Yesterday, I proposed a line of attack that former Speaker Newt Gingrich might employ against former Gov. Mitt Romney.
So let's imagine how President Obama would run against Gingrich.
In a sense, we've already seen a preview of a national anti-Gingrich campaign. In his 1996 reelection bid, President Bill Clinton successfully used the firebrand Gingrich as a millstone to hang around Sen. Bob Dole's neck. The Clinton team conjured a mythical two-headed beast—the "Dole-Gingrich Congress."
The connection was, of course, ridiculous. Dole was the personification of the mentality Gingrich's speakership was meant to shove aside: that of the milquetoast Beltway compromiser. "Bob Dole is the tax collector for the welfare state," Gingrich famously said in 1983. (As an aside, I'll note that a politician who insists on paying the bills, as opposed to charging tax cuts to the national credit card, looks pretty good right now.)
Check out this Clinton ad from '96: "Dole-Gingrich" was against family leave, the assault weapons ban, a higher minimum wage, and for cutting funding for vaccines and college scholarships. The words "Newt Gingrich" pointedly appear before "Bob Dole."
In his book Going Negative: The Art of Negative Campaigning, David Mark noted:
Gingrich now served as the bogeyman. "In 1995 and '96 when I was running the Clinton campaign for reelection, we didn't want to run against Dole," recalled Clinton reelection strategist Dick Morris a decade later. "We wanted to run against Gingrich. So we kept talking about Newt, Newt, Newt." As Democratic warnings of the "Dole-Gingrich" agenda piled up on the television airwaves through the middle months of 1996, the bombastic former backbencher could have easily been mistaken for the Republican nominee's running mate (it was actually former congressman and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp).
However unfair and mendacious, the strategy worked, thanks largely to the datum cited at the end of the ad: "10,000,000 new jobs." (As another aside, if Gingrich is the nominee, I'd love to watch the slimy Morris, now in full Foxoid flower, wriggle out of his '96 handiwork.)
President Obama, needless to say, will not be able to avail himself of the sunny side of the Clinton strategy. Undoubtedly, Team Obama would relentlessly spotlight the "Dole-Gingrich" plan to cut Medicare spending, and presumably tie it into the Rep. Paul Ryan's reform plan, which, according to critics (including, briefly, Gingrich himself), would convert Medicare funding into skimpy vouchers that will leave seniors at the mercy of the mercenary healthcare marketplace.
In other words, if his opponent turns out to be Newt Gingrich, President Obama is going to frame his case against the former speaker in the very same terms that I recommended Gingrich use against Romney.
This is the gamble that a majority of Republican primary voters seem eager to take.