The presidential political landscape is beginning to clarify itself as 2012 approaches, and several observations are becoming apparent on the republican party side.
The first is the power of the Mitt versus the Non-Mitt. Governor Romney has struggled to convince a party increasingly principled in its views as to what the country needs, that he has any base principles that they can rely upon. This has led him to be fairly stuck at around 25% of the republican electorate, and has led to wave after wave of alternative candidate interest, in hopes that someone, anyone, with a more committed view of conservatism might take hold and overtake Mitt. The general weakness in quality of the alternatives has thus far made Mitt unassailable.
Second, the acknowledgement that most of the alternative candidates are pretenders to the office of president is becoming clear. The latest heretofore ‘serious’ candidate Herman Cain announced his candidacy suspension amidst a cloud of snarling allegations regarding his personal life discipline, but the predominant reason for his collapse was the exposure of his seemingly oblivious knowledge base regarding current events. A President that doesn’t remember the name of a leader of a country is forgivable, but a president that isn’t sure which country is which is more telling. Cain’s announcement foreshadows a flurry of announcements that are bound to occur after the early primaries as it becomes obvious to most of the electorate what a weak field of candidates this really is. A sad commentary of our times when the world shows the need now more than ever for transcending leadership.
Third, any hope that an articulate voice of reasoned conservative thought would see the void and jump in to the race is essentially gone. The young lions of the Republican Party like Jindal, Ryan, and Rubio have determined that their moment in time lies in later years, and the old guard such as Senators Demint and Coburn have determined that their role lies as behind the scenes ruttermen.
That leaves…Gingrich. The phenomena of the sudden boon in popularity of one of the more conflicted politicians of our times is fascinating. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who only two months ago whose viability as a candidate was a daily question, is suddenly the chosen means of conservatives seeking to derail the Romney train from crossing the bridge to nowhere. Speaker Gingrich seems to have caught fire at just the right time, a two month window of debates where the various pretenders were outed for their obvious lack of depth of insight into the current issues, and Gingrich’s acknowledged ability to frame issues and show depth of understanding. Of course, the President’s critical skill set is not simply being a debater (as our current debater in chief has woefully proven), but to direct the debate with reasoned and prescient analysis, that solves problems and finds a way forward.
Gingrich’s style has always been a more scatter-gunned approach with good ideas and scatterbrained ones sitting side by side with no apparent discernment between the two. This lack of intellectual discipline, and the former Speaker’s tendency to see himself as the superior ‘better idea’ incubator, has led to some of his conservative colleagues with a very bad taste in their mouths. Brian Bolduc in National Review Online describes the events of 1997 when Speaker Gingrich, at the height of his power, was nearly undone by a coup among his own leadership team due to his recurring undisciplined, egocentric tendencies. It appears to be the opinion of those that know him best, that the personality characteristics that got him into trouble then, are still innate within him, and will inevitably derail him with the voting public, or worse, create an undisciplined, chaotic presidency.
I have personally heard Gingrich in extended form previously, and must say though it was some time ago, I recall the sensation of having participated in an auction. The Speaker as auctioneer put forth an enormous number of words and ideas, but at the end of it all, I realized I wasn’t interested in buying anything he was selling, and wasn’t even sure what exactly was for sale. This unsettling feeling about Newt Gingrich has never left me. Can a principled reasoned conservative vote for a candidate who at one time bought into anthropogenic global warming hysteria and was comfortable with ‘cap and trade’? How about a candidate who would be relied upon to bring fiscal discipline to government agencies (Fannie Mae) who he recently took mounds of money from in consultative fees? And most damnably, a candidate that just this past summer looked upon a well thought out approach for health care reform put forward by Paul Ryan and accepted as an official plank of the Republican legislative agenda, as “right wing extremism”?
The Gingrich dilemma, can someone lose the most onerous parts of his makeup, and discipline himself into a positive force, is question for debate as 2012 arrives. The good news is that Gingrich himself will likely over time define the dilemma clearly for us all as the race for the nomination becomes a two man event. How can he not. For Speaker Gingrich, all the world is about to become a stage.