Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich appears to (finally) be inching closer toward an official announcement of his candidacy. Despite some initial stumbles (one top aide leaking an impending formal announcement, which promptly generated a retraction by Gingrich’s official spokesperson the next day) Gingrich appears to be well on his way to joining what will surely be a crowded GOP presidential field.
Few observers, including those on the Democratic side, question the vigor of Gingrich’s intellect and policy mind. He is a wonk’s wonk who can expound on the federal budget (a subject in which he possesses infamous experience) healthcare, energy policy, and education reform. Truth be told, when it comes to a strict policy debate with President Obama (with the possible exception of Mitch Daniels--who appears more and more likely not to run) Newt would likely outperform all the other potential Republican candidates.
Despite these credentials, Gingrich maintains two tragic, if not fatal flaws. The first is that the American electorate does not vote on policy positions alone. Style, substance, demeanor and, let’s face it, likability all factor into electoral decisions. To some on the right, Gingrich is heralded for his take no prisoners approach to governance. The majority of voters (including some Republicans), however, perceive him as gruff and unwilling to entertain any opinion other than his own. It’s beneficial to be the smartest guy in the room, but it’s detrimental to know it.
Speaker Gingrich also recently stumbled when explaining his marital infidelities while working the social conservative base. His “I cheated for America” line fell flat and discouraged many who hoped he would have concocted a better answer. The majority of Americans (including this one) who believe in a forgiving God would have been satisfied had he simply said: “I sinned, it was wrong.” More broadly, it is unclear whether evangelical conservatives (an extremely important voting block in early primary states such as Iowa and South Carolina) are willing to back a thrice married, self-admitted adulterer.
These negatives aside, Gingrich does possess some visible momentum. He continues to raise money at a breakneck pace, contribute to conservative movements and causes and is making the stump rounds with the best of them. One might view Gingrich’s 12-year absence from government service as a detriment, but with an American electorate that considers all things Washington evil, Gingrich could turn this absence into an advantage. Gingrich also maintains a high national name ID--always a critical element in any electoral contest. Moreover, Gingrich preserves an army of loyalists who worked for or with him during his time in office. One former Gingrich staffer recently informed me that “we’re around, we’re active, and we’re ready.”
The former speaker certainly possesses the intellectual tools necessary to make a successful GOP primary run. The question for team Gingrich is if he can maintain this policy emphasis while strengthening and arming his political machinery for battle.