Newt Gingrich and the presidential cauldron
In the Shakespearean comedy/tragedy that is the Republican presidential race, it's apparently time for a little eye of Newt.
The Grand Old Party has seemingly dispensed with Michele "Lady Macbeth" Bachmann, who learned it's still a man's world after all. Also Herman "Othello" Cain, brought low by sexual innuendo. And then the third candidate, uh, let me think, uh, oops -- oh right, Rick Perry, who, having posed the question "To be, or not to be," found out that the answer is the latter.
So now it's Newt Gringrich's turn to rise as the great conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.
As The Times headline read Tuesday: "Newt Gingrich, rising in polls, isn't at all surprised."
And why should he be surprised? Here's the ever-humble Gingrich's honest appraisal of himself: "I have more substance than any other candidate in modern history."
Of course, he may also have as much baggage as any candidate in modern history:
Gingrich still faces a number of high hurdles -- little money, scant on-the-ground presence in the early-voting states and, because few took him seriously until recently, the likelihood of fresh scrutiny of matters such as his two divorces and acknowledged adultery, and his post-congressional work as a paid advisor to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
Not to mention the question of whether the prickly Gingrich can connect with the common man. For example, at a time when many Americans are struggling just to make ends meet, he talks about how he mused about those problems while on vacation in Greece last summer.
So when he says stuff like "I'm like a lot of other Americans. I'm looking for a job" -- this from a man who lives in the tony Washington suburb of McLean, Va., not to mention one who has a million dollars in revolving credit at Tiffany and Co. -- well, let's just say it comes across a bit forced.
Even conservative Times columnist Jonah Goldberg has mixed feelings about Gingrich.
[T]he core of his strategy has been to plant a question in the minds of Republican voters. The question he wants them to ask is, "Whom would you most like to see debate Barack Obama?"
Goldberg calls that strategy "brilliant" -- but with caveats:
The risk for Gingrich is that primary voters may eventually recognize what he's up to. After all, as a purely practical matter, the point of picking a Republican nominee isn't to find the candidate who can beat Obama in a debate but to pick the nominee who can beat Obama in an election (oh, and be a good president too, a worthy subject for another day). Winning debates is great and important -- as Perry has painfully learned -- but they are a means to an end, not an end unto themselves.
It's an open question whether Gingrich can defeat Obama in 2012.
And isn't that the Republican Party's dilemma in nutshell? Many in the party seemingly don't want Romney, so they keep auditioning alternatives, all of whom come up short.
Gingrich will probably suffer the same fate. But hey, he's already a winner. As The Times story Tuesday said, at a meet-and-greet stop in Jefferson, Iowa, on Monday, "he was introduced as a top contender for the GOP nomination for president."
"It's the first time anybody, anywhere has introduced me as the leading candidate, which is kind of neat," said a clearly pleased Gingrich.
Even the smartest guy in the room likes to be liked.
Photo: Newt Gingrich has enjoyed a rise in the polls of late in the GOP presidential race. Credit: Winslow Townson / Associated Press