Published on TheHill.com on November 15, 2011
As the debates accumulate, it becomes more and more evident that Newt Gingrich’s intellect, experience, articulateness and depth of knowledge elevate him to the top of the GOP field. Anyone should be happy to pay admission to watch him duel with President Obama in debate! He’s not as charismatic as Herman Cain or as smooth as Mitt Romney, but boy, does he have a brain!
Ever since the campaign started, Newt has always gotten in his own way. Now he has graciously stepped aside and let his creativity and intellect shine through.
Earlier in the debates, he bit the questioners’ heads off in a pique of surly crankiness. No longer. Now he just answers the questions as they come, often hitting them out of the ballpark. His perspective and insights are penetrating and his condescension has vanished (or at least is sublimated).
Unfortunately, he does owe some of his current surge to the unsubstantiated and vague charges against Cain. While Republicans generally dismiss these charges, they worry that they will hurt him in November should he win the nomination. Herman will recover. His positive solutions for our economy will lift him back into the top tier of contention. Michele Bachmann might also come back, lifted by a tide of opposition to any tax increases embedded in the deficit-reduction supercommittee’s recommendations.
But any recovery by Cain or Bachmann will not bump Newt from the top tier. The likely result of the debate process is to bequeath to Iowa three or four contending candidates and leave it to them to sort out.
If Newt is the candidate, will his personal baggage drag him down? It will hurt, no doubt about that. His marriages will be dissected by the media, and his family will be deluged with questions and well-laid traps.
His ratings will decline as the inevitable baptism of fire begins. As with Cain, he will experience a few bad weeks. But, as with Cain, his positive strengths will carry him through the fire and he will come out the other end.
But once Newt survives the process, he will be inoculated against the charges. He will have immunity against the issue.
And here is the core of Obama’s problem. All of the Republican candidates will be so thoroughly vetted — and purified — by the brutal process they are going through that they will be immune to his charges against them in the fall.
John Kerry never went through that process. His quick knockout of Howard Dean and the tepid challenge mounted by John Edwards did nothing to vet his claims of hero status in Vietnam.
Obama, on the other hand, survived the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers charges in the primary. When the general election came, they were old hat and had no electoral punch. Similarly, Bill Clinton got the nomination only after he had survived Gennifer Flowers and the accusations of draft-dodging. In November, those charges were spent bullets.
That’s the good news for Republicans. The nominating process has been so combative and the media scrutiny so searing that the candidates have been pre-screened. The FBI screening process is nowhere near as intense as the negative-research capacities of the media and political opponents.
If nominated, Romney will have survived the accusations of flip-flopping, Cain will have overcome the sexual harassment charges and Newt’s marital history will be yesterday’s news. And then we can get on with the business of winning the election.
And win it we will. Obama cannot survive his 60 percent disapproval rating on his handling of the economy (the highest ever recorded by CBS during his administration). Under his leadership, Gallup reports an almost 10-point edge for the Republican Party on handling the economy. Against a generic opponent, Obama draws only 43 percent of the vote. With the personal negatives on the Republican candidates aired and used up during the primaries, there will be nothing for Obama to hide behind.