GOP Candidate-of-the-Month Newt Gingrich is the next figure to be anointed by the chattering classes as Mitt Romney's key challenger for the Republican nomination.
Given the cavalcade of hyped-up “Romenybeaters” we've seen over the long, winding path to pick President Barack Obama's electoral challenger next year, it nearly seems as though the GOP is determined to exhaust all other possible contenders before signing on with Romney. Poor Mitt. He thought it would be a stroll in the park, but he's had to fend off rapacious challengers before even engaging with the president.
Unlike other would-be “Romenybeaters,” Mitt probably can't just sit back and let Gingrich implode on his own. Unlike Herman Cain, Newt “Two Affair” Gingrich's extramarital liaisons are not a source of public anxiety and furor (readers can come to their own conclusions on that). And, Gingrich's gaffes don't have the same campaign-derailing, slack-jawed silliness of Rick Perry's.
No, Romney will actually have to do something about Gingrich.
The Gingrich campaign's “Romney Attack Plan” is not significantly different from the rest of the GOP pack. We've heard it all before: Romney is just another smooth-talking politician who is prone to reversing his decisions and has, at best, modest conservative achievements. Heck, being governor of Massachusetts practically, in his detractors' minds, makes him a "socialist.” But, apparently, that's the best that anyone can put up against Mitt.
But where Romney has to really worry about Gingrich is that, unlike nearly the rest of the field, Gingrich's Democrat-beating credentials are top-notch. Gingrich is widely credited, quite rightly, for the GOP's late-90s dominance in Congress. Gingrich has proven, time and time again, that he's an aggressive and convincing political street fighter who can marshal support and terrify his opponents.
Currently riding high as the default non-Romney conservative, Gingrich might actually be pummeled by accusations of not being conservative enough. Sure, Gingrich can talk the talk, but he's often found hobbling along rather than leading the conservative charge.
The Gingrich campaign nearly imploded when he made unflattering remarks about Paul Ryan's budget plan (which has become a "Are you conservative enough?" test for GOPers), while the Cato Institute has dragged up Gingrich's spotty conservative record on government spending. If Romney represents middle-of-the-road, workable if bland pro-business economics, Gingrich must represent off-the-wall Randian-style fare that can get the red-blooded base fired up. Unfortunately, when Gingrich tries to go the full Hayek, he ends up supporting child labor.
Gingrich's foreign policy isn't exactly well considered either. His saber-rattling seems aimed at firing up his political allies but that sort of talk, from a man who may be holding the keys to nuclear armageddon, tends to not just worry America's enemies, but make close allies anxious as well. His stated desire to target North Korean missiles with lasers just sounds ... zany with a side of World War III.
And yet, it has come to this. The GOP base, obviously not satisfied with electability, sensibility, and practicality, is trying to delay Romney's ascension with Gingrich.
Fortunately (for people who want to make sure that the competition to select the most powerful individual on the planet), the Romney machine has a plan already in action.
With a barrage of "Mitt stands for family values" coming from GOP heavyweight Chris Christie, the Romney campaign is hoping to reconnect with the conservative traditions Gingrich himself tapped so effectively in the mid-90s. Other conservative notables, like former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, have targeted Gingrich's economic vulnerabilities. In fact, this could be said to be the first true Romney offensive of his cycle.
With Gingrich leading in a few key state polls, Romney needs to hit back, and fast. His days of letting the other candidate work themselves into a quandary are over. Gingrich, it seems, while susceptible to the same pitfalls as the fallen few, is somehow also seemingly immune to their ill-effects. It is definitely time for the Romney campaign to remind Republicans just why Gingrich is unelectable.
It remains to be seen how effective the Gingrich moment or Romney's counterattacks are but, if anything, it has finally roused the cautious and tepid Romney out of his apathy. Romney recognizes that for all of Gingrich's off-the-handle crazy, he still could represent a significant threat to his candidacy. And perhaps we will finally see what the Romney machine can do, and how effectively it can tear down Gingrich's briefly resurrected political career.
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