The speed with which House Speaker Newt Gingrich (predictably) shot to the top of the GOP field seems only to be matched by the force with which prominent conservatives have turned their fire on the new frontrunner (and self-proclaimed nominee-in-waiting). Not-Romney predecessors like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Herman Cain at least got honeymoons. Perry was the knight in shining armor before proving a cowboy of the all hat and no cattle variety. And not even the (sober minded) pundits who never bought into the Cain boomlet blasted him with the force and vitriol Newt is receiving.
Gingrich’s problem is that unlike authentic outsiders like Perry and Cain, Gingrich has been an outsized, bombastic part of the Washington scene for three decades. Conservative commentators know him well enough to skip the honeymoon and go straight to the angry divorce.
Here’s Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post:
Gingrich’s obvious weakness is a history of flip-flops, zigzags and mind changes even more extensive than Romney’s — on climate change, the health-care mandate, cap-and-trade, Libya, the Ryan Medicare plan, etc.
He is a man, Krauthammer continues,
possessed of an unbounded need for grand display that has already led him to unconservative places even he is at a loss to explain, and that as president would leave him in constant search of the out-of-box experience — the confoundedly brilliant Nixon-to-China flipperoo regarding his fancy of the day, be it health care, taxes, energy, foreign policy, whatever.
“Mr. Gingrich said it’s not enough that he is the smartest guy in the room, he also has to be wise,” Will said. “Now you can associate many things with Mr. Gingrich, but wisdom isn’t one of them. Surely the Republican nominating electorate should understand the fact that people have patterns. Don’t expect the patterns to go away. Expect the patterns to manifest themselves again. If Newt Gingrich has any pattern at all, and he does – it is a pattern of getting himself into trouble because he thinks he is the smartest guy in the room.”
NRO’s Jim Geraghty went looking for Newt’s great, undernoticed ideas and instead came up with a catalogue of “ideas and comments that … probably would not be helpful if one were hoping to win the votes of conservative Republicans in a GOP presidential primary.” His colleague Mona Charen concluded that “Newt Gingrich is a bad bet because he will embarrass the Republican party.” And for the National Review hat trick here’s Ramesh Ponnuru, writing an endorsement for Mitt Romney:
The last time Gingrich held office, he reached a depth of unpopularity that suggested that the public did not merely disagree with his policies but disliked him as a person. Memories have faded, and his current fans say he is a changed man. But he still has the rhetorical style — by turns incendiary, grandiose, and abrasive — that turned off middle-of-the-road Americans then.
On a more macro level, consider the National Journal “Political Insiders” poll released today which found an overwhelming number (83 percent to 17 percent) of Republican politicos think that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would be a stronger nominee than Gingrich. That poll result was accompanied by insider comments like this:
"With Newt, we go to bed every night thinking that tomorrow might be the day he implodes," said another Republican. … A third Republican stated plainly, "Gingrich is not stable enough emotionally to be the nominee--let alone, the president." …
"Bigfoot dressed as a circus clown would have a better chance of beating President Obama than Newt Gingrich, a similarly farcical character," quipped a Republican.
"Come on," sighed another GOP Insider, "the White House is probably giving money to Gingrich as we speak.
The Washington Post’s resident conservative blogger, Jennifer Rubin, assembles a bunch of these criticisms, concluding:
...the arguments against his candidacy are being methodically forged by those who think the country’s problems are too great and the GOP’s shot at the White House is too important to entrust the nomination to someone whose defining characteristics (e.g. megalomania, recklessness, disorganization) are overwhelmingly negative. After a week of initial intensity the question on the minds many conservatives is: Is Gingrich really the GOP’s idea of an anti-Romney?
They're certainly getting the “anti-“ part down.