Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why Newt?

The message is becoming clearer by the day. Republican politicians, pundits, and strategists are warning primary voters against making Newt Gingrich their nominee.

Whatever happened to Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican?

Clearly, Mitt Romney is the perfect establishment candidate. Political leaders look at him and salivate over a guaranteed victory.

On the other side, Romney seems too good to be true. And as we know, if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

Establishment Republicans look at Gingrich and see a trail of errors and mistakes, faults and foibles that will feed the insatiable appetite of the Obama attack machine. Worse yet, many of those who have known and worked with Gingrich don’t like him.

Yet, it’s possible that the Republican voters who have vaulted Gingrich to the top of most polls know something that the political class does not know.

They may know that there is something off-putting about the all-too-perfect Romney. And they may appreciate that Gingrich, for all his troubles, is more real.

And, let’s not diminish the importance of having a candidate who is the smartest guy in the room. For years now Republicans have been smeared as the dumb party. Many of their national candidates have done very little to counter this claim. Many of them could barely hold their own in debate. Instead of dreading a debate, they would, for once, look forward to one.

With Newt Gingrich, Republicans see someone who can do a lot more than hold his own. They also see someone who will take the fight to Obama. They do not want to nominate another pusillanimous soul who holds back for fear of saying the wrong thing and offending the commentariat.

Can you blame them?

But it’s not just Gingrich’s skill as a debater. Among the serious candidates, he seems now to be the only one who knows how to counterpunch.

Old political hands like to say that the problem is not the crime but the cover-up. I would add that the problem is not so much the attack but the absence of an effective counterattack.

Herman Cain did not fail because he was accused of all manner of sexual faults. He failed because he did not know how to respond to them effectively.

He did not know how to counterpunch.

Rick Perry cannot hold his own in debate. He might have the best record of governance, but he is inept when it comes to stringing together coherent sentences. He will never be able to make the case for conservative principles or Republican policies.

For now the Perry campaign is on life-support. It is being kept alive with self-deprecating humor and human sympathy. I cannot imagine a scenario where Republican voters are going to put Rick Perry on a debate stage with Barack Obama.

When it comes to Romney, we do not know how well he can counterpunch. He does well enough in one-minute sound bites on a debate stage, but he flubbed his interview with Bret Baier the other week, and his brittle, defensive,and irascible posture did serious damage to the assumption that he could offer an effective counterattack to the coming Democratic assault.

Gingrich can.

Yesterday’s exchange between Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi shows, clearly, why Newt appeals to Republican voters.

It began when Pelosi explained with perverse glee that she was hoping that Newt would be the candidate because she served on the ethics committee that investigated him and has at her disposal a treasure trove of opposition research.

In her words: “One of these days we’ll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich. When the time is right. … I know a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff.”

Yesterday afternoon Gingrich responded in a press conference at Manhattan’s Union League.

The Los Angeles Times placed the emphasis on him, not Pelosi, and headlined that he had “fired back.” Which is exactly what Republican voters want their candidate to do.

Gingrich said: “I want to thank Speaker Pelosi for what I regard as an early Christmas gift …. I regard [the threat] as a useful education of the American people to see what a tainted political, ethics operation Nancy Pelosi was engaged in."

Addressing the substance of the charge, he continued: “"Eighty-three charges were repudiated as false….The one mistake was a letter by a lawyer I didn't read carefully."

He added: “If she’s saying that she’s going to use material that she developed while she was on the ethics committee … that is a fundamental violation of the rules of the House, and I would hope that members would immediately file charges against her the second she does it.”

Gingrich was not defensive. He was not truculent. He was not irritated or brittle. He was straightforward and direct. He landed his counterpunches.

Of course, Pelosi immediately backtracked and said that she was merely talking about information that was in the public record.

Compare and contrast Gingrich with Romney.

The former front-runner was in the news yesterday too. Criticizing Obama’s vacation plans Romney quipped: “… I just think it’s time to have a president whose idea of being 'hands on' doesn’t mean getting a better grip on the golf club."

Does Romney really want to remind people that he is a favorite of the country club set?

Do you think that Democratic political operatives are quivering at the prospect of having to engage with Mitt Romney’s witty repartee?

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