“I have, for my sins, watched Gingrich make his pitch across what feels like seventeen thousand Republican primary debates, and I am at a loss to identify the ‘big ideas’ and ‘big solutions’ that he is supposedly campaigning on. Yes, he has an implausible supply-side tax plan, but you never hear him talk about it. He has technically signed on to some form of entitlement reform, but you never hear him talk about that, either. Instead, so far as I can tell, his ‘idea-oriented’ campaign consists almost entirely of promising to hold Lincoln-Douglas-style debates with President Obama, grandstanding about media bias and moderator stupidity, defending his history of ideological flexibility much more smoothly than Mitt Romney, and then occasionally throwing out a wonky-sounding notion (like, say, outsourcing E-Verify to American Express) that’s more glib than genuinely significant. His last-minute momentum in South Carolina, which last night’s debate did nothing to derail, has been generated almost exclusively by the politics of ressentiment: If he wins the Palmetto State primary, it will be because conservative voters don’t much like the mainstream press, and Gingrich has mastered the art of taking tough questions and turning them into dudgeon-rich denunciations of the liberal media and all its works…

“[I]f the Iowa results spoke well of that state’s electorate, a victory for Gingrich this weekend will say something less kind about South Carolinians: They’ll be elevating, as Mitt Romney’s final adversary, a man whose ‘idea-based’ campaign has been anything but, and who won last night’s debate (or at least won its biggest ovation) by turning the topic of his own serial adulteries into an exercise in self-righteousness so shameless that Bill Clinton would have blushed to deliver it.”

***

“Being an idea man is fine when you’re writing books, providing commentary and touring the country giving lectures. And it’s apparently enough to make waves in a presidential primary. But Gingrich’s non-traditional campaign failed to qualify for the ballot in his home state of Virginia. And it simply won’t cut it when going after President Obama’s billion dollar plus war chest in a general election. This is something that John McCain proved last time when he won the nomination with a skeleton campaign, only to see his lack of organization (among other things) come back to haunt him in November.

“Beyond that, however excited Gingrich gets by ideas, if he can’t manage a small campaign staff because he’s simply ‘not capable of being a sort of traditional candidate,’ it’s hard to see how he’d competently manage the presidency.

“If Gingrich wins South Carolina and extends the primary, his lack of a traditional campaign will begin to work against him and to the advantage of Mitt Romney as the race goes national. And it will further reinforce Romney’s argument that his managerial competence makes him better equipped to defeat Obama and govern once in office.”

***

“Once forced to combat the president in a clash of 60-second sound bites refereed by Obama’s politically-correct buddies, Newt’s supposedly great debating strengths will backfire badly. In a Republican primary, his haymakers draw cheers from the partisan crowd and the commentators marvel at what a crafty street brawler he is. In a general election debate, the crowd of ‘independents’ will boo and the very same ‘news’ people will suddenly he horrified by the bull who just smashed their china shop to bits…

“Newt would be disarmed in this fight on multiple levels. First, he would lose the expectations game before he even started. Then, knowing his bar would be nearly impossible to hurdle; his massive ego would provoke him into lunging for a knockout on every punch. This would play right into the hands of the super coolheaded Obama who will be confident knowing that the referees will score anything his way as long as he simply stays on his feet.

“In short, the whole affair would be an unmitigated disaster.”

***

“Gingrich was great at rabble rousing. He was awful at actually managing things. That’s why, again, in the single campaign where he was clearly, unambiguously unchallenged as the architect of national GOP campaign strategy, in 1998, he took a lay of the land that virtually every pundit in the land thought would create at least a 15-seat Republican net gain in the House (Gingrich himself predicted as much as a 30-seat gain), and turned it into a five-seat loss that came within a hair’s breadth in about four races of blowing the entire House majority.

“Meanwhile, how can people say he has ‘changed’ or ‘grown’ or ‘matured’? It was less than a year ago that he was trashing Paul Ryan’s budget as ‘right-wing social engineering.’ It was as recently as 2010 that he was still endorsing a version of the individual health-care mandate. It was just last week that he was attacking Bain Capital from an extreme, left-wing position. Sorry, but that ain’t maturation — and it might explain why he took a 20-point lead in Iowa and a tied-for-lead in New Hampshire and, within about three weeks time, turned them into, respectively, fourth- and fifth-place finishes there. Only in his own backyard, in a state (South Carolina) neighboring his longtime Georgia home, could he hope to be competitive. Even if you give him credit for 1994, Gingrich has been involved in just eight heavily contested elections so far (for the House in 1974, 1976, 1978, and 1992, for the national House elections of 1994 and 1998, and for Iowa and New Hampshire this year so far) — and he has won just three of them. He effectively lost in 1974, 1976, 1998, Iowa, and New Hampshire. And this is the standard bearer who supposedly is going to slay Barack Obama via a series of Lincoln-Douglas debates that of course will never happen anyway?!? I think not.”

***

“Fox News, 1/12-1/14:
Obama, fav/unfav, 51%/46%, +5
Romney, fav/unfav, 45%/38%, +7
Gingrich, fav/unfav, 27%/56%, -29

“CBS/NYT, 1/12-1/17:
Obama, fav/unfav, 38%/45%, -7
Romney, fav/unfav, 21%/35%, -14
Gingrich, fav/unfav, 17%/49%, -32

“PPP, 1/13-1/17:
Obama, app/dis, 47%/50%, -3
Romney, fav/unfav, 35%/53%, -18
Gingrich, fav/unfav, 26%/60%, -34

***

“Rather than lapsing into the standard ‘Aw-shucks, I’m just an average guy’ political routine, Gingrich went out of his way to embrace his man-on-the-ramparts-of-history persona. Asked about a single regret in the campaign, Newt gave a lesson in Newtonian physics: ‘I would skip the opening three months where I hired regular consultants and tried to figure how to be a normal candidate. And I would just go straight to being a big ideas, big solutions, Internet-based campaign from day one.’ This is Gingrich practicing the politics of authenticity just like he does when he wears suits while campaigning on weekends. Unlike Romney, Gingrich knows who he is and doesn’t try to hide it.

“The fact is, the former House speaker personifies conservatism much as Ronald Reagan did in 1980. With two thirds of the state’s GOP electorate older than 45 (based on 2008 exit polls), voters remember that Newt was the most important Republican of the 1990s. His triumphs in a bleak decade for the GOP earn him a degree of latitude that will never be granted to Romney, no matter what hard-right positions Mitt takes in the quest for the nomination.

“The danger, of course, in this hairpin-turn political season is to over-react to Gingrich’s momentum. Chip Felkel, a Greenville-based GOP political consultant who has not taken sides in the primary, reflected my view of the primary when he said, ‘It’s going to be close. The events of the last 72 hours mean that it could go either way.’ Say what you will about Gingrich — and entire libraries can be written pro-and-con — he remains the most fascinating candidate of this political season. And while he probably will not get the nomination, rest assured that he will not exit the stage quietly. Not after his latest miraculous return from the great beyond.”

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