While is Newt Doing So Well

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

With Newt Gingrich’s solid victory in South Carolina, one question is why Newt?  When even many of his supporters will admit his weaknesses, why are voters choosing him over all the other, and seemingly more electable, Republican candidates?  The reasons are many and not all of them are exclusive to Newt.  More importantly, these reasons reinforce each other and when taken together they have allowed Newt to come to the forefront, and to even bounce back from the onslaught that followed.  So here are the six reasons that voters are choosing Newt in no particular order.

Newt comes across as Newt

Probably first and foremost is that Newt comes across as himself. Voters have the sense that Newt is not just giving them polls tested lines they want to hear, but is saying what he really believes.  Romney, on the other hand, comes across as a well-polished and experience candidate, but there is always the lingering question as whether candidate Romney will be the same as a President Romney?  Voters don’t have that question with Newt.

Newt is smart

Whether it was with Ronald Reagan, Dan Quayle, or George W Bush or Sarah Palin, one of the standard criticisms from the Democratic play book is to label Republicans as dumb.  Conservative voters know the charges to be false, but conservatives don’t want to wait for the verdict of later historians, as was the case with Reagan, to be vindicated.  While Newt can be criticized on many fronts, being dumb is not one of them. Even his strong critics admit that he is smart.   By itself this is not that big of a deal, but in the overall context this is key, particularly when combined with the next point:

Newt effectively defends conservative principles.

Conservatives are interested in a lot more than just winning the election and defeating Obama. They certainly want that; but they also want change. They want conservative change.  Republican candidates that talk about conservative principles in a campaign are a dime a dozen.   Republican candidates that can defend conservative principles when attacked are rare.  Republican candidates that continue to defend conservatism after being elected are almost non-existed, and those who do, are not in any position to effect real change.

One of the big complaints about George W Bush was that he spent more time trying to get along with Democrats then fighting for conservative change, or even defending  his own policies.  He effectively let Ted Kennedy write the No Child Left Behind law, and yet it still became one the consistent points on which Democrats attacked Bush.  In his second term he was pretty much silent, leaving it to Democrats to characterize his presidency and thus Republicans.  It is one thing to fight and lose, but conservatives are tired of losing because our side does not want to fight.  Those voting for Newt not only believe that he can beat Obama; they believe that he will effectively fight for conservative principles as President.

Newt attacks Obama

All the candidates have for the most part focused on attacking Obama.   Newt has been particularly effective at this.  Until he started to respond to the negative attacks by Romney and Paul, Gingrich had run an unusually positive campaign.   Following the attacks, he responded, and his response cause a lot of concern among is supporters.  But after a few days he backed off, at least with his comments that many saw as an attack on capitalism, as much Romney.  The bottom line here is that those voting for Newt do not have any fear of Newt going up against Obama.

Newt is not the Republican leadership

For the last decade, conservatives have been told that they have to wait.  Now is not the right time to move the conservative agenda forward, or in many cases, to resist the Democratic agenda.   Now is not the right time for a conservative candidate.  Over the last year, at each point where there was an opportunity to force some change,  rather than to use our leverage the Republican leadership has said, next time will be when we make a stand.  But after several “next times” have come and past, conservatives realize that an entire year has gone by and they have nothing to show for it.

Right or wrong, Romney is seen as yet another moderate being pushed by the same establishment that gave us Dole, Bush, and McCain and makes up the Republican leadership.  This is one of the reasons the attacks on Newt are taken with a grain of salt.  The establishment has lost its credibility, thus their attacks on Newt ring hollow and in fact may actually be supporting him.

Newt does not accept the press attempt to trap Republicans

One thing that has been clear is that Newt can handle the press.  For example, in a recent debate each of the candidates muddled through a response to a loaded question on same-sex marriage.  These were pretty typical of responses to load media questions that had driven conservative nuts for years.  Then came Newt’s turn to answer the question and he turned the question back on the Democrats to the cheers of the audience. 

Many of his critics see this ability as emotionally satisfying but inconsequential.  While this might be true for those well informed, it ignores that most people get their knowledge of these candidates from the media.  All too often there is reality, and there is what the press reports.  Writing off Newt’s ability to effectively deal with the press, is to ignore that this is the major battlefield of politics.

Many candidates claim some subset of these characteristics.  For example, Santorum also comes across as himself, and is not part of the establishment.  But only Newt can claim all of them.  Even in those places where characteristics are shared among the candidates, Newt simply outsights the others.

Newt now has one other advantage that no other candidate in this race has demonstrated.  Romney’s support has remained fairly steady.   Other candidates have risen to challenges Romney, only to have their support evaporate.  This also happened to Newt. But only Newt has shown an ability to bounce back and again return to the lead.

Whether this will be enough to overcome Romney’s organizational advantage remains unclear.  Coming off the victory in South Carolina, Newt has now retaken the lead in the Real Clear Politics average of polls in Florida.  National polls leading up to South Carolina has Romney falling but still in the lead, while Newt is gaining.  The only other real non-Romney candidate, Rick Santorum placed 23 point behind Newt in South Carolina and is falling in the polls, both nationally and in Florida.  While it is not impossible for Newt to collapse again, and Santorum to rise, such turmoil would only further increase Romney’s advantage.  So as it stands now, Romney has the advantage, but Newt has a chance.

Jan 23rd, 2012

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