Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman
HILLSBORO, Missouri — What if a state held a non-binding Presidential primary and the current front-runner for the Republican Presidential nomination wasn’t on the ballot? That’ll happen in Missouri on March 17 and just weeks ago the always correct (except when it’s wrong) conventional wisdom insisted this illustrated how former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had no “ground game.” And so, it was implied, Gingrich was doomed in his battle against his prime challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Until now.
If you’ve been woken up with a “BOOM!” it was the sound of the conventional wisdom imploding.
The catalyst was the demise of former Godfather’s CEO Herman Cain’s candidacy as the anti-Romney in hardline conservatives’ ongoing battle with the Republican Party’s center-right establishment. Then came the (in)famous ABC Yahoo debate where Gingrich solidified his status as the party’s best debater. And I’ll bet Mitt Romney three White Castle hamburgers plus a baggie of my toenail clippings that Romney’s challenge to bet Texas Gov. Rick Perry $10,000 that Perry was wrong about what he claimed Romney said in his book gave Romney the image of someone born with a silver flip-flop in his mouth.
How could the conventional wisdom fail? Because it feeds on itself.
Often smug pundits who do cable shows, write political stories, or write columns (like me) read or listen to each other which creates an unintentional group narrative reinforced by a) narrative-compatible polls and b) the pundits’ confidence in their own analytical abilities. It’s less an echo chamber than disciples repeating a Guru’s mantra with supreme faith in the end result. If a conventional wisdom narrative fails it’s seldom acknowledged and discreetly discarded.
The new CW line is that Romney is a 2011 version of the 2008 Hillary Clinton hampered by his state healthcare plan, not his Iraq War stand. Actually, Gingrich is a 2011 version of the 2008 John McCain who seemed politically dead yet but made a fool of the conventional wisdom by getting the Republican nomination in the end.
Gingrich is a highly intelligent, charismatic quote machine bursting with ideas (some of them lousy) who takes glee in negatively defining and demonizing foes. The conventional wisdom underestimated his appeal since Romney was more of a 20th century GOP candidate, has a huge campaign chest plus impressive GOP establishment support. Gingrich is the GOP’s 21st century Tea Party movement and talk radio political culture candidate. In fact, he helped shape the polarizing, confrontational talkers’ style and mega-partisan politics we all “enjoy” today.
Some top conservative talk personalities are now alarmed by Gingrich’s ascent because they fear The Old “Bad” Newt (circa 1992) could re-emerge, commit political suicide by mouth and blow their party’s chance to defeat the job-approval-challenged President Barack Obama. Ann Coulter is a virtual Romney surrogate. Glenn Beck calls Gingrich too progressive. Michael Savage even offered Gingrich $1 million to drop out because among other things, he wrote on his website, in Presidential debates Gingrich “will come off badly compared to Obama and look like nothing more than what he is: a fat old white man.”
Actually Savage should have offered Gingrich money to quit and be a historian: after all, Gingrich says he got paid at least $300,000 for that before (it wasn’t lobbying, you see). If Romney had a sense of humor he’d bet Savage a can of his hair spray that Gingrich won’t drop out.
This is no laughing matter. Gingrich is a supremely polarizing figure who’d turn off moderates, many independents, non-liberal Democrats, and further divide a divided country. Even some who worked with him suggest his temperament and ego are scary for the Oval Office. Pollster Whit Ayres to The Hill: “Those who know him best are not his strongest supporters.” But he tops Romney in South Carolina and Florida polls (big-time) just as polls show Romney doing better against Obama.
The pundits’ and Democrats’ conventional wisdom now is that Gingrich could be nominated but will likely self-destruct so there’s little chance he can REALLY be elected President.
Given the conventional wisdom’s recent accuracy, Gingrich might want to contact Tiffany’s and see if they make Presidential seal-themed office drapes.
Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be booked to speak at your event at www.mavenproductions.com.