The circling of wagons against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been quite a spectacle. Establishment dinosaurs like former Sen. Bob Dole, the Reaganite grande dame Peggy Noonan, the moderate agoniste David Frum, the reclusive Web guerrilla Matt Drudge, even the flame-throwing Ann Coulter—rarely do you see such a diverse array of establishment and movement conservatives in such united opposition to someone who's at least nominally conservative.
Myself, I'd rather see former Gov. Mitt Romney crushed under those wagon wheels.
And so, apparently, does former Gov. Sarah Palin. In an interview with Fox News Business Network, Palin opined:
Look at Newt Gingrich, what's going on with him, via the establishment's attacks. They're trying to crucify this man and rewrite history, rewrite what it is that he has stood for all these years. So it's not just Ron Paul. I believe it's also Newt Gingrich that the establishment, that the liberal media, certainly that the progressives and Democrats don't like.
There's little doubt that, in her tiptoeing characterization of the opposition to Gingrich, she meant to include everyone I included above.
So it came as quite a shock to my system when I found myself saying, "Go Sarah!"
And then I mentally slapped myself across the cheeks.
Of course Sarah Palin is taking this tack. It's in her long-term political interest to see Mitt Romney bloodied and defeated in November. Palin and Rush Limbaugh are the figureheads of a subset of movement conservatives who scorn tactical pragmatism. And if President Obama wins, it will have been a sweet vindication for Palin and Limbaugh and the principled Romney doubters like RedState.com's Erick Erickson who believe that Republicans' failings—either in office or in the failure to win office—are almost always a retribution for the betrayal of conservative values.
It's hard to take totally seriously Palin's defense of Gingrich; if she had chosen to run, I imagine she'd have taken the same line against Gingrich that her congressional counterpart Rep. Michele Bachmann took (and which Romney is now taking to great effect): that the former speaker is a sleazy influence-peddler. It's easy to imagine because it's the truth.
But since she can't stop Romney directly, she undermines him indirectly—which is why she intervened in the South Carolina to help deliver the state to Gingrich and why she's speaking out on his behalf now. It's not out of love for Gingrich; it's simply to keep the race going, and thereby damage Romney.
As a short-term tactic, Palin's magic worked brilliantly. But only briefly.
I should note that I don't think Palin is acting purely from a position of calculation. She's more in touch with the conservative id than anyone in Washington; she knows Romney is a weak candidate precisely because of his utter fraudulence.
It's going to be interesting to see what how just how tightly she ultimately chooses to embrace the Romney candidacy in the coming months.
- See a collection of political cartoons on Sarah Palin.
- Read the U.S. News debate: Can Anything Stop Mitt Romney?
- Robert Schlesinger: Mitt Romney's Debate Jujitsu Knocks Out Newt Gingrich