The campaign for the 2012 Republican Party nomination began the moment after Sen. John McCain’s concession speech. One of the benefits of writing a blog over 10 years, and being political sentient over an additional 30, is memory. In many areas, personal relationships for example, memory is a curse. It is better to forget the stupid thing your brother said to you when you were a teenager or the faux pas your wife made at dinner with your parents before you married than to remember them. Relationships would last if memories were like the tapes (or now, computer chips) in black boxes that are 100% accurate for a given period of time and are completely erased as time progresses. But in politics a clear memory of events and statements in the past can help one judge politicians by their actions not their words.
Memory is one of the most important issues today in the contest for the GOP nomination. Was Romney a Democrat in 1992? Was Gingrich a Reaganite in the 1980s? These questions and many similar ones have been thrown like firecrackers at the feet of each candidate, forcing him to dodge or misstep, putting him off balance but not doing any irreparable harm. We have seen grainy analog video on our digital HD television and computer screens from a bygone era, thrown at the opposing candidates as if we were supposed to draw lessons about them today. But the only lesson I can draw is non-HD video really, truly stunk and I’m left wondering how we tolerated it without ruining our eyesight. My memories of that age are just as fuzzy but for a variety of different, biological reasons: becoming a parent. That event degrades the memory quickly, turning bright past experiences into pale shadows just glimpsed when uttering phrases like, “When I was your age…”
Honestly, does it matter if Romney wasn’t a Republican in 1992? Not to me because I wasn’t a Republican in 1992 either. As for Newt Gingrich, I didn’t like him in 1996 and gee, here I am 16 years later and I still don’t like him – but for different reasons. Back then I thought it was a blowhard desperate for power and willing to do and say anything to achieve it. I still believe that, only now I’m a card-carrying Republican and conservative instead of the opposite back then. Yes, I changed but apparently Newt has not. Evidently I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. The fact that he lost his speakership after a GOP revolt by his own members says it all. They revolted against him because people didn’t like him even then, and looking at the recent polls, again, things haven’t changed that much.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love watching him debate. If we were voting for the head of the national debate team in November he would definitely get my vote. Newt knows rhetoric and has a solid grasp of ancient and modern history – just not his own or his party’s. But we aren’t voting for the head of a debate team; we are voting for president and most Americans don’t watch the debates, don’t care about them, and will not allow their votes to be swayed by them. They will instead vote for the guy they like best. If Gingrich is one of the pair of guys they have to choose, he will lose because people simply don’t like Newt Gingrich.
Even conservatives don’t like Newt Gingrich. I nearly choked last summer upon seeing Newt call Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget “right wing social engineering,” and I haven’t like his recent leftist-style attacks on Romney’s wealth and taxes either. Newt hijacked these leftist talking points because he’s an opportunist and didn’t mind using the enemy’s rhetorical guns to shoot at Romney. As a gun owner I won’t buy an AK-47 for the very reason I find owning one immoral because it has sent too many of my countrymen to early graves. Gingrich showed no such tact by grabbing the argumentative equivalent of the AK-47 and used it against his fellow Republican. As someone who remembers (and still admires) Lee Atwater, I realize Reagan’s 11th Commandment not to attack fellow Republicans was more of a guideline than a moral stricture back then, but seeing Newt attack Romney with the leftist logic just brought up all those old memories of the 1990s. I might not be the liberal I was back then, but I still know a weasel when I see one.
In his Commentary piece, Peter Wehner points out the red-on-red attacks the Gingrich candidacy has wrought. “If you’re for Gingrich, so goes this story line, you’re for “genuine” and “fundamental” change. If you oppose Gingrich, on the other hand, you’re for “managing the decay” of America,” Wehner writes. I like Sarah Palin, but seeing her back Newt makes me wonder if I have misjudged her. Watching Newt attempt to seduce the Tea Party with his small government rhetoric is downright embarrassing to those of us who remember the expansion of the federal government under his watch. Did we live in the same era as Newt? Are we talking about the same reality – or has the current Gingrich slipped from another dimension where the former house speaker really did fight to reduce the scope of the federal government? It is definitely not the one I remember from the 1990s.
I would love to see Gingrich as the Republican equivalent of Winston Churchill: erudite, witty, stoic and persevering. I would enjoy seeing Newt school Obama and his minions in the press from now until Election Day in debates as well as on the stump. But Gingrich isn’t Churchill, and he sure isn’t Ronald Reagan. He has shown an Obama-like willingness to use any weapon at his disposal against his potential allies, an insatiable desire to pal around with liberals (see his appearances with Pelosi, Sharpton, et al), and a callous disregard for conservative values and the party that strives to fulfill them.