In a sarcastic world it is sometimes hard to signal when one is being completely forthright, but I mean this at face value: almost everyone, right and left, should want to see Newt Gingrich get the Republican nomination for President.
I don't say this because I think it conveys some greater advantage to the Democratic Party in November 2012; I'm not sure that it does. (After this Republican nomination race, anyone who claims to be sure of anything related to 2012 should be viewed with suspicion.) The reason is both simple and paradoxical: it would lead to the most honest election possible, between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party as they are right now. Newt Gingrich is the best and truest representation of the Republican Party running; we might as well take a deep breath and ask the American public what it wants out of its government.
Let me start out by drop-kicking two questions into a muddy bog, because I am more tired of them at this point than I can say. Here's what I'm supposed to say as a sometimes sorta Democratic strategist: which Republican we root for should depend on two things: (1) which Republican aspirant is least likely to win and (2) which would be the best President if, God forbid, they did win.
My honest answers to these questions at this point are: (1) shut up and (2) shut up.
Who is more likely to win the Presidency?
This is a great year for people to admit that, as confident as we are about predicting the future -- and isn't "futurist" Newt Gingrich the best emblem for that conceit? -- we actually know very little. (We retain our confidence in our predictive abilities largely through an unwillingness and inability to keep score. And isn't Newt Gingrich the best emblem for...?)
If you claim that you thought that we would be at this point a month before Iowa, you're probably either lying or Newt Gingrich himself. (But I repeat myself....) Just imagine the money you could have made gambling this year by foreseeing the rise of Trump, then selling Trump at his peak; foreseeing Bachmann's rise, then selling Bachmann at her peak; and then the same for Perry; and then the same for Cain; and now the same for Gingrich. Starting with a $10 bet, you'd probably almost be able to afford a month of health insurance.
But that's only part of the thought experiment to try. Imagine that same exercise with respect to the corporatist Romney, or the libertarian Paul, or the technocrat Huntsman, or the moral scold Santorum. The markets for each have fluctuated a little, but not much.
What's this about? It is facile to simply state that what people are looking for is the "not-Romney" without exploring what being a "not-Romney" entails. Here's my suggestion: being a "not-Romney" means giving voice to the most basic inner yearnings of the conservative Republican electorate. It means, in essence, exemplifying what Republican really most want in a leader: to be a shock jock. That's right, the AM radio and Fox News blowhard is what Republicans have been fed for the past few decades, and like the big shark of Jaws, it is what they have come to crave. The quintessential Republican this year is that one who can insult the Democrats the best and make those in the Republican electorate feel the best about themselves.
And that is Not Romney. At shock-jockery, my friends, Romney sucks.
Compare the people who have taken the ride to the peak this year with those who have not. Trump was willing to toss out pithy insults and birtherism on his way to, briefly, the top. Bachmann was actually quite good at it, which is why for a long time I thought that she would be nominated. Perry looked for a while like he could savage the Democrats based on his Texas training; Cain could certainly talk some good smack. And Gingrich -- hell, he practically invented contemporary political shock-jockery.
Now think of the best red-meat zingers from Huntsman. Yeah, I didn't think so. Santorum ain't no shock jock; he just sounds whiny and weird. Paul's followers could fit the shock-jock image, perhaps, but Paul himself continually deflates it: you can't keep people riled up while telling them that many of their most cherished ideals are hooey.
And then there's Romney: Romney is to the shock jock image what pimento is to pepper spray. His "zingers" reek of focus-group testing. He doesn't rile anyone up. He's too aware of his playing a role, of his pandering, of the prospect that if you took him aside after a debate he'd tell you "I'm sorry if some of that was off-putting, but you realize that I'm running for President, right? This is what you have to do."
Romney is the perfect "consultant's candidate" -- Democratic consultant's candidate, that is. He is John Kerry (with the Wall Street record substituting for the war record -- because that is, after all, the sort of warfare that Republicans can understand), Hillary Clinton (all resume and poor political skills), Al Gore back in the day before his awakening, etc. Unfortunately for Romney, this is a replay of the 1992 Republican Presidential race, but this time Pat Buchanan actually does beat the elder George Bush. Pat Buchanan, a shock jock, was cut from the same cloth as Gingrich (and his 1992 campaign foretold the 1994 victory that swept Gingrich into power.) Republicans -- to my mind, at some level realizing that they can't win a debate about competence and effectiveness -- just want someone who can throw a vicious punch and then snarl over their staggering opponent like a pro wrestler.
We Democrats are supposed to prefer Gingrich because he's so much less likely to beat Obama. I'm not convinced of that at all. Gingrich, with his casual and defamatory lies tossed off like obvious truths, has the potential to excite the populace that Romney does not. Obama is prepared for the slogging World-War I type war of attrition against Romney. Gingrich may perform about as well as Romney on average, but the range of possibilities for a Gingrich candidacy -- from inspiring victory to absolute disaster -- is much greater. A Gingrich nomination means that Obama has to be ready for the blitzkrieg and sneak attack warfare of World War II.
So all of that explains why Gingrich is a better candidate for the Right. You, Dear Lefty Reader, may not be enthused at this. You may, in fact, think "maybe we do want Romney to win -- after all, he'd be a better President if he somehow got elected, right?"
Not so fast.
Who would make a better President?
Romney would make a better President than Gingrich, right? Frankly, I doubt it.
Imagine a world in which Mitt Romney has won the Presidency in Nov. 2012 and you have not killed yourself -- or, if you have, that you continue to float above the world as a disembodied spirit who can still monitor the news. What do you think you're going to see?
You're going to see the same thing that Republicans say that they see from Obama: a relentless eye fixed on assuring re-election.
Now this may come as a shock, but if Romney wins the nomination he will not likely be tacking back to the center for the general election. His generally perceived weakness is flip-floppery, rather than lack of shock-jockery, and he just can't pull such flip-floppery off this year under the extreme scrutiny of the shock jock press without becoming a laughingstock. (His consultants will push him in that direction, but the shock-jock-industrial complex, with its burning indignation and withering contempt, is stronger than they are.)
So what if Romney wins? His eye would have to be fixed on what happened to George Bush -- the elder one, in 1992. Poppy Bush's breaking his "no new taxes" pledge was, more than anything else, including Clinton and Perot, what lost him the election. Romney either has or will have made pledges even more rococo and absurd than that, in order to keep his troops together this year, and as President will would have to not disappoint them. He has a look of fear in his eye (ask Bret Bair about that) that tells everyone that he can be rolled. And so would he be as President. He'd be there to plump for Wall Street, and he'd do that with vigor, but if you think that he'd appoint reasonable federal judges and the like then you have not been paying attention to the contemporary Republican Party, which would be watching him like a hawk and preparing a primary challenge by no later than the day after the election.
Gingrich, on the other hand, has room to maneuver. Everyone knows that he's erratic, impressed with his own ideas, given to apostasy here and there. It's part of what you accept with the package, if you're a Republican who wants a shock jock in office. So you have Gingrich saying -- do you know this, by the way? -- that he wants to re-instate Glass-Steagall. Gingrich may be more open to work on climate change because (1) he's not an absolute idiot, (2) he doesn't fear a challenge from the right, and (3) he does have a sense of his legacy.
Where Romney is like a Poppy Bush who has learned not to renege on his pledge, Gingrich is an unrepented Nixon who, if he decides that he wants to open relations with China, is just going to do it, and anyone who doesn't like it can get stuffed. The actual shock jocks may complain, but in a scenario where Gingrich would have actually succeeded in dislodging Obama from office -- the necessary premise for this scenario, after all -- they're going to give him some slack. "Only Gingrich can go to Pelosi," we might say.
So rooting for Gingrich to be nominated doesn't mean rooting for a greater likelihood of disaster: Romney would be as much of a disaster and Gingrich potentially less of one in some critical places. This means that as a progressive I don't feel like I have to hope that Romney is nominated "for the good of the country." But what I've said so far is not yet, I recognize, a compelling case.
What would make for a better election?
Where I think that Left and Right may come together, if we're not sure whether the nomination of Gingrich rather than Romney would lead to a better or worse (from our perspectives) outcome, is this: we would like 2012 to be a good election. And "a good election," at this moment, might be defined as one that gives voters a clear choice -- one that "unsticks" the country.
I hope that Gingrich is nominated because I want to put Republican shock-jockery on trial. If the public finally (and fatally) embraces it, so be it; in that case, the American experiment may end, but at least (unlike with Romney) it will be quick. Gingrich is the representative of the Republican Party, just as Obama is (like it or not, and I don't so much) the representative of the cautious and equivocating leadership of the Democratic Party. Having them face off in this election feel right. It should lead to a decisive result, not to continued stasis. It may be hard to put the "Bush (or Bush II, or Reagan, or Nixon) is not a real Republican" excuse to bed, but a Gingrich nomination would certainly tire it out.
See, the Republican party feels towards their nominees much the same way that we Democrats feel like ours. They long for red meat -- and, frankly, they haven't been getting it. (Go back to the 2000 election; George Bush the Lesser's platform and language was nowhere near as far right as Romney's today, and Cheney was perceived to be a wise old establishment figure who would keep him in line.)
They don't feel that they've had the Howard Dean, the Jesse Jackson, the Jerry Brown (original version) that they've wanted since Reagan. Well, for heaven's sake, give it to them. Let them have the flamethrower candidate who is closest to their heart, the one denied to us Democrats since George McGovern. Let the public have, in Barry Goldwater's famous phrase, "a choice, not an echo." They want rampant screaming id, given them rampant screaming id -- and let the voters decide.
Voter rejection of Gingrich, if it comes, will be more meaningful and consequential than voter rejection (or acceptance!) of Romney. This is where the Republican Party is today. They need to see what the public thinks of them -- if it can be stirred to think of them at all. The Republicans need to have their illusions shattered -- if we can arrange it. They need to see the Congressional blockade of progressive legislation as harmful to their future electoral prospects -- if it is.
None of this will come to happen if Mitt Romney is the nominee. The lesson learned by Republicans will simply be that Mitt Romney is inauthentic and inarticulate when challenged -- that they nominated the wrong guy. That's not what I want the lesson of this election to be. I want them to have nominated the right guy, the authentic guy, the vicious and shameless liar that they have always wanted -- and then I want them to have their teeth kicked in.
That, I suggest, is the path to political progress in a stagnant time.
What would the effect be on Obama?
Imagine an Obama-Romney election race. Sorry, I first should have told you to put down any sharp objects.
It's going to be excruciating, isn't it? Romney will attack Obama in the ways and areas we'd suspect, Obama will have his canned answers ready; Obama will have the tempered attacks on Romney's flip-floppery and such ready, Romney will have his canned answers ready; and when the pageant is over they will both look to the pundits and people to judge. ZZZZzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ!
There's no chaos there. No passion. We know that Obama won't be able to stir the passion this year that he did in 2008 -- if you don't know this, please find someone to kick you in the ass -- and Romney won't generate much passion on his own. Obama knows how to fight the war of attrition that a Romney campaign will bring to him and it will not be fun or illuminating for anyone other than us political junkies.
Obama will not be thrown off of his game. He will not have to step out of his comfortable role and really talk to the American people, and if he does really talk them will probably really not be listening, because they will be bored by more of the same.
Now imagine an Obama-Gingrich race instead. Did a corner of your mouth stretch ever-so-slightly into a smile?
Gingrich will call Obama a socialist, race-baiting, Muslim with his trademark combination insouicance and scorn. He will attack the very heart of Obamacare, of Obama's judicial appointments, of Michelle's organic garden -- of every crackpot, stirring, crackpot-stirring idea out there in the right-wing blogosphere.
Obama may be told not to respond. That won't last! (He should ask his advisers if they would tell him that, in those circumstances, and save time by firing them now.)
An Obama under challenge by Gingrich, whose very existence seems determined to bring out Obama's stammer, will be a much better candidate -- and will set the stage for rallying a coalition that will lead him to be a much better President. This would be an existential challenge to him -- a sledgehammer rather than Romney as a picador -- and he'd better rise to it, the way he rose, briefly, to the prospect of a challenge from Donald Trump.
What we'd see from an Obama challenged by Gingrich is passion. It may not be politically wise to his advisers, but Gingrich's passionate attacks won't give him a hell of a lot of choice. Gingrich is his own "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," and Obama would need to be smart enough not to lie back and take it for too long like John Kerry did.
Given a Gingrich candidacy, Obama -- and it kills me that I even have to write this -- would have to explain Obamacare clearly enough for people to understand it.
This, I submit to you, is what we want from Obama. It's what he needs to do to have a strong second term. He needs to connect to the public not on the level of platitudes (as, um, er, happened in 2008) but in terms of policy.
Obama would have to explain why the shock jocks are wrong.
What a campaign that would be! I think, quite, seriously, that everyone on all sides would benefit from it. It would be exciting, it would be unnerving, it would be decisive. It would un-McConnell and un-Boehner the country. Newt Gingrich may be a liar, but he lies passionately. It's time for us to bring that passion into a Presidential campaign -- so that we can meet it square on and teach the electorate that what it wants in a government is not what some portion of it wants in a radio host.
Running against Gingrich is running against Limbaugh, Coulter, and Fox News. Let's have that fight.
1:59 PM PT: I have been shamed by my friendly colleagues here into make some spelling corrections, which led to my noticing some grammar corrections, which led to some word choice corrections, which led to some substantive corrections (like where I left out the word "not"), and so on, but I don't think that the basic thrust of the diary -- whatever it is -- has materially changed. I'm glad that many have enjoyed it and I'm sorry that it may have led some to start drinking early.