Newt Gingrich, like a pumpkin hurled from a slingshot, has catapulted into the lead in the GOP nomination race. He’s up in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. Unlike Mitt Romney, he has no Enthusiasm Gap. The base is happy with Newt – or as happy as they’re going to get – and they’re begging to see him in a debate with Obama; Obama-Newt would be Mayweather-Pacquaio, with Newt as Mayweather.
The question the GOP establishment continues to ask, however, is whether Newt is electable. Now, predictions of electability have been dicey for the GOP establishment of late: Dole and McCain were both establishment candidates. And even the successful GOP establishment candidates like George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush implode on reaching power, handing over the reins to radicals like Clinton and Obama. So let’s take the GOP bigwig political forecasts with a grain of salt.
But the question itself is a good one. Newt has so much personal baggage, he’d be better off buying American Airlines entirely than trying to check it; he’s got a history of trying to outthink the room, even if his initial instincts are conservative. None of that will truly matter in a general election, because Newt is the Walking Dead of candidates: he’s been shot repeatedly, but won’t go down. He’s like Swiss cheese – another hole won’t matter. In fact, it will take a precisely calibrated character shot to take him down.
Unfortunately, this is where he’s vulnerable. He’s not all that vulnerable on the womanizing front – if Republicans can get over it, so too can independents. He is vulnerable on the personality front.
The liberal playbook for conservative candidates is simple: they’re either stupid, corrupt, or mean. The easier it is for liberals to mash conservatives into that mold, the easier it is for liberals to sink them.
“Stupid” is a tough charge to fight off. The left consistently attacked George W. Bush as a dummy – but believe it or not, it was tough for the left to label him dumb, since he had better grades and credentials than Al Gore and John Kerry. The left attacked Ronald Reagan as an “amiable dunce,” but the rest of America didn’t see it. When the label seems to fit, however unfairly, it’s deadly: see Perry, Rick, or Ford, Gerald.
Then there’s “corrupt.” Dick Cheney was supposedly corrupt – “Halliburton! Halliburton!” Nixon was corrupt, even if he didn’t do anything LBJ and JFK hadn’t done before him. Corruption is easier to overcome than stupidity as a label, because the burden of proof seems to lie with those charging corruption. That’s why the charge stuck with Nixon but didn’t really stick with Cheney.
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