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Is "President Gingrich" Really That Frightening?
It's important for a political party to question the electability of its candidates, especially when it comes to the presidency. If a candidate isn't electable in the general election, it matters little how popular he or she is with the base. Thus, I totally understand Republicans' reservations with Newt Gingrich. The man carries a lot of personal and professional baggage with him, which has been pointed out so often that it's not worth recapping here.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, the electability factor had been the greatest argument against Gingrich' candidacy. But that dramatically changed once he showed some staying power as the Republican front runner. Now, with the Iowa caucus quickly approaching, we've seen a dramatic difference in the type of friendly fire criticism coming from the right. It's now less about his prospects of beating Obama than it is about his mental competency to be the next president.
The current narrative is that he's no longer just the guy who cheated on two wives and fought ethics violations. He's now the Republican Boogie Man! A radical and reckless loon who would poison the presidency if elected! We expect this caricature of Republican candidates coming from liberals (and the left has certainly been hysterical over Gingrich), but rarely do we see it coming from fellow conservatives...
Conservative writer Peggy Noonan recently wrote that Gingrich is a "human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, ‘Watch this!’”
Former Republican governor of New Hampshire, John Sununu, claims that Gingrich has a "congenital problem" of not being able to prioritize anything above his own ego.
Former Republican congresswoman, Susan Molinari, said she is "terrified to death" of Newt becoming the nominee.
Congressman Peter King and Senator Tom Coburn (both Republicans) have voiced doubt that they could even support Gingrich as their party's nominee.
The editors of the prominent conservative publication, The National Review, wrote a very rough piece on Gingrich, urging readers to exclude him from their consideration.
Conservative author Ann Coulter and radio host Glenn Beck have labeled him as a big government progressive with radical ideas, cut from the same liberal mold as Barack Obama.
Fellow candidate, Mitt Romney, even felt comfortable suggesting that Newt was zany and unstable.
What has happened here?
Is Newt really such an erratic individual that the thought of him representing the Republican party prompts prominent conservatives to seriously consider voting for a third-party candidate? Isn't this the same guy who lead the Republican party to their first control of the House of Representatives in 40 years? Isn't this the same guy who was instrumental in successfully reforming our welfare system? Isn't this the guy who helped balance the federal budget? Wasn't Newt's pressure on the White House one of the reasons Bill Clinton is widely recognized as a fiscally successful president?
Is the idea of Newt as our president really that horrifying? To be honest, I'm not sure I know the answer.
Like many, I've always been impressed with Gingrich's knowledge of the issues, his abundance of practical ideas, and his articulate and unapologetic defense of conservative values and policies. I would love to see him debate our president, effectively expose the failures of the current administration, and promote conservative solutions using historical context to justify their worth.
That being said, I'm the first to recognize that he's a flawed candidate. Despite the assertion that he's matured since his days as Speaker, he's made some recent off the cuff remarks that I find unsettling. In fact, his criticism of Congressman Paul Ryan's entitlement reform proposal initially made him a non-starter for me.
But can't the same be said for the rest of the Republican field as well? They've all made the occasional sketchy statement, but no one's categorizing any of the others as being nuts. Well, maybe they are about Ron Paul.
Regardless of the motivations of his detractors, I think the conservative cause hurts itself when one of its most effective orators is treated by the rest as if he's Hannibal Lecter. I understand that time is running out, and people should speak out now if they have concerns over candidates who would go on to represent them. I just hope that such animated criticism of Gingrich is coming from an honest concern, and is not merely the right's borrowing of the left's smear tactics to promote a different candidate.
Members of the Republican base who have been leaning toward Gingrich are going to have to decide quickly which Newt they believe in: The bold and brilliant leader or the eccentric and unhinged provocateur. And once they've answered that question, they'll need to decide if he's worth the gamble when they can pinch their noses, vote for the presumed more viable candidate in Mitt Romney, and hope they've made the right decision come the general election.