Are Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney Really the Best the GOP Can Do?

Mitt and Newt may be the two "best-looking horses in the glue factory."

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The big story this week was the Newt-vs.-Mitt choice that is shaping up in the early primary states. The big question is who is more gleefully ecstatic at this development: Newt or the left?

[Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]

Here's just one example of the liberal happy dance this week, from Maureen Dowd:

As one commentator astutely noted, Gingrich is a historian and a futurist who can't seem to handle the present. He has more exploding cigars in his pocket than the president with whom he had the volatile bromance: Bill Clinton.

Reporters love to cover former Speaker Newt Gingrich, almost as much as they love former President Bill Clinton.

[See a slide show of Newt Gingrich's career.]

This race has been full of exploding cigars, and the idea of a few more explosions is dismaying conservatives. But what seems to be what we speechwriters call a "cocktail crasher" for conservatives—that is, a fact that causes one to drop their drink upon hearing it—is that Gingrich took millions in consulting fees from Freddie Mac even as he was suggesting those who supported it in Congress be sent to jail. As Peggy Noonan writes today, "His biggest problem? The millions he has made lobbying—sorry, teaching history—as a former speaker, Capitol Hill insider and member of the permanent political class," especially at Freddie Mac. Charles Krauthammer sums up the choice between Newt and Mitt as a choice first over electability as a candidate, and second, over ideological consistency as a president. Both of them have problems with those.

[Read Robert Schlesinger: Is Newt Gingrich a Lobbyist?]

To paraphrase Erskine Bowles recently, having to face the choice of former Gov. Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich for the Republican nomination is giving conservatives the feeling that that we'll be left with "the best-looking horse in the glue factory." Those of us who were hoping for Gov. Mitch Daniels, Rep. Paul Ryan, or former Gov. Jeb Bush to hop in are now well into Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief. It's incredible that the week that saw President Obama's approval ratings sink to former President Jimmy Carter's historic lows right before he lost re-election in a landslide is the same week that saw Newt Gingrich go to the top of the polls. As my teenagers would ask, Really?

Erick Erickson of Red State explains it pretty well:

For the longest time our users here have been for Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich. Suddenly, even the Perry supporters have decidedly turned toward Gingrich. Not all of them have, but a good number have. Perry may remain their first choice and for Cain supporters Cain may remain their first choice. But Newt is all of their second choice and they're going to defend him ... Romney was always inevitable until he was not. And three times now someone has gotten ahead of Romney. The first could be an anomaly. The second had to be considered. The third time must be taken quite seriously.

75% of the Republican voters have wanted someone who can hold their own in a debate with Obama and who is not named Mitt Romney. Suddenly Gingrich, by virtue of these several thousand debates we've had, has become that guy.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Romney.]

You can say a lot of things about Newt Gingrich, but being a bad debater is not one of them. Will his debating skills carry him despite his lack of campaign money and nonexistent organization? If I were a betting man I'd say no. Too many exploding cigars could still be in his pocket.

Here's another bet I'd be willing to make: that there's still room for former Gov. Jon Huntsman in this race. There's got to be a better racehorse who can get us out of this glue factory.

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