We need to rewind a little bit before we address the madness engulfing the presidential primary season. During the runup to the 2010 midterm elections and in its immediate followup there has been some internal GOP strife between purists who want to select only the most ideologically pure candidates and those of a squishier stripe whose primary concern is electability. This has been an ongoing warfare, and has continued on into the GOP presidential primary.
So now Newt Gingrich is atop of the polls. A mere few months ago Newt had been written off as a candidate, especially by the purists. Gingrich reviled the base right at the start of his campaign by deriding Paul Ryan’s budget reform plan as right-wing social engineering. This was just the latest in the string of rhetorical and other slights against the right. He had endorsed Dede Scozafava, sat on the couch with Nancy Pelosi for that silly global warming PSA, and had otherwise served as a negative symbol of the establishment. But a few great debate performances – and I emphasize the word performance here – plus the flameout of various other non-Romney candidates managed to put Newt at the top of the polls.
So now the same establishment voices that urged moderation are attacking Gingrich in full voice. Pundits like Charles Krauthammer and others are questioning Gingrich’s bona fides. George Will went so far as to suggest that Newt is some kind of Marxist, and Mark Krikorian implied that Newt’s heart belonged to the French Revolution. This, in turn, has angered the conservative firebrands, who perceive that the establishment is attacking the new conservative hero. In other words, for questioning Gingrich’s conservatives purity these writers are basically being written off by purists who think that these commentators are manifesting a clear lack of purity. The anti-purists, meanwhile, are writing off a candidate because of his, umm, lack of purity. So the anti-purists are clearly RINOs because they think someone who the purists themselves thought was insufficiently pure not that long ago is not in fact pure. On the other hand the purists are upset that the non-purists are questioning the bona fides of a previously heretofore believed to be impure candidate, and in doing so are demonstrating that they are tools of the impure establishment.
I am convinced that if National Review wanted to derail the Gingrich campaign all it has to is endorse Gingrich. As I have written before there seems to be a contingent of the GOP electorate that is motivated by spite, and they will flock to any candidate that the establishment criticizes.
It’s an astoundingly insane situation. Frankly, I think that Gingrich is neither a Marxists-Leninist, nor is he the modern embodiment of Ronald Reagan. Gingrich is a conservative technocrat. He thinks that we can achieve conservative outcomes through just enough social and government tinkering. He’s not quite a big government conservative, but I think Jonah Goldberg has a pretty good feel for Gingrich’s political instincts.
Gingrich probably agrees with the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan more than any other leading conservative. “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society,” Moynihan observed. “The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” A constant theme of Gingrich’s career is a desire to use government to fix the culture. Indeed, there’s no Republican in the field with a more robust faith in the power of government.
So in this crazy, upside down primary season the segment of the Republican party that agrees with Gingrich is trying to eliminate him from the race, and the segment that is turned off by this sentimentality is outraged that anyone could question Gingrich.
Personally, I am ambivalent about Newt. He’s a better candidate than most, and think that he’d ultimately make an adequate president. And while I don’t that it is unfair to dig deeper into a candidate’s philosophy and question his fitness for office, some of the assaults on Gingrich are a little absurd. When John Sununu is on the attack against a candidate and questioning his conservative record, well, let’s just say Sununu is probably not the best judge of conservative character.
But to me the race has come down to two men named Rick. Which one will I ultimately vote for? If it were purely about ideology it would be Santorum, but other factors – including executive experience – ultimately matter as well and weigh in Perry’s favor. I’d be perfectly content with either candidate. Neither is looking particularly strong in the polls right now, but considering all that has taken place over the past few months, we should expect either to be the party’s nominee.
In all seriousness, neither is as much of a longshot as they appear right now. You see, there’s this election that takes place in Iowa. Despite the fact that Iowa is a rather small state and has a method of voting that is one of the dumbest and most confusing methods of selecting a candidate known to man, the Iowa caucus is crucial. And so, this completely outmoded and overrated caucus may very well cause a darkhorse candidate to jump to the front of the line. Both Santorum and Perry appeal to the socially conservative element in the state, and victory is obtainable in a state where the election hinges on non-traditional forms of electioneering. I’m not suggesting that Perry or Santorum will in fact win, but if either does – especially in the case of Perry – then it will fundamentally alter the narrative of the campaign.
Of course, if either takes (or in Perry’s case, reclaims) the lead, then expect the establishment to get the knives out. But then at least the battle lines will make sense.