Newt settles Bush/Carter "worst president" controversy: They both reek

Violations of the Eleventh Commandment aplenty in this New Yorker piece about the big dead elephant in the room, starting with Newt hammering Rove, then DeLay hammering Newt, then Armey hammering DeLay, and finally Jeff Flake wondering aloud how much worse things are going to get before they get better.

This, in particular, sent a shiver of recognition down my spine:

Newt Gingrich is one of those who fear that Republicans have been branded with the label of incompetence. He says that the Bush Administration has become a Republican version of the Jimmy Carter Presidency, when nothing seemed to go right. “It’s just gotten steadily worse,” he said. “There was some point during the Iranian hostage crisis, the gasoline rationing, the malaise speech, the sweater, the rabbit”—Gingrich was referring to Carter’s suggestion that Americans wear sweaters rather than turn up their thermostats, and to the “attack” on Carter by what cartoonists quickly portrayed as a “killer rabbit” during a fishing trip—“that there was a morning where the average American went, ‘You know, this really worries me.’ ” He added, “You hire Presidents, at a minimum, to run the country well enough that you don’t have to think about it, and, at a maximum, to draw the country together to meet great challenges you can’t avoid thinking about.” Gingrich continued, “When you have the collapse of the Republican Party, you have an immediate turn toward the Democrats, not because the Democrats are offering anything better, but on a ‘not them’ basis. And if you end up in a 2008 campaign between ‘them’ and ‘not them,’ ‘not them’ is going to win.”

True enough, and for all the fawning we (and others) do over Fred!, Fred! is very much “them.” So what’s Newt’s solution? Simple — make sure the GOP nominee is “not them” to take away the Democrats’ advantage and make this a “fresh state” election on both sides. A penetrating analogy:

The only way to keep the White House in G.O.P. hands, Gingrich said, would be to nominate someone who, in essence, runs against Bush, in the style of Nicolas Sarkozy, the center-right cabinet minister who just won the French Presidency by making his own President, Jacques Chirac, his virtual opponent. Sarkozy is a transforming figure in French politics, Gingrich said, and he suggested that the only Republican who shared Sarkozy’s “transformative” approach to governing was [himself].

In a country that wanted to say, ‘Not them,’ he managed to switch the identity of the ‘them.’ He said, ‘I’m different from Chirac, and she’s not. If you want more of the same, you should vote for her.’ It was a Lincoln-quality strategic decision.”…

Gingrich has been criticized lately by some conservatives—most notably DeLay—for spending too much time reaching out to center-right voters; he advocates modernizing the government rather than making it smaller… It is true, Gingrich said, that he wants to bring the center into a coalition with the right, “because I want to give the right power. The right can have power only by being allied with the center.”

Exit question one: Aside from his position on global warming, what exactly is it about Newt that’s going to attract centrists? And exit question two: Don’t we already have a “not them” center-right candidate?


Update: Lookin’ good!

[E]ven if voters’ opinions of the Republican Party rebound somewhat, the party still faces a very hilly political landscape for the 2008 Senate campaign. That is because Republicans will be defending 21 Senate seats next year to just 12 for the Democrats. And even worse for Republican planners is the fact that — at least at this still very early point in the campaign cycle — they appear to have only a tiny number of Democratic-held seats that appear serious targets.

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