As the campaign heats up, a strange dichotomy is taking place. Many Republicans — including tested conservatives like Sen. Tom Coburn — are publicly attacking Newt Gingrich. Here’s a list of what many of them say. In her latest Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan captured the argument of anti-Newt conservatives and wrote that, although he can be inspiring, “those who know him fear — or hope — that he will be true to form in one respect: He will continue to lose to his No. 1 longtime foe, Newt Gingrich. He is a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, ‘Watch this!’”
In yesterday’s New York Times, its house conservative, David Brooks, wrote that in many ways, Gingrich could be described as a big government conservative who over the years has favored cap-and-trade legislation to curb global warming, supported universal health care coverage, favored liberal immigration reform, and whose common theme “is that government should intervene in crucial ways to create a dynamic, decentralized, low-tax society.”
Indeed, Brooks thinks that “Gringrich loves government more than I do,” and has “no Hayekian modesty to restrain his faith in statist endeavor.” Some would say, should they discover this, that Gingrich is no Tea Party right-winger. Even a “national greatness” conservative like Brooks thinks that Newt’s program “is a little too great.” So Brooks joins others in faulting Gingrich for his work with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. He also endorses the widely read blog post by Yuval Levin, who at NRO noted that the programs of Newt and Romney are not that different. But what is different, Levin observes, is their very different temperaments. Romney has a temperament of an executive, is disciplined, and shows “calm and restraint.” As for Newt, Brooks writes, he “seems to have walked straight out of the 1960s. He has every negative character trait that conservatives associate with ’60s excess: narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance. He just has those traits in Republican form.”
Hence Brooks concludes that Gingrich “would severely damage conservatism and the Republican Party if nominated.” Writing in even harsher terms, Levin puts it this way: “he has no discipline whatsoever, can be almost unbelievably erratic and unfocused, and is unironically conceited.”
The analytical Republicans who oppose Gingrich are not what some call RINOS (a term I disdain, for it is a put-down to real debate and consideration of issues); they are conservatives who have served with Gingrich, know his volatile character and lack of discipline, and worry about his unelectability and — if elected — what kind of a president he would be.
As for the Left, they favor a Gingrich nomination for their own reasons, and in fact, they are more than similar to the very reasons many Republicans hope Romney gets the nomination. Case 1 is the example of the recent article by historian Michael Kazin in The New Republic. Like many Newt supporters, Kazin relishes a presidential debate between Gingrich and Obama. He thinks, as he puts it, that it would “bring a healthy candor to our politics and end up boosting the fortunes of liberalism as well.”
In other words, voters would see a great difference between the conservative and liberal approach to the world, and Kazin’s side, that of the liberal-left, would easily win. Kazin thinks a debate between the two would be “refreshing,” and that we would see “a serious debate between articulate exponents of liberalism and conservatism — the ideological conflict that has shaped American politics since the emergence of a mass movement on the right in the 1950s.”
Kazin also likes Newt’s stridency. As he writes, he is “an articulate, if savage, exponent of a conservative world-view, and his nomination…would represent the triumph of rhetorical boldness over Romney’s cautious artifice.” Moreover, he thinks that would allow Obama “with an opportunity to advocate the progressive principles that inspired him to run for office in the first place.”
So Kazin is confident that in a two way serious debate, “Obama would win,” since Gingrich to a wide audience “comes off as an arrogant pedant unable to convince those who are not already on his side.” As he says, “preeners don’t get elected president.” Finally, with an Obama victory in hand, Kazin sees Nirvana finally arriving: “It would expose the moral and logical defects of the conservative ideology that has been mostly dominant in the U.S. since 1980.”
On the last point, many of us would challenge Kazin. Conservatives may have won political power, but in the culture at large, the ideology that flourishes is that of Kazin and many to the far left of him. He travails in the gardens of academia, and he knows that — since he himself has written one of the most devastating critiques of the influence of the late Howard Zinn — the ideology that flourishes there and exists as well among most of our nation’s top journalists is that of Nation magazine-style leftism.
The truth is, that the electoral landscape has changed drastically, and scores of registered Democrats are now declaring themselves as independents, and the president’s chances to win in swing states is lower than ever. That is why readers should turn to the very brilliant article by historian Paul Rahe of Hillsdale College that appears at Ricochet.com. Rahe, like Fred Siegel, compares Obama to the mayor of New York City in the 1970s, the late John Lindsay. After a masterful analysis of why the elites like Obama and the white-working class does not, Rahe offers the following conclusion:
“I nonetheless think that the Republicans are likely to win. The John Lindsay coalition is an exceedingly fragile one. One might even say that it is apt to self-destruct. The material interests of upscale voters and those of Americans dependent on government largesse do not coincide, and in a time of straitened circumstances and widespread unemployment the tensions between those who pay the bulk of the taxes collected and those on the take are apt to be extreme. How many upscale voters want to see their taxes dramatically increased in the near future? It may not be bread alone that determines voting patterns in the US, but during economic downturns such concerns loom especially large. I could easily imagine a new coalition taking shape – one that unites upscale voters, working stiffs, and small businessmen against public-sector workers and those who live off government patronage. Such a coalition, forged in a time of suffering, might last a very long time, and, if it did, the number of public-sector workers and of those living off government patronage would steadily decline.
To this analysis, we can add one more item. Barack Obama has done for the United States what John Lindsay did for the city of New York. He has brought us to the edge of bankruptcy, and he has made us look into the abyss – and he has compounded the problem by saddling us with Obamacare, which grows less popular with time. Moreover, one cannot say with regard to the administration that brought us the Fast and Furious and Solyndra scandals that it has not been ‘incompetent or foolish or corrupt.’ One can say, however, that it has been ‘actively destructive.’“
The 2012 election, no matter which candidate wins the Republican primaries, will be a hard fight. Rahe’s analysis shows that it is a race that the Republicans can and should win — but only, I caution, if a candidate emerges who radiates caution, responsibility, and shows presidential decorum. Let us hope that the Republicans do not blow it.