April 10, 2009

Assessing GOP 2012 - Gingrich

This is the final regularly scheduled review of potential GOP candidates for the 2012 nomination. It's not clear that Newt Gingrich is considering running for the Presidency in 2012, or ever. However, if he were to consider running, he would have to be considered a top contender. He certainly has said and done things over the past 15 years that would indicate he has considered the option and has tried to position himself to be in a good spot for a run.

Other Candidates reviewed,

Mitt Romney
Mark Sanford
Bobby Jindal
Sarah Palin
Mike Huckabee

Experience: Newt Gingrich was elected to Congress in 1978, on his third attempt, having previously lost two close elections. In 1979 he joined the Public Works Committee. Gingrich won 10 consecutive Congressional elections through 1998 when he retired from Congress. He had won an 11th but refused to take his seat, when in 1998 his popularity had slid as low as 28% before recovering back to the mid-40's. During his tenure he became Minority whip in 1989, and House Speaker in 1995, after successfully launching the Contract with America during the 1994 election cycle with many other Republican Congressmen and hopefuls. That cycle saw a gain of 54 Republican seats, and the first Republican Congressional majority in decades.

Grade: A. With 20 years in Congress and an understanding of how Congress works, including a couple of leadership roles in that body, Newt has a wealth of experience relative to other potential GOP contenders. It could be argued his experience is not 'executive' like that of Sanford, Palin, Jindal, Huckabee or even Romney. However, because of the relationships Newt has undoubtedly cultivated over the years, he has potential insights into the Presidency that would mitigate that issue, and his leadership roles certainly exceed that of 'community organizer'.

Likability/Electability: Newt's Contract with America in 1994 came with something that was fundamentally lacking in Congress in so many areas - common sense. A big part of the appeal of Newt and the young Republicans at the time was that very common sense. Common sense goes a long way towards electability, and arguable some distance towards likability as well. Newt still has that common sense.

Here he is talking about gas prices in 2008.

Newt does carry some baggage that Republicans might find uncomfortable. He sought and obtained a divorce in 1981 (Newt is twice divorced). He was charged with 84 ethics counts with respect to some of his GOPAC activities in the 1990's. He also was slated to receive a $4.5 million advance on a book deal that Democrats howled about. Will these impact his electability? Arguably not. Of the 84 charges he faced he was cleared on 83 and agreed to pay a $300,000 fine on the other. The charges were politically motivated by retribution against Gingrich because of his efforts to go after corrupt Democrats including the likes of Jim Wright and Charles Diggs.

The book deal is not a concern to anyone but liberal Democrats who view money as evil. Clearly that does not include the likes of Hillary Clinton who received an $8 million advance on her book deal. Besides, the United States was built and thrived on capitalism. Go Newt. The only baggage that might be of concern is a conservative backlash against the divorce issue. Some argued that it was part of the knock against Rudy Giuliani. Even that, some 31 years ago come 2012 will likely be a muted effect. Still the taint of scandal may be there just because Newt is a Republican and perhaps, though hopefully not, his primary opponents may try to leverage it with respect to his electability versus President Obama.

Overall Newt is somewhat charismatic, and has more of a stage presences than arguably anyone else in the expected Republican field, with the possible exception of Sarah Palin.

Looking at the CPAC poll in February 2009, he ranks ahead of only Huckabee and Sanford, slightly behind Palin and Jindal (and Ron Paul) and at 10%, only half as popular as Mitt Romney. The poll (displayed here) is too preliminary and too skewed to be considered anything more than directional. What it does say is that Newt would certainly not have a cakewalk in a popularity contest.

Grade: C+. I've been told on Twitter that he's yesterday's man, to which I would counter you're only as outdated as you think you are.

Foreign Affairs: Newt has sought reform in the United Nations. He's had some very harsh languange on Iran's leader. He talked a strong game on North Korea's recent missile launch.

In his own words;

Grade: B. Newt sees the big picture which is a definite plus. On the other hand he comes close on some counts to the pre-emptive focus of the Bush doctrine. Unfortunately the pre-emptive approach is simply not feasible given the fiscal constraints of today, and Gingrich has not addressed how to bridge this gap.

Economy: Newt Gingrich supports the line item veto and a balanced budget ammendment. Standard fare for most conservatives. He also favors free trade. And while these are good ideas, Newt himself seems to rail against the idea of conventional wisdom;

Gingrich is all about offering, as he puts it, a “better value” for the American customer — constructive solutions Republicans can take on the road during the next midterm election season and beyond. “Most Republicans are not entrepreneurial,” he lamented to me. “They’re corporatists. They like the security and the comfort of a well-thought-out, highly boring boardroom meeting in which they do a PowerPoint once. And it worries them to have ideas, because ideas have edges, and they’re not totally formed, and you’ve got to prove them, and they sound strange because they’re new, and if it’s new how do you know it’s any good, because, after all, it’s new and you’ve never heard it before.”

On taxes, the following;

“The American people are fed up with Washington’s irresponsible spending spree,” said Newt Gingrich, General Chairman of American Solutions. “There are better solutions than big government and higher taxes to create jobs and get the economy moving again.”

“American Solutions is proud to partner with the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition to communicate this message to our elected officials,” Gingrich added.

On the bailouts, Gingrich has this to say;

While it seems like too simple a solution, it bears a striking resemblance to how the Community Reinvestment Act changes by the Clinton administration caused the housing bubble and some simple changes could have prevented the whole problem.

On government reform, Gingrich offers a mixed bag of opinions, some of which blame his own success in 1994 for the lack of bi-partisanship today. Apologizing for your own success is not the mark of a great leader.

On energy, Newt is in favor of energy independence.

Grade: A-. Newt's common sense approach is tempered only by his tangental slips into bi-partisanship leanings. It's not to say bi-partisanship is a bad thing, but in the current climate, it's just not feasible. the left has moved too far left for Newt's ideas to be watered down and achieve his desired goals. He should ease up on the idea and focus on leading with his own solid ideas. Be inclusive, but lead.

Military: Newt Gingrich has supported a stronger military. During his tenure as Speaker military spending increased for the first time in over 10 years including funding for a national missile defense. While outside of an executive role, Gingrich clearly was able to show at least tacit support for the military. And many of his positions were and are, ones that require a strong military. Further, Gingrich understands the importance of a technological advantage over potential adversaries.

Grade: B+.
National/Border Security: Newt ties the two issues together in ways the other candidates have not yet done. From Wikipedia;

From Gingrich's five challenges: "No serious nation in the age of terror can afford to have wide-open borders with millions of illegal aliens crossing at will."

Although a source of friction in the conservative wing of the GOP (and some pro-union "Blue Dog" Democrats), Gingrich supports a "guest worker program" for foreign workers, meaning that an undetermined number of foreign workers would be allowed to come to the United States and work for a period of time, then return to their home country. Gingrich also supports the idea of allowing some of these guest workers to become citizens. In his book Winning the Future, he says:

"Along with total border control, we must make it easier for people who enter the United States legally, to work for a set period of time, obey the law, and return home. The requirements for participation in a worker visa program should be tough and uncompromising. The first is essential: Everyone currently working in the United States illegal must return to their home country to apply for the worker visa program. Anything less than requiring those who are here illegally to return home to apply for legal status is amnesty, plain and simple."

Grade: B. From a logic perspective, Gingrich understands the connection between open borders and terror threats. However, he seems a bit soft on paths to citizenship for conservative tastes.

Social Issues: On abortion Newt is an originalist with respect to the Constitution, meaning presumably that Roe v. Wade was a stretch. He believes that prayer in school is the will of the majority, and is against affirmative action. He has a tough stance on crime and drugs. He wants schools updated to the 21st century. He is pro-family, wants America focused on technology for the future. While the last point may not be a social focused item, it ties in to the education point. Social issues seem to be less of a focus for Gingrich, but he holds to standard conservative principles (outside of family and religion) for seemingly political expedience. Gingrich may have no quarrel with the conservative position on these issues, but they do not seem to be his driving focus. His focus is more on American strength, security, peace and prosperity.

Grade: C+. Newt's driving motivations lie elsewhere, but he will adhere to party lines.


Grade: B. Newt is solidly conservative, and despite a few personal flaws in his life, he espouses positions conservatives typically support.

Overall: Newt has some great ideas that work well, within the conservative views on solutions to America's problems. The question for Newt is whether conservatives are willing to overlook his personal past, and whether he would be regarded as past his window of opportunity/value.

That aside, the GOP could do worse than Gingrich, and Gingrich could do worse than the GOP. Whether or not everyone sees it as a good fit, remains to be seen.

Grade: B.

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