I have been agnostic on the Republican primary so far, but the time for choosing has arrived.
For the reasons set forth below, I believe that the primaries will come down to Mitt Romney versus Newt Gingrich. As such, the choice is not between Newt Gingrich and some hypothetical more perfect conservative candidate, as Newt’s most vocal critics would have us believe.
I’m supporting Newt Gingrich as the most conservative Republican who is electable and most qualified for the position of President.
The Case for Newt is Strong
It is not enough to have a “not” candidate. There is a positive case for Newt.
As to Newt’s conservatism, one needs to view his almost 35 years in the public eye as a whole. There are few politicians who have fought as hard over so sustained a period against the false narrative in which an ever-expanding central state is seen as necessary and the decline of the United States is deemed inevitable.
While any of the Republican candidates running can argue against a particular policy or piece of legislation, only Newt has shown the ability to see the historical forest for the trees, to argue for American exceptionalism and greatness founded in history and constitutional principles, not sound bites. This description by Melanie Phillips seems most fitting:
Faced with the apparently overwhelming power of the left-wing media and intelligentsia, weaponised through their Orwellian hijacking of the language of the centre ground and their career-ending bullying and intimidation of all who dare to disagree, many conservatives have succumbed to the cultural mind-bending without even realising they have been in effect captured by the enemy.
The reason why Newt Gingrich is striking such a chord is principally because he does realise all this very well, and so delivers a very clear message and the hope of a return to reality. He gives expression, in other words, to an authentic conservative voice. Gingrich is very smart, a serious thinker and a good communicator. He is also extremely tough and resilient. He is without doubt a Big Beast in the political jungle — beside whom Mitt Romney, his chief rival, seems a diminished figure….
Desperate times like these need a Big Beast not just to defeat Obama but to defend the free world.
Newt is uniquely capable of communicating a winning conservative vision in a persuasive and forceful manner, as the positive reaction to his debate performances demonstrates. Obama versus Newt on stage before an audience of tens of millions of voters could lead to a catastrophic defeat for Obama, while Obama versus any other current candidate could have the opposite effect.
Newt has a political history which fits very well with the current political and economic conditions. While Newt was a combative Speaker of the House, he also was someone who fought successfully to balance the budget, reform welfare, and implement an economic growth agenda with a Democratic President in office. An electorate sick and tired of Washington politics and deficits will welcome this narrative.
The Case Against Newt is Weak
Many of the personal criticisms of Newt are fair game and well-known, and we would be foolish to discount them completely. But Americans are a forgiving people on personal matters, and Newt has atoned for his real and perceived sins. Variations on “when I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible,” still work.
Newt has made some policy mistakes, but that is to be expected from someone who has been so forthcoming with ideas and solutions, not just polled talking points. Some of those positions have been distorted and misrepresented, but some of the criticisms are fair, as Newt would acknowledge.
We never get a perfect candidate. We choose among those who are running. So don’t tell me about all Newt’s supposed heresies unless you are prepared to make the case why one of the other current candidates stacks up better. Among those who are running, no other candidate measures up to Newt.
Romney is not Conservative and Cannot Inspire
You can make lists of Newt’s policy positions over the course of several decades which were not conservative, as many people have started doing since Newt’s rise in the polls. But can you make lists of positions of Mitt Romney which were conservative prior to his decision in 2005 to set himself up to run for President in 2008?
And isn’t that the point? Romney simply is not conservative; he doesn’t exude it, he didn’t govern that way, he didn’t run that way in Massachusetts, and deep down, I don’t think most Republicans believe it.
Someone who is pro big state government does not inspire trust that he will be anti big federal government when in office. As the 2010 elections demonstrate, electoral success will not be achieved through someone who wants better big government; we need someone who truly believes in better smaller government.
Romney is a smart, decent person who would make a better President than Obama, but there is a reason three-quarters of the Republican electorate desperately seeks someone who is not Romney.
This primary cycle has been not so much a search for a nominee as it is a search for a nominee who is not Romney. No other candidate has given rise to a “not” movement. Romney is not capable of motivating the Republican electorate, and therefore damages the chances for victory against Obama. See, Bob Dole, John McCain.
A candidate has to have an intangible quality that leads people to want to get out and work, and vote, and fight like hell for the candidate. That is not enough to make one presidential (see, Obama), but it is a necessary component of general election victory which Romney does not possess.
Romney’s electability versus Obama simply is overstated. As leading Republican candidate after Republican candidate has been put through the media grinder, Romney has not. The mainstream media has been noticeably not going after Romney, saving the proctological examination of his business dealings at Bain for the general election grinder. (This Chicago Sun-Times article is a rare media attack on Romney and a taste of things to come.)
We are in the absurd position that the one candidate who most needs testing because he is the most likely nominee is the one candidate the media ignores as it devours his opponents. Buyer beware, we are being fed a false narrative of Romney electability.
Indeed, the most recent polling by McClatchy shows Newt as strong if not stronger against Obama. Let that be a warning bell every time you hear the argument that Romney is most electable because he is more moderate. Indeed, the argument that Romney is most electable because he appeals to moderates is ironic coming from people who argue that Gingrich actually is more moderate than the “Gingrich who stole Christmas” caricature.
How telling that one of Romney’s current most vocal supporters not long ago told us that if Romney were the nominee he would lose to Obama.
The Other “Not Romney” Candidates Are Weaker Than Newt
The other leading conservative candidates do no better than Romney in comparison to Newt. Unlike in prior election cycles, when a candidate could lie in the weeds until Iowa to make a surge (see Huckabee, Obama), Bachmann, Perry and Cain all have had their surges and have fallen back due to a variety of problems which are not going to go away.
Perry has been a solid Governor who has been unable to bring it to the national stage. I had very high hopes for Perry when the buzz of his possible presidential run started over the summer, but reality did not meet expectations, by a wide margin. It is too late in this election cycle for Perry to change the nation’s first impression, not even a better than expected showing in Iowa.
Cain is a very likable and inspirational person, but has not yet demonstrated the command of issues or ability to govern effectively. I am not convinced that 9-9-9 is a good or winning theme but it is the centerpiece of Cain’s campaign on which the presidential election would rise or fall if he were the nominee. I am not willing to risk four more years of Obama on whether the nation accepts 9-9-9.
Michele Bachmann had her surge early on, a surge I did not support or think could be sustained. As she has dwindled to low single digits in the polls, she has become more strident in her rhetoric and has taken herself pretty much out of contention.
That leaves Rick Santorum among the conservative candidates. He has not had his surge, and he may beat expectations in Iowa. But I do not think a candidate whose most recent electoral experience was a massive loss in Pennsylvania can make the case that he is a national candidate.
Paul is not a viable option to me, or in a national election.
Why I Support Newt At This Moment in Time
In many ways this is the riskiest of times to come out in support of Newt. Since he climbed to the top of the polls recently the long knives have come out for him. Newt is the first to acknowledge that such a process of extreme scrutiny is a good thing, which shows an electoral maturity that some others have lacked.
If my judgment proves incorrect, and Newt cannot survive the scrutiny, so be it. But it would not change my reasons for supporting him and for believing that he is the best candidate among the Republicans who are running.
We need someone who is conservative, inspirational, has command of the facts and arguments, and has the ability to bring it all together without fear of time clocks, debate moderators, or the mainstream media.
We need a message and a messenger. That is why I am supporting Newt Gingrich.
Updates: Ed Morrissey, Newt Gingrich is for real:
Those who want a fighter know that they can trust Gingrich not to embarrass them through incoherence or ignorance, and that he has a more natural inclination to confrontation than Romney. …. And if it comes down to Gingrich and Romney, the Tea Party contingent may well put its shoulders behind a man who they know will outfight Barack Obama if a more consistently conservative alternative fails to emerge.
More from Morrissey here:
Gingrich may not be a conservative dream candidate, but he has worked with grassroots conservatives far more than Mitt Romney has over the last several years, and he shows a much greater tendency to fight than Romney does as well. If there are no reliable conservatives whom voters can trust not to make fools of themselves in a long campaign, Gingrich at least fills that bill. And compared to Mitt Romney, Gingrich may well be conservative enough to become a rally point — much like Romney himself was in 2008, albeit too late to stop John McCain from winning the nomination.
I am not brushing aside his support of Dede Scozzafava, or that global warming commercial he made with Nancy Pelosi. His personal baggage is known.
But so is his record: He pushed for term limits, balanced budget, balanced budget amendment… He is pro-life and pro-liberty. I cannot think of another leader in Washington — he was 2 heartbeats from the presidency from 1995 through 1998 — who has publicly denounced secular humanism.
Note: While I will actively support Newt, I want readers to know that this blog will remain a place where supporters of various Republican candidates are welcome to make their voices heard in the comments.