Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Good Point on Gingrich

More on the 2008 presidential primary. There's an interesting column by Matt Towery on Townhall today the purpose of which seems to be to goad Gingrich into announcing his candidacy sooner rather than later.

It's interesting for two reasons. (Well, three if you count the fact that it seems to be written as an open letter to Gingrich rather than as a simple opinion column.) First, it speculates(?) that the fact that Gingrich hasn't declared his candidacy is part of a conscious strategy rather than second thoughts. I would have guessed the latter, myself. It's been VERY clear for almost a year now that Gingrich wants to run for president. That handful of say-nothing columns in National Review last summer were my first clue, but there have been many others. However, he hasn't gotten a very positive response in public opinion polls. To the right he's still boring and awkward; to the left he's still the welfare-cutting demon who emasculated Clinton. With charismatic people like Giuliani and McCain out and open, I just sort of assumed that Gingrich had realized he was beat and thrown the towel in. But Towery thinks otherwise: Gingrich is pulling a(n ill-advised) Ross Perot and waiting for key people in the party (or, preferably, a grass-roots movement) to ask him to step in after one of the big guys goes out with a Howard Dean implosion.

The other interesting thing about the column is that he predicts it will be the Giuliani campaign that implodes. The actual quote is:

With little or no grassroots organization in most states, Giuliani looks to be the '08 version of Howard Dean: leading in the polls, but with a campaign built on a foundation of sand.

Well, yes and no. Giuliani is sort of the opposite of Howard Dean in crucial ways. At least in one crucial way: Howard Dean was eminently electable in the Democratic primary, it was worries about his chances in the national election that gave the party cold feet. Giuliani's problem, however, is the primary. He's easily electable in the national contest - provided Republicans can overcome their distaste and get him there.

However, there are good reasons why maybe they shouldn't. It's never been entirely clear to me why Giuliani wants to be president. Last time I checked, mayoral experience, even of a city-state like NYC, wasn't itself enough for an impressive resume. More importantly, when mayor of New York Giuliani had a cause. He was cleaning up corruption, crime, and a general Balkanized attitude that was killing the city he loved. What's his big stake in the presidency? Giuliani's the kind of candidate better run after 8 years of Democrat mismanagement. He can't run as a "fighter" in this election without marking Republicans as the source of the country's current problems! Of course, this is partly why I wouldn't mind him winning. The Republicans have been a big disappointment over the last 8 years - and precisely what is needed is an anti-corruption, pro-free market campaign within the party - to remind them that national politics are about what's good for the nation, not an evangelical crusade that greases middle America's palms on the side. That's what Rudi would bring, so I've been half-heartedly cheering him on (half-heartedly because he's still a gun control supporter) from the sidelines. But the election, unfortunately, is against the Democrats, not the big bosses in the Republican Party.

Gingrich is the better choice. He, like Giuliani, is a party disciplinarian - and was booted for largely this reason after 6 years as "Prime Minister," actually. But on top of that, he has some within-party appeal with the base. He's not from New York, he's pro-life, he talks about God often and convincingly enough, etc. etc. (Actually, I don't think Gingrich actually believes in God, but he's certainly turned up the Hallmark cheese over the last year - the surest sign of them all he's planning a run.) No doubt virtually all Republicans would be happy with him, and he'd make a fine president. The question is whether he's electable?

All other things being equal, I'd say he wasn't. But the Democrats have more or less narrowed it down to two complete goofballs (Obama and Hillary), so all other things are not equal, as it were. Gingrich would have no trouble in a contest with Hillary, I think. She'd start out with the upper hand, but the debates would cinch that. It's Obama that worries me. Never mind that the man is clearly unqualified to be president, the public loves him. He's a good speaker, and he's managed to convince everyone that he's "one of them" (which, of course, he isn't). But best of all for Obama, he's a measured thinker. He never shoots from the hip - always remains calm under pressure and has the patience to wait for his moment. He and Gingrich are similar that way - but Gingrich, while twice as intelligent, lacks his public appeal. In fact, Obama's lack of experience is proving to be a valuable asset in some ways. Republicans suffering from white guilt and soothed by Obama's reserved speaking style into thinking that they finally have a reasonable black national politician on their hands (and they are legion) have a lot of space to use their imaginations about what Obama's policy priorities will be since there isn't a whole lot of information on what he stands for.

All the same, I think Obama is also a house of cards in lots of ways. It's just a question of whether the Republicans have someone smart enough to expose it as such and collapse it. Obama's the kind of nut that would be easy to crack if you go about it the right way. I'm not sure whether Gingrich and Giuliani can or not. I'm sure McCain and Romney can't, so there's that. But I do think that if Obama is the Dem nominee and ends up running in the election, it's likely to be either a pretty convincing win or a loss in a landslide. In other words, it depends completely on whether his opponent finds his weak spots.

I would MUCH rather have Gingrich in the White House than Giuliani. I have said before and will say again now that I would consider breaking my clean Libertarian voting record to cast a vote for Gingrich. But I would rather have either of them in the White House than Barack Obama. So in some important sense I don't really care which one the Republicans nominate, just as long as it's the one that can go on to beat Obama, should he win his own primary. Fair enough, I suppose a Clinton/Obama ticket is more likely in the end, but Obama's chances are good enough that it scares me. (Interestingly, I doubt Obama would choose Hillary as his running mate, so one advantage to an Obama win is the end of her political career.)

So here's hoping that guy wins. I'm not sure I agree with Towery that Gingrich's moment is now. He's still unpopular enough that announcing now would feel like starting off on the wrong foot. However, I think Towery's main point is right: that the longer Gingrich waits the more talented people and good money go to other campaigns. Plus, someone needs to end this McCain nonsense sooner rather than later. Gingrich anouncing now would probably clear the pretenders from the field and effectively narrow the race down to the serious candidates. I'm betting that's Gingrich and Giuliani.

If Towery is right, Gingrich thinks so too. That's the main point of the column, in fact. Why is Gingrich so forthcoming about his marital problems now, when it seems most likely to hurt his already-ailing campaign bid? Why because it outflanks Giuliani, of course. Gingrich is clearing away a major stumbling block ahead of his anouncement, putting an embarrassing issue for Giuliani back on the table in time for the primary, but far enough ahead of the real election that it doesn't hurt Gingrich there.

I don't know what Gingrich's actual chances are. I rate them low, but I rate Gingrich's intelligence and political savvy very high, so I won't be surprised if he can turn his situation around. Here's hoping he does.


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