Tomorrow, Newt Gingrich is expected to announce for the presidency. The groundswell behind the former House Majority Leader continues to gain traction for one simple reason. He’s smart. Maybe the smartest one of the bunch.
Now, smart doesn’t always cut it. Adlai Stevenson was smart. John Kerry was smart. But smart sure looks good going one on one with Barack Obama in a national debate on the issues. Obama is a policy wonk. So is Gingrich. And Newt Gingrich, more than any other Republican contender, could match Obama, line by line, sound bite by sound bite.
Gingrich has negatives but so does Palin, Huckabee, Romney and the others. And as for Obama? How about 9% unemployment in his third year in office? That’s a negative. At some point this has got to become the Obama Recession. If he wants to take credit for capturing Osama Bin Ladin, then he finally has to finally take responsibility for the American economy as well.
Smart has some real advantages. Compare Gingrich to Giuliani. Both men are Catholic, both divorced. But Giuliani, suffering from New York myopia, by-passed Iowa, the evangelical gateway to the GOP nomination, Gingrich has embraced it. Both men reached out to an evangelical leader, Giuliani to Pat Robertson, Gingrich to James Dobson. But only Gingrich was willing to speak candidly about his faith and his private life.
Remember, Iowa is the state where George W. Bush was asked about his favorite philosopher and he answered “Christ, because he changed my heart.” Potential candidates Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty are all famous born again Christians. But while many of the other Republican candidates ignore evangelicals Newt Gingrich is the only non-evangelical Christian who openly courts them. Which means, unlike many of the others in this race, he can count. (48% of the American population claim to be born again Christians.)
David Lane, for one, has been impressed. Lane is the mysterious, behind the scenes, evangelical kingmaker who stormed into Iowa in 2008 and tilted the whole thing from Romney to Huckabee. For months he has been holding large secret meetings with evangelical leaders of influence and while he has not endorsed anyone, he has offered an open door to Gingrich to speak to his crowd. And Gingrich has wisely walked through that door. Keep in mind, the former House Majority Leader doesn’t have to win the evangelical vote. But he has to win a piece of it. And that is now almost guaranteed. Call it smart.
Gingrich is a national candidate. While Romney can win in New Hampshire and Nevada, and Huckabee in Iowa and the South, Newt Gingrich can win anywhere. If he has a piece of the evangelicals for his effort, he can also claim the biggest share of Catholic “movement conservatives,” the Right to Lifers and the powerful anti-taxers. And he is the darling of the Fox News Channel.
Donald Trump is entertaining, Mitt Romney is classy, Ron Paul leads a new movement, Sarah Palin is passionate, Mike Huckabee is a good guy and what is Newt Gingrich? He is presidential. This has been a long time coming, decades in fact. Tomorrow, the Newt Gingrich adventure begins. Does he have a chance? Sure he does. Expect some surprises. He’s smart.