Thursday, January 26, 2012

Newt Gingrich, the Conservative Media Elite, and the Romney Express

It seems sort of surreal, like a classic episode of the old game show "What's My Line?" where contestants listen to people trying to convince them that they are a well known person by answering questions about the person.  In this case, however, we can all see that the person is Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and conservative icon in the mid 1990's until his precipitous fall from grace after the 1998 midterm elections, which resulted in a net gain of 5 seats for Bill Clinton's Democrats, something that hadn't happened since 1934.  That Newt Gingrich was a fiery orator who fiercely defended the Republican majority and attacked President Clinton whenever and wherever possible, endearing him to the conservative flock.  By the end of 1998, Newt's speakership was in jeopardy, he resigned as Speaker knowing he couldn't muster the votes for another term and then abruptly resigned from Congress altogether.  He spent much of the next decade peddling access to a former Speaker, meeting with members of Congress, writing (or ghostwriting) books, consulting for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, promoting climate change initiatives (with Nancy Pelosi), arguing in favor of the Heritage Foundation's individual mandate (THE key component of the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare), and pontificating on conservative issues for the American Enterprise Institute.  After toying with a run for president in 2008, Newt decided to take the plunge in 2012, ostensibly to retake the nation from the current president with the Kenyan, anti-colonial mentality, Barack Obama.  To do so, Newt has had to rewrite the past in many ways.

First, Speaker Gingrich would have the faithful believe he is the candidate most like Ronald Reagan in the field of four remaining Republicans.  In some ways, it is true.  Reagan was a pragmatic leader who knew when to stand his ground and when to compromise.  Newt has shown similar qualities, particularly after losing the battle with Bill Clinton over the budget in 1995-96 that resulted in two government shutdowns and a huge boost in Clinton's favorability ratings.  But Newt is not Reagan and, in fact, often criticized Reagan's foreign and domestic policy choices.  The conservative media have recognized this and begun a concerted effort to ensure that Newt Gingrich is never the Republican nominee.  For example, the conservative Washington publication National Review Online runs a story by Elliott Abrams in which the author points out that not only did Gingrich not help Reagan defeat the Soviet Union but referred to Reagan's summit with Mikhail Gorbachev as "...the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich."  Ouch!  Gingrich is also quoted as saying that President Reagan has "failed" on both domestic and foreign policy.  This in the spring of 1983 when unemployment was still over 10% in the longest such stretch since the Great Depression.  In contrast, unemployment hit 10% under President Obama for just a single month, October of 2009.  Using his Reagan standard, Newt should be singing the praises of President Obama for stopping the rise of unemployment as quickly as he did.

Second, even conservative blowhard Ann Coulter, famous for her defense of the late Senator Eugene McCarthy and McCarthyism, has gone on the attack against the former speaker.  Speaking about his 'doodles' during the House ethics investigation into Gingrich in the '90's she says that Newt saw himself at the " of the universe" and "...the designer of civilization."  She also called him "pompous and boring" when participating in debates without cheering audiences.

Meanwhile, over at the American Spectator, Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. calls Newt Gingrich the conservative version of Bill Clinton without the charm.  Other attacks from the conservative media elite have come from the editors of National Review, Glenn Beck, and even Rush Limbaugh.  For his part, Limbaugh urged the Speaker to lay off the media saying it will play well with conservatives, who have bought the lie of a liberal media hook, line, and sinker, but it will alienate moderates whom the GOP will need to attract if it hopes to defeat President Obama in November.

Why has the conservative media elite turned on Newt Gingrich so ferociously?  Simply put, Newt's upset win in South Carolina has scared the hell out of them.  They understand that Newt Gingrich is a loose cannon, extremely arrogant, and more than likely unelectable.  Though they're not in love with Mitt Romney, they're not even in like with Newt Gingrich.  In fact, many see him as a grave danger to the conservative movement and someone that could do the kind of damage that Barry Goldwater did to the party in 1964 (ensuring Republicans would be a minority in the House for another 30 years).  It's not that Republicans couldn't recover from a disastrous flameout and landslide to win the presidency in 2016.  They certainly could since Americans rarely award either party more than three consecutive terms (and that hasn't happened since 1988, before that 1932-52).  No, the reason conservatives are so nervous about Newt Gingrich is many realize that this election is the only chance they will have to stop the forward progress put in motion by President Obama.  If they do not win the White House the Affordable Care Act will be fully implemented by 2014, barring an activist decision by the conservative wing of the Court to override the will of the people and their elected representatives.  Further, as the economy continues to recover from the ditch it plunged into in 2008 President Obama, not the GOP, will get credit for the growth.  That means 2016 would favor the Democratic candidate, though only slightly as evidenced by the 2000 election and the defeat of Al Gore in spite of a record of economic growth from 1996-2000.  Once a law or program is fully implemented and the people come to like it, the possibility of repeal diminishes rapidly.  Just ask the Republicans who oppose Social Security and Medicare.

What we are witnessing is a coalescense of the conservative establishment around Mitt Romney and against Newt Gingrich.  Some argue that there is no conservative establishment.  I disagree.  I think there are two wings to the establishment, however.  There are the party insiders, who have mostly been pushing Mitt Romney for the past year or so, contributing to his campaign, helping his ground organization in Iowa (it's why he finished a close second while spending very little time in Iowa), and so on.  Then there is the conservative media elite, the 'echo chamber' of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh (and other conservative talk radio hosts), and the Wall Street Journal.  The media wing has been all over the board, searching for the one 'true conservative' heir to their idol, Ronald Reagan (the myth, not the actual Reagan).  That's why we heard speculation about Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, and others.  It's why Gov. Rick Perry was going to 'change everything' if he got into the race.  He did, but not in the way they expected.  He made the insider choice the most palatable of what by most accounts has been a very weak Republican field this year.  And now the elite conservative media have begun to climb aboard the Mitt Romney express.  No, they'll never fall in love with Mitt Romney.  No, he'll never be the next Ronald Reagan (there will never be another Ronald Reagan).  He'll just be Willard Mitt Romney.  And if he's lucky enough to get elected in November, the conservative media will tolerate him. It's what conservatives do.  Liberals grumble at their presidents for not being liberal enough.  Conservatives embrace and defend theirs, even if privately their hearts pine for a true conservative hero.

In just 5 days, voters in Florida will either choose the Republican nominee or throw the GOP race into chaos.  If Mitt wins, there won't be much in his way to stop his coronation by Super Tuesday (March 6th).  If Newt wins, chaos ensues and the likelihood of a lengthy nomination fight increases.  Why is Florida so important?  Simply because Florida is the first winner-take-all state.  The winner gets all 50 delegates to the National Convention.  That's 49 fewer than Florida is supposed to have because the state violated RNC rules by holding it's primary before March 1st and leapfrogged Nevada, which was supposed to be 4th.  Nevertheless, 50 delegates is a little less than 5% of what is needed to secure the nomination (1144).  Who will win on January 31st?  Watching the two wings of the conservative establishment coming together over the past week, my money's on Mitt Romney.  If so, the party will do just as it always does...nominate the guy whose turn it is.

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