Newt Gingrich: The Party’s Over?
posted at 10:26 am on January 25, 2012 by Karl
This now is the party of Palin and Gingrich, animated primarily by hatred of elites, angry at the new shape and color of America, befuddled by a suddenly more complicated world, and dedicated primarily to emotion rather than reason. That party is simply not one that can rally behind a Mitt Romney.
If Newt Gingrich wins the Republican nomination–a notion that seemed absurd to anyone not named Newt Gingrich two weeks ago–the trend will have reached its logical conclusion. And the GOP will be where the Democratic Party was during the period from 1968 to 1988, a niche party out of touch with America and unable to win the presidency in anything but the most exceptional circumstances. Obama-Gingrich would likely be a landslide akin to 1984 and 1988.
Jazz does a nice job of explaining why the fight over the direction of a political party never really ends. However, what struck me was how superficial the complaints are in the first instance.
Granted, Sullivan’s intellect has been decaying for a long time. Even so, one would think it might have occurred to him that his basic indictment of the GOP sounds pretty much like every Democratic hack’s indictment of the GOP in every election cycle since the Sixties. Perhaps Sullivan would argue that every Democratic hack has been correct about the GOP since the Sixties, but even that lazy assumption would be problematic. In the immediate term, it destroys his argument that the prominence of figures like Palin or Gingrich represent something new for the GOP. More broadly, the notion that the right has some monopoly on populist anger is absurd, given the portion of the newshole given over to the Occupy movement over the past several months. Similarly, the notion that liberals are immune from magical thinking is more magical thinking from Sullivan. Indeed, the notion that Andrew Sullivan, one of the most high-profile and hysterical conspiracy cranks on the Internet, has the gall to throw stones in this context is a laugher.
Joyner, generally a more sane voice than Sullivan, unfortunately lapses into some flawed history. The Democrats were far from a niche party from 1968-88, having controlled the House of Representatives for that entire period, and the Senate for most of the period. Granted, the presidency is the big national office. However, even accepting that premise, I would again note that the GOP during this period was the subject of the same types of critiques being leveled today. The GOP’s populist streak arguably started with Nixon’s campaign against judicial activism and his reliance on the “silent majority,” which was historically much less silent than the typical academic would have us believe. And for all of that, the American people — as opposed to political activists — are not as polarized as Joyner fears.
Moreover, it is quite unlikely that nominating Gingrich would result in a loss anywhere near the Dukakis loss in 1988, let alone the Mondale loss in 1984. Although campaigns and candidate certainly matter, post-WWII elections suggest that the incumbent party will generally lose when the economy is bad and win when it is good. The performances of the Dems in ’84 and ’88 are easily explained by economic factors. Currently, the economic climate does not favor Obama’s reelection. Accordingly, even if you think Gingrich would be a losing candidate, the odds of a blowout seem rather low.
Of course, this could be the year in which the typical post-WWII model breaks. Given that the 2008 meltdown was in some ways the worst since the Great Depression, perhaps voters will be more forgiving of Obama’s failed economic policies. But once we start “This Time Is Different” arguments, they can be invoked on Newt’s behalf as well.
The point here is not to praise Newt or bury him. Rather, it is to note that if he should somehow become the GOP nominee it would not signal certain disaster in the general election or mark a fundamental shift in the nature of the party. Indeed, it might say nothing more than Republican voters looking at the political environment of 2012 and deciding — rightly or wrongly — that “abrasive loose cannon” is a marginally better brand than “animatronic plutocrat.”
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