Whether or not Newton Leroy Gingrich wins the Republican nomination for the presidency is up for grabs: Willard Mitt Romney has been unable to attract more than about a quarter of GOP voters, Newt’s serial adultery may be marginally less a drag than Mitt’s serial flip-floppery and, of course, Iowa Republican caucus-goers are more or less insane (remember presidents Huckabee and Dole).
But Gingrich will not be elected president. For starters, you’re in big trouble when – all rise – George Will Himself, the High Priest of Anglican Republican Theology, proclaims that Gingrich “embodies the vanity and rapacity that make modern Washington repulsive.” This from a vain D.C. pundit who knows from repulsive.
Then there’s the revelation (only the latest in a long chain of abuses) that Gingrich has raked in millions in recent years “helping companies promote their services and gain access to state and federal officials,” as the New York Times put it, so as to allow Gingrich to assert hypocritically that he is not a “lobbyist.”
Of course this is just semantics. And legalese. Gingrich can’t admit he was a lobbyist because he was never registered to lobby on behalf of his clients. Even the dim-witted Michele Bachmann could see through this one, telling Chris Wallace at Fox News:
“It’s implausible, Chris, because he’s been a part of Washington, D.C. for over 30 years. He’s as Establishment as you get. His address is located on the Rodeo Drive of Washington, which is K Street. His organizations have taken in over a hundred million dollars just this year alone to peddle influence. You don’t have to be a lobbyist within the letter of the law in order to influence the outcome of legislation.”
But if he wasn’t a “lobbyist” per se, surely Newt – that’s Citizen Newt, to you, buster — wouldn’t mind if we refer to him as a backscratcher, skid greaser, door opener and influence peddler. Why else would people pay him? What, after all, did he do to earn all that cash? Hold senior seminars on the history of how a bill becomes law?
Whether he’s advocating for an end to child labor laws, calling President Obama a socialist or delivering divorce papers to his wife when she’s in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery, Gingrich personifies a level of condescension, contempt and arrogance that could choke a horse. He is one of the most distasteful figures in modern American politics, not just because he’s fat and nasty, but because he wears his smug hubris like Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter.
Even as he has picked up some of Herman Cain’s supporters – and you have to wonder why having committed your serial adultery in the past is better than it having just being exposed, but that’s another story – Gingrich remains a dislikeable figure.
Take, for example the Quinnipiac poll in which Gingrich has a favorable-to-unfavorable rating of 30-42% nationwide. But that’s a vast understatement, because in this survey, at least, he has a 64-10% positive favorability among Republicans, but a massive 9-67% unfavorable among Democrats and – most important – a 27-42% unfavorable rating among independents.
Compare that to Romney, whose overall favorability is 36-31% favorable, including 58-15% positive among Republicans, 19-47% negative among Democrats and –importantly — 37-27% positive among independents. (This, by the way, is why Obama’s people would be delighted if the Republicans select Gingrich instead of Romney.)
While Romney has racked up more support from the GOP Establishment, Gingrich is beating him in the polls among potential Republican primary voters. This may turn out to be a blessing for the Newtster if, as poll watcher Nate Silver postulates, GOP voters are becoming increasingly anti-establishmentarians. But all that gets Gingrich is the nomination – not the White House.
Newt is convinced he will be the nominee. This we know because he says so. “I’m going to be the nominee,” he told ABC News. “It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.”
Maybe. Maybe not. A lot of conservatives are rallying against the idea – worried that their best chance to take out a Democratic president (with Romney) would be turned to dust if their party picks Gingrich.
Some, like Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review, have been quite emphatic:
His recent proposals on immigration are classic Gingrich: innovative-sounding, accompanied by high-tech gadgetry, and wholly absurd. Local community boards will decide which illegal immigrants to expel! We will be “humane,” while denying temporary workers the vote and stripping their children of citizenship! . . . . Memories have faded, and his current fans say he is a changed man. But he still has the rhetorical style — by turns incendiary, grandiose, and abrasive — that turned off middle-of-the-road Americans then. (November 16: “Because I am much like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher . . . ”) . . . . Recall the events that led to his campaign’s meltdown this summer, in which he first praised Paul Ryan’s plan for entitlements, then condemned it as “right-wing social engineering,” and finally apologized to Ryan for the comment. . . .
But that’s elite opinion. Out there among the Republican base, Gingrich is generating a lot more upside intensity than Romney is, according to Gallup.
Which is what Obama and the Democrats are hoping for. Because no matter how smart the former Speaker of the House believes he is, no matter how clever – he will never be elected president because he’s so thoroughly unlikeable.