Monday, November 28, 2011

Gingrich's Own Worst Enemy

Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District encapsulates the most ideological conservative area of the Atlanta Metro Area. Its residents, by in large, are white, fiscally conservative, heavily affluent, highly educated, and thoroughly partisan Republicans. Evangelical Christians are found in significant quantities. East Cobb is the shorthand designation many Atlanta residents often use to refer to this legislative partition. The area of town formally designated as East Cobb has never incorporated, this to avoid paying its share in taxes. In a city built on an influx of new money, East Cobb is home to conservative Georgia old money.

The Sixth also happens to have elected Newt Gingrich to the U.S. House for ten consecutive terms in office. East Cobb’s insularity and bubble mentality leave it resistant to change and openly intolerant of outside viewpoints. This is an area where residents regularly reinforce the impregnable fortress by sending their children to private schools. One of them, East Cobb Christian School, has a stellar academic reputation and correspondingly deferential attitude to God. The school’s website describes its theological beliefs in this way. “We believe that all truth is God's truth, and God has inerrantly and infallibly revealed His truth in the Bible.” This is biblical literalism and an unquestioned devotion to a Higher Power.

Former House Speaker Gingrich has long sought the office of President of the United States. He has, however, yet to discover that what works in East Cobb will not work on a grander scale. Gingrich often combines a hotheaded shoot-from-the-hip style with a condescending professorial tone. The latter points back to his time spent as a history professor, his occupation before politics. Gary Trudeau’s political comic strip Doonesbury famously rendered then-Speaker Gingrich as a bomb with a lit fuse. Even in a hopelessly divided Washington, a scorched earth policy is terrible strategy.

Much like John McCain’s surprising about-face in 2008, Gingrich’s campaign was earlier counted out and now has managed to regain its viability. This, of course, is due to the implosion of prior front-runners with significantly worse baggage. Gingrich has significant skeletons in his closet, many of which could be potentially fatal should he seriously challenge Mitt Romney for the Republican Party’s nomination. These include the embarrassing revelation that the Speaker was actively involved in an affair at the same time President Clinton was being impeached for the same offense. Though Gingrich did eventually marry his mistress, Evangelicals have sufficient reason to balk at a Gingrich candidacy on that fact alone. What makes it worse is that he has been married three times.

Candidate Gingrich has a disconcerting habit of digging himself into one series of holes after another, then being forced into damage control as he digs himself out. In May, after appearing to support Medicare instead of vowing to dismantle the entitlement program, his campaign was all but given up for dead. Several major aides resigned and Gingrich was forced to retool without adequate funds. It is still unclear whether those early staff defections and overall money troubles have left the campaign unable to sustain front-runner status.

Even so, love him or hate him, Gingrich is a survivor. For the first time, a survey of likely voters conducted by the private firm Public Policy Polling has showed him in first place. Over the past several days, Gingrich received the endorsement of the New Hampshire-based Manchester Union-Leader. The New Hampshire primary will be held on January 10 of next year and be a significant divining rod for eventual campaign success. Taking into account the candidate’s flaws and failings, the paper still believed Gingrich to be the strongest contender. It wrote, “Newt Gingrich is by no means the perfect candidate. But Republican primary voters too often make the mistake of preferring an unattainable ideal to the best candidate who is actually running.”

In what has been a surreal, underwhelming Presidential Election campaign, good enough may be all any party can achieve. Instead of solutions, distractions have sufficed. The decline and shocking rebirth of Newt Gingrich shows the results of a divided Republican Party, one rent asunder by the internecine bickering of Tea Party ideologues and the GOP establishment. Much like Gingrich, the Party itself was said to be on life support not all that long ago, but returned to power based on consistent economic woes. It has yet to regenerate to prior prominence. That it would return to a leader forced to resign in disgrace thirteen years ago is quite telling, indeed.

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