moderate centrist. Without a doubt, of all the self-described conservatives who have emerged so far from within the Republican camp, Gingrich is by far the most accomplished. Quite frankly it does not take much to surge past Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry or Herman Cain, all of them amateurs with no depth of knowledge or experience and shockingly simplistic, bumper sticker, policy positions, whose implication they would not know how to explain.
Gingrich is no light weight
Still, beyond this easy comparison, let’s be clear: Gingrich is no light weight. Just like Bill Clinton, Gingrich knows issues, from Medicare to education to defense spending, and he has real and often original ideas about them. But he is also erratic and theatrically controversial. He loves hyperbole and exaggeration, much of it just for the pleasure to hit his audience with something outrageous. On foreign affairs, he just declared that the Palestinians are “an invented people”. One can imagine how popular this would be in the Arab world and with wider foreign audiences generally sympathetic to the Palestinian statehood cause. He also indicated that, as president, he would pick John Bolton, UN Ambassador under George W. Bush, (2005-2006), as his Secretary of State. Of course, Bolton was known for his undiplomatic style and he was let go because his abrasive manners were causing headaches and he did not have the votes to be confirmed by the Senate. (He had been placed at the UN by Bush via a recess appointment that was about to expire).
Besides, in this silly world in which politicians have to be paragons of absolute virtue in the most conventional sense, Gingrich is vulnerable. Despite his proclaimed deep religiosity, he had extra marital affairs and three marriages. And he exhibited questionable behavior. His enormous (almost half a million) bill with Tiffany’s and his substantial and lucrative consulting activities with the very government supported Freddie Mac that he condemns politically, will be attacked as serious character and ethical flaws in a national campaign.
The base likes Gingrich because he is tough
Gingrich is liked by the Republican base because of his abrasive style and bold, unadorned language. The Republican conservatives like an attack dog who espoused conservative principles unconditionally and who also has intellectual sophistication; meaning that Gingrich can stand up in a debate and not be easily outwitted or outmaneuvered be a clever Barack Obama.
It seems obvious that Gingrich is rising now in the polls because the conservative Republicans cannot bring themselves to embrace a middle of the road centrist like Romney who, try as he may, just does not sound like one of them and does not seem to be able to cross the 25% barriers in opinion polls taken among likely Republican primary voters.
Electability is the issue
This is all very well and good. But the real problem for the Republicans is to nominate not just someone they are in love with but an electable candidate. The conservatives that tend to dominate the process may rejoice in nominating one of their own. But in the end, in November 2012, as in all other elections, the final result is decided by the independents who tend to shun a bomb thrower who just looks and sounds too extreme. Whatever the substance of policies, style matters a great deal in TV politics. Gingrich sounds abrasive and confrontational. Unfortunately, while this trait pleases conservatives seeking a champion, it will offend and turn off millions of independents.
Gingrich will not be able to get enough independents
I just do not believe that Gingrich will ever be able to secure the conservative base that may very well give him the nomination, broaden his appeal to the entire Republican party and, beyond that, secure the support of the political middle that he absolutely needs in order to get elected. I just do not think that he could pull this off.
Many things can change between now and November 2012, including a substantial worsening of the US economy, something that would damage Obama. The point is that Obama, however unpopular, is still the incumbent and thus he has an immense advantage. In order to win, Obama needs to say that no matter what he is still better than the Gingrich alternative. And so he will portray Gingrich as dangerous, erratic, inconsistent and morally questionable.
Gingrich easy target for a negative campaign
If Obama’s strategists are smart, Gingrich, with all his personal baggage and controversial positions, will be an easy target. I believe that, with the enormous advantages of incumbency and massive amounts of funds that will be relentlessly used to go negative on Gingrich, Obama, whatever his dismal economic stewardship, has an excellent chance to be re-elected if Gingrich will be his opponent.
So, in a sense it is up to the Republican rank and file conservatives to determine whether Obama gets another 4 years or not. They can use the primary process to pick someone they are in love with like Gingrich, or someone they are cool about, like Romney, who however has a far better chance of getting elected.