Anguish over the rise of Gingrich

Sage McLaughlin writes:

I see that Gingrich leads in Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire. If this doesn’t change, Obama is our next president, period. I am exasperated by Republicans who insist that this obnoxious troll is capable of beating the President in the general election. He is not. It is the same problem as with Sarah Palin—Republican partisans simply have no idea how narrow her appeal is, and they deluded themselves into thinking that red meat Republican rhetoric is as popular with the country at large as it is among themselves. It is not.

As for Mark Jaws’s claim that Gingrich brought results, I remind him that the “result” for which he is most famous is the re-election of a politically weak Democratic president who was mired in scandal. It took someone as thoroughly unlikable as Newt Gingrich to lose a contest of popularity with a president that nearly everyone acknowledged was a slimy character. He is also famous for madly overreaching on his mandate following the 1994 Republican Revolution, attempting to govern the country from the House, and more or less destroying the forward momentum the party had gained after the Clintons repeatedly had tarnished themselves (e.g., with the Hillarycare fiasco). Gingrich was a disaster, and I’m surprised that someone as politically aware as Mr. Jaws remembers it differently.

But of course, the Republican voter has this crazy idea fixed in his mind that the election in 2012 is going to be a referendum on the debates, that the election itself is going to be one big debate, and that the Oxford Union is going to be scoring the results and presenting them to the public. Wake up, my friends. Obama’s entire Presidency is a case study in the triumph of celebrity over substance in American electoral politics (and for that matter so is the popularity of Sarah Palin). And of course, while we’re talking about substance, there’s also the tiny issue that Gingrich is not a small government conservative anyway.

This entire mess makes my head hurt.

- end of initial entry -

James P. writes:

Sage McLaughlin writes,

The “result” for which [Gingrich] is most famous is the re-election of a politically weak Democratic president who was mired in scandal. It took someone as thoroughly unlikable as Newt Gingrich to lose a contest of popularity with a president that nearly everyone acknowledged was a slimy character.

I don’t regard the outcome in 1996 as Gingrich’s fault. The 1996 election was between Dole and Clinton, not Gingrich and Clinton. Dole lost because he ran a weak campaign, seemed old and frail compared to Clinton, and was nowhere near as personally likable as Clinton (to rephrase Sage, it took someone as thoroughly unlikable as Dole to lose a popularity contest with Clinton). Personally, I don’t remember “everyone” thinking Clinton was slimy; my recollection is that Clinton was generally viewed as an incompetent President but his personal popularity was high (somewhat akin to Obama today).

In 1996, the Republicans retained control of Congress, with gains in the Senate and slight losses in the House. If people were voting against Gingrich in 1996, then one would expect the Republicans to lose Congress and especially the House.

Mark Jaws writes:

I would like to remind my friend Sage McLaughlin (whom I met through VFR) that I am well aware of the “Gingrich Revolution” Overreach, Newt’s loss of momentum in 1995, his subsequent decline in popularity, and his infamous moment of resignation. But on the other side of the coin we have a Newt who masterminded the first successful GOP capture of Congress in 40 years; actually delivered on his promises laid out in the Contract With America; and maneuvered a popular and very shrewd president (and I disagree with his assessment about President Clinton’s having been weak and unpopular) to agree to a compromise of budget balancing and welfare reform measures which seemed to work. I also disagree with Sage’s pinning the blame on Newt for Bob Dole’s pathetically insipid 1996 campaign. That is an overreach.

Maybe because I myself have had my nose bloodied in local political battles and have come back the better for it, that I will gladly take a man who has been in the arena over someone who is a second-team benchwarmer (e.g., Bachmann and Santorum). I also think Sage underestimates the impact of the 2012 debates. Let us remember that Barack Obama is the slick, glib, quintessential empty suit. Many people support him simply because they confuse good talk with performance. If this talking dog can be bitten, the whole dynamic of the race may change. Think of Axelrod’s predicament—just how to prepare Obama to defend his record against someone like Gingrich who will not play the role of a guilt ridden, timid white man, as McCain did?

James R. writes:

I agree with much of what Mark Jaws wrote, though with qualifications; Clinton wasn’t weak, and won in 1996 largely because of the economy rebounding after the Republican House compelled him to relent on his anti-growth policies and embrace some of his more pro-growth policies, and because he faced Bob Dole.

That said, Gingrich also helped make Clinton popular, in small but not inconsequential ways. Gingrich did push, and largely pass (in the House) everything he promised. However Gingrich’s Achilles heel showed itself as time wore on. Apparently he was very effective at maintaining discipline in the ranks, but he was clearly not self-disciplined over the long term. It is for this reason he is despised by most of his colleagues, and this is also the reason you despise him, and which would be the probable downfall of any Gingrich Presidency: His inability to maintain focus on anything for longer than about six months. [LA replies: Or six days?]

He thinks big, and we as conservatives are in the ironic position of having to think big, radically even (the time for incrementalism is past, for the time being, the crisis is so deep). But a President can accomplish perhaps three “big things” during his time in office, and then only if he is persistent about it. Especially if those things are ones that the permanent government bureaucracy will oppose and seek to thwart at every turn if the pressure is not continuous.

I also disagree with Mark Jaws on a secondary point, when he writes that he prefers Gingrich who has “been in the arena over someone who is a second-team benchwarmer (e.g., Bachmann and Santorum).” Santorum is correct when he points out that his efforts were critical in passing welfare reform, and Bachmann has been fighting the good fight as best she can, given the odds; Traditionalists know the deck is stacked against them. I’d say these two have been in the arena and, whatever their faults, they’ve maintained their integrity in a place where few people do. I’m not sure the same can be said of Gingrich, though I do hope he really has learned from his past errors, and I just don’t mean familial ones.

Brett A. writes:

I recently received an email from the Bachmann campaign stating that 60 percent of Iowa voters are undecided on who they are going to vote for in the primary. Bachmann’s campaign is focused on Iowa and securing the local conservative support she needs to win. I don’t think that all the media hype over Gingrich necessarily means he has things sewn up. As a Bachmann supporter I just donate what I can when I can. As long as she is in the race I will support her, polls be damned. I would encourage other conservatives to do likewise. Don’t worry about the polls or the media hype. Just be thankful that there is a conservative still in the race and support her as much as you can afford to.

Robert B. writes:

Sage is correct. Mark is wrong. I remember quite clearly that by the time the House ejected Gingrich, most people were sick of him. Gingrich does not represent traditional America—he doesn’t even represent America. Gingrich is a globalist who may be just as likely to finish us off as Obama. Either way, we are in a sorry state. This is precisely the reason why it’s time to walk away from the Republican Party. It does not represent anything traditional either. While there are many good Republicans, they are few and do not represent the power structure at the top. Our candidates are being chosen for us and have been for quite some time. Again, it’s time to move on.

Mark Jaws writes:

We can go back and forth all week over the pros and cons of Gingrich. The bottom line is there is a likelihood he will be the nominee and for the sole reason that none of the other candidates measure up to big time, national-level scrutiny. Let us review this primary season. First, the affably moderate governors from Minnesota and Indiana bowed out. Then the allegedly conservative governor from Texas proved he was not ready for prime time. The businessman proved to be a libertine. And when it comes to the purer conservatives, the GOP electorate has had plenty of time to look at Santorum and Bachmann and neither of them elevated anyone’s pulse. In contrast to Republicans who eat their own, Democrats come to rapidly accept their emerging frontrunner and concentrate on the faults of the GOP alternative. I freely admit that Gingrich has his faults, but so does every other candidate on the right.

LA replies:

“Everyone has faults, therefore Candidate X’s faults don’t matter,” is a fallacious argument. The question is not whether Candidate X has faults, but what is the nature of those faults.

Mark Jaws replies:
Whatever the nature of Gingrich’s faults, he is much better than Obama. The “worse is better” argument is dangerous and for anyone to tout Ron Paul as a third party candidate is nothing but a dictatorship enabler. I have been an integral part of the Tea Party movement since 2009. More than anything else, the movement needs an inspiring visionary. Newt Gingrich may not be the ideal limited government constitutionalist, but I do know he is as effective as anyone I have seen in battering the Left and the DEMOCRATIC VERSION of big government. Having listened to his GOPAC tapes going back to 1989, I know he is not like a big government liberal. I wonder what these constitutional purists would have to say about the space program.

Robert B. writes:

My answer to Mark:

Just what has going along with the candidate du jour—or the lesser of two evils, gotten us? We are deep in debt to foreign adversaries. We have a near totalitarian state. We are on the verge of losing our free speech rights—and have for the average person who is terrified of voicing opposition to the liberal regime. We are being rapidly displaced—and not a single “viable” candidate has voiced opposition to this ugly fact. Going along has done nothing but strengthen the opposition—whether they be titled Democrats or Republicans, we have been betrayed time and time again. At what point do we stand as men and say “No More” to this ugly charade? We are in dire straights and voting for a Gingrich will do no good for the long term. It may buy us a few years, but what then? I am fearful for my children, I am fearful for their children when they come.

It’s time to grow up, act like men and deal with this. If nothing else, we can begin to set an example for others to emulate.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 12, 2011 11:46 AM | Send

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