Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Newt and Mitt: a sad choice for the GOP

Politico ran a post recenly by John Bresnahan, Jonathan Allen, and Jonathan Martin with the title "GOP's anti-Newt chorus holds its tongue":

Newt Gingrich's critics within the GOP are legion, but for the moment they're something else: quiet.

They all remember the last time Gingrich held power, as House speaker: the bombast, the reckless personal life, the arrogance and lack of discipline that bordered on dangerous.


But in the face of Gingrich's surge in the polls, most Gingrich critics are keeping it to themselves. Part of it is because, recognizing that Gingrich is connecting with the GOP base better than anyone else in the field, they have little desire to get cross-wise with their own party. Put more bluntly, there is a dawning realization they might have to make peace with Newt the nominee.

Newt and Mitt
There are at least two takeaways here that fascinate. The first is the sense among some very serious conservative political insiders that Gingrich could win the nomination, and the second the recognition that there is so much out there with which to attack him that it would be a disaster if he did.

According to Guy Molinari, a former congressman who had a falling out with Gingrich in the 1980s:

There are so very many stories out there about his failings, moral failings, that he certainly would be a bad pick to bear the title of the president of the United States...I think there is a huge element of risk involved.

Up until very recently, Gingrich was widely considered a joke. It hardly seemed worth the effort to regurgitate so much of the sordid past of the guy who was just on the stage to generate profile for his personal brand. But now he's leading in the polls, it's getting very close to the Iowa caucuses and all this stuff about Newt is going to be coming out piece by piece in the short and long term because there is so much there.

On one level, I am truly amazed that the best the GOP can do is come up with only two realistic options for the nomination: Romney, who is disliked by broad cross-sections of his own party, and Gingrich, whose own "failings" are so very well-known by anyone who cares to pay attention.

And, here's the thing, people will start to pay attention. In our current 24-hour news cycle and blog-soaked universe, Newt Gingrich can't survive this. There's just no way. Certainly not in the general election.

He's gotten a relatively free ride in the short term, but this gets very ugly, very quickly.  

The story of the 2012 campaign, when the books are written, will be about how the Republican Party failed to present a reasonable alternative to an incumbent president who should have been easy to knock off given, if nothing else, how badly the economy was performing.

Even if Gingrich fails to win the nomination, the fact that he is doing this well so late in the process tells us all we need to know. The split between the radical-right and the pragmatic right is going to yield a candidate no one wants: "the immoral-arrogant-prick candidate" or "the guy-nobody-is-passionate-about-but-will-have-to-support-anyway-because-there-is-no-other-choice candidate."

Talk about unintended consequences.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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