newt gingrich: damaged goods?

newt gingrich cannot win the republican nomination for president. even though his supporters might wish that it were possible, it’s not. my concerns about newt are not related to his personal life. they are based on what i have seen while he was in congress –his leadership style and his inability to complete the reform job he started in 1994. i just don’t see him as a guy who would be able to run this country. no matter what newt gingrich says now about bipartisanship and working together to solve the nation’s problems, there are more than a few skeptics who question his new-found commitment to that ideal. that skepticism is well deserved. we didn’t see that very often in the gingrich congress, which always seemed to be at odds with the clinton administration and congressional democrats.

the main problem for newt is that most of the country is already biased against him. i don’t usually put much stock in polls, but if you look at his favorable / unfavorable ratings, the deficit there is around 20 points. whether that rating is fair or unfair, it is undeniably true that he has very high negatives with the average american. not many people can claim that they are unfamiliar with the virtues and the flaws of the former leader of the republican revolution. we know him well, although that knowledge is based on what he did in congress and not so much on his personal life. those who pay attention to politics on a regular basis know enough about newt gingrich to make the judgment on whether he has the ability to be president, and even though we like newt, we should realize that he lacks that ability.

anyone can be re-invented, except newt gingrich. we know what he is, and what he was. if adultery was a disqualifier for the presidency, then our candidate pool would be much smaller in each election year. this isn’t what makes newt gingrich the wrong man for the presidency. gingrich made his mea culpas to dobson and falwell, and whether he was sincere enough to change this pattern of behavior, that’s not for me to decide. you can argue that the details of newt’s past affairs are troubling, and that he has made some glaring mistakes in his personal life. those past mistakes were also well known to the press corps at the time of the lewinsky affair. because of this, gingrich was initially cautious about moving forward with impeachment based solely on clinton’s monica indiscretion. if you still want to accuse newt of hypocrisy because clinton ended up being impeached anyway, i guess you could.

in spite of all newt’s flaws, conservatives still like what he brings to the table as a potential presidential candidate. he’s got a stronger claim to conservatism than any other front-runner except for mccain. we also like big ideas and big-picture thinking. that’s another one of the strengths he has. he also has the appeal of not being giuliani, romney, or mccain… and don’t underrate that quality. even though he hasn’t “officially” entered the presidential race, he still could raise the money necessary in time to get himself into the top three and become a serious contender. i just don’t see it happening.

that said, newt is kidding himself if he thinks that he can blunt the criticism or short-circuit the full examination of past sins by entering the race late in the game. as dean barnett points out, thanks to the speed of information these days, it won’t take long for his entire record to be bludgeoned to death. in fact, it’s already happening at altercation, where a very thorough discussion of all those affairs in newt’s past is taking place right now. his record is not going to hold up under the media scrutiny. he’s a rock star now, but all that changes once he officially announces his candidacy.

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