three for newt

I missed the Republican Q & A Saturday night hosted by Fox contributor and ambassador to religious conservatives Mike Huckabee. (Perhaps President Gingrich can make that his first appointment.)

The Dish write up is, as usual, instructive.

Three themes are emerging from the Gingrich surge, and assuming they don’t cross hoses a la Ghostbusters, a Gingrich win on the Republican side strikes me as more and more plausible.

1.) Organization, in the traditional sense, doesn’t count. This is the most radical, and least understood, development in the Republican sphere this cycle. ‘Organization,’ the ability to attract volunteers and to move people to the polls, has been a moderating force in politics. That’s right, moderating. While you may need to fire up the base with radical propositions, you historically have had to show old-fashioned competence at the nuts and bolts of politics.

If this too has been subsumed by the Fox News-ing of the Republican selection process, and if you no longer need to carry a big infrastructure to win, that’s a huge game changer, another sign the brakes have come off. I can’t wait to see if this one’s true. (For a look at the other side of the argument about organization, here’s the New York Times story of December 5.)

2.) Gingrich voters want to feel powerful. (I make a distinction here between ’empowered’ and ‘powerful.’) This is the ‘positive’ in what Andrew Sullivan accurately describes as Gingrich focusing ‘entirely on Obama hatred.’ While the voter I’m thinking of is largely voting against someone, in this case President Obama, he or she is also voting for someone who isn’t afraid to be mean and arbitrary. That’s because Gingrich is the only candidate who appears to have the intellectual firepower to be on the same stage as Obama, and at the same time has the kind of rage the base requires.

Ron Paul, who is also a smart talker, simply isn’t angry enough. He’s like an uncle who looks at you and says ‘Yep, the world is unfair. Here’s how we should face up to it.’

So going with Gingrich is a little like being part of the high school clique that follows the big mouth jock around. You’ll quash whatever discomfort you occasionally feel in exchange for the satisfaction of watching him bully the weaklings.

3.) Gingrich has the most valuable skill, one that fits better with these talk radio and Fox News times than ever before: he knows how to surf the zeitgeist, to use a terrible expression. He is the poet of political contradiction, the Walt Whitman (‘Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself’) of doubletalk. He, ummm, contains multitudes, each one prepared to cut down the hapless questioner who points out that reality requires a certain consistency of thought and approach.

Where is this headed? Well, in the political world I understand, this emerges as a two person primary, Gingrich v. Romney, and Gingrich collapses a few states in because he has no traditional organization to build on his growth. However, let’s assume that isn’t the case this time out, and that the ‘traditional’ model either doesn’t work at all, or will require massive retro-fitting. Let’s further assume that Gingrich’s personal issues and private versus public contradictions on policy get a thorough vetting, as an increasingly desperate Romney mounts an ugly negative campaign.

So Gingrich emerges as a bloodied nominee, someone for whom the word ‘baggage’ was invented. He’s dead in the general election, right?

I’m thinking not. The core Newt voter will not just paper over the things he or she doesn’t like, he will revel in it. It will be the kind of campaign that brings a smile to a right wing face – while the press and liberals are batting down this contradiction over here, Newt will have already moved on to that outrage over there. Add a continuing weak economy, voter laws that may make it harder for Democrats and the memory hole that is Fox and talk, and you have the making of a real contest.

President Obama will not fare well in such a campaign. To date, the Obama strategy has been mostly ‘the truth will out…eventually.’ The President appears to believe that if he simply does enough reasonable, reality-based things long enough, that a.) things really will get better, and b.) a sufficient number of people will realize it.

He may be right on both points, but in a campaign there’s a fixed end point, election day, by which time something like reality has to catch up to outrage in order for Obama to have a chance. If the Democrats can’t pull that off, President Gingrich will have a chance to demonstrate just how strong he really is, and how weak and willing the rest of us are.


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