Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Batter Up: Newt Gingrich Steps to the Plate

Thus far in the Republican presidential campaign Mitt Romney has not hit any home runs. His string of singles and doubles has given him a solid batting average and has made him the betting favorite for the nomination.

Yet, Romney’s batting average as governor came when he was hitting as a lefty. Today he claims to be a switch hitter, but he has only shown his right handed swing in batting practice, and Republican voters have little confidence in how he will govern.  

And, as of today, Romney has not shown that he has the power to deliver when runners are in scoring position.   

Most Republicans do not like or trust Mitt Romney, so they have been on the lookout for the next great phenom. They want a candidate who can light up the scoreboard, who can not only hit home runs but who can do it when the game is on the line and when there are men on base.

Republicans are looking for a candidate who can hit the famed Obama slider. And they want someone who will not be fooled by the Obama knuckleball. Happily enough, Obama does not have a cut fastball.

So, Republicans are looking for someone who can stand up to Barack Obama in a debate, who can make the case for their governing philosophy, who can set the agenda, and who can lead the party to victory in Congressional races.

First up was Michele Bachmann. In Iowa she had home field advantage and she put it to good use. On the first pitch she hit a ground rule double. Unfortunately, Bachmann had little experience running the bases and she let herself be picked off second base.

Next was Rick Perry. He entered the batter’s box with the best stats. He looked like a natural. He had a great batting average in the minors. The only question was: How would he do against major league pitching?

The answer came in the debates. Looking dazed and confused, Perry stood frozen as two strikes were called. Finally, he struck out flailing at the third pitch.

Perry looked like an American League pitcher hitting in the World Series. Playing in a National League park he had to stand in the batter's box. He looked as though he had never seen a big league pitch.

Then, Herman Cain stepped in. The fans knew that Cain had had a great career playing volleyball. But spiking a volleyball is not the same thing as hitting a baseball.

Still, on the second pitch, the Florida straw poll, Cain hit a sharp line drive to right. He made it to second base easily, but he tried to stretch it into a triple and was thrown out at third.

As I write, Cain is still disputing the call, but the instant replay shows that he was out. It wasn’t even very close.

Now, it’s Newt’s turn at the plate. The Republican electorate sees a man who looks like a born catcher. Now they are waiting to see whether or not he can hit.

Surely, Newt can think. More than anyone else on the team he brings intellectual heft to the role. He has even found a great concept to frame the contest between him and Romney.

CNN reports: “In an interview Tuesday with CNN's Piers Morgan, Gingrich equated his plight to an Aesop fable: ‘The bunny rabbit runs by and falls asleep. The tortoise just keeps coming,’ Gingrich said. ‘So hopefully in this game, Mitt Romney will be the bunny rabbit and I'll be the tortoise. That would all work out perfectly.’”

By turning the fable that we all know as the story of the tortoise and the hare into a story about a tortoise and a bunny rabbit, Gingrich is cleverly diminishing Romney.

As Gingrich steps into the batter’s box, the fans are already cheering him on.

This morning in the Wall Street Journal, cheerleader-in-chief Dorothy Rabinowitz explains that Gingrich is the smartest and most substantive candidate in the Republican field. He has more experience in the national arena than nearly all the other candidates.

And he has shown that he can hit major league pitching. He has set an agenda, led Republicans to an improbable victory, and enacted major parts of his agenda.

People who thought that Chris Christie would easily out-debate Barack Obama feel the same way about Gingrich.

In a campaign defined by debates, Gingrich has stood out. More so because he has not resorted to the ignoble exercise of trash-talking his fellow Republicans.

Rabinowitz writes: “The former speaker has stood out at these forums, the debater whose audiences seem to hang on his words and on a flow of thought rich in substance, a world apart from the usual that the political season brings.

"’Substance’ is too cold a word, perhaps, for the intense feeling that candidate Gingrich delivers so coolly in debates. Too cold too, no doubt, to describe the reactions of his listeners, visible on the faces of the crowds attending these forums—in their expressions, caught on C-SPAN's cameras, in the speed with which their desultory politeness disappears once a Gingrich talk begins. Their disengagement—the tendency to look around the room, chat with their neighbors—vanishes. The room is on high alert.”

Now, the question is: if the bases are loaded and the game is on the line, can Gingrich hit in the clutch?

For now we know that if Gingrich is heading the ticket, the standard Democratic slander… i. e. that conservatives are dumb… will vanish from the political landscape.

If his candidacy starts gaining tractions, Democrats will certainly start trying to brush him back from the plate. They might even throw high and inside to intimidate him. They are certainly not beneath a little bean ball.

Above all else, they do not want to give him anything to hit.

The odds of success are slim, however. Gingrich has enough experience to know not to chase pitches that are outside of the strike zone.

Having already been vetted, Gingrich has no secrets that are going to shock anyone.

If Rabinowitz is right, an Obama/Gingrich showdown will be a clear struggle between two competing philosophies. After all, that is what elections are supposed to be about.


Robert Pearson said...

Heh, the bench is getting short, Stuart.

It may well be that conservatives are so desperate to save the nation from ruin that they will choose a serial adulterer as the nominee. I note that Rabinowitz doesn't get in to that, but at the beginning of the campaign I figured Newt was never going to get far with the Republican primary voter because of the personal issues.

Now, I think the times are strange enough that it just might happen. A guy who made a "global warming" commercial with Nan Pelosi is the new Great Conservative Hope.

After Newt, I guess that's it. If he doesn't get to Romney we'll just have to go with what my hero Robert Heinlein wrote--there's not always someone to vote for, but there's always someone to vote against

CatherineM said...

He is lousy with people and a terrible front and center politician. He is back office, not out in front. He puts his foot in his mouth (the big Ryan criticism in the spring) all the time. I don't think he will be nominated. Too toxic. He may be "vetted" but he has a lot of baggage.

Romney is the smartest of the bunch because he is just waiting patiently as the others all self implode. Give Newt enough rope and he will hang himself.

Robert Pearson said...

I didn't make very clear in my first comment that I actually like Gingrich intellectually. Great ideas, fun to listen to, and a great Amazon reviewer. I'd like to have a couple of beers with him. I'll vote for him against Obama. I'll vote for almost anyone against Obama.

But like Catherine says, Mitt isn't going to do anything stupid, and thus he's going to win the nomination in about 90% of the scenarios I can think of.

On the other hand, I didn't see any way Hillary could lose, either. My Lens still needs a little polishing, apparently.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Indeed, Robert, the bench is getting very, very short.

All signs point to Romney even though his poll numbers are stalled in the low 20% range. Which has to tell us that Republicans do not much like him or much trust him.

And they do not expect that he can make the case for conservative principles.

Surely, there's room for another candidate, but I think that in the great ball game of the Republican nomination, it's Newt's turn at the plate.

I'll have to say that I don't think his chances are very good-- I won't say slim because that would be wrong in the context-- but stranger things have happened.

CatherineM said...

They don't like Romney because of Mass Health Care.

The Hilary / Romney comparison is wrong. It's Romney/Obama because they are both more palatable (now, when Romney's the nominee they will go all ape poop on his religion to make you concerned he will turn us all Mormon because that will be all they have. They can't attack Mass Care because the press loves it.) to the press and they both do the "blank slate" thing.

I do think Romney is very well rounded in his life experiences/accomplishments for the job. He's tested unlike the current President who only had untested theories that "had to work" because all of his buds on campus agree with him that he's super smart. Newt was tested in the 1990's and he would go off half cocked. Most of his team quit for cryin' out loud for his off the reservation changing his mind. Can you imagine an executive office with that much turnover?