Sunday, February 21, 2010

Liberal political scientist: Gingrich could be a formidable opponent for Obama

Analyzing Gingrich's CPAC address, Thomas Schaller -- a political scientist at a Maryland unversity who has been published in, among other publications, The New York Times and The Washington Post -- says on that Newt "(a) is the darkhorse 2012 candidate who could very well win the GOP nomination; and (b) could, if nominated, present a formidable challenge to Barack Obama's re-election."

On another website, Schaller expanded on his thoughts:
Gingrich may be the one candidate who can appeal equally to both mainstream and Washington Republicans, as well as the outsider, conservative wing of the party….He has a track record for knowing how to beat Democrats. And whatever one thinks about some of his futuristic ideas, he’s at least a guy with a vision and some fresh thoughts about policy -- as opposed to the rest of the Republicans with their tired mantras about cutting taxes, smaller government and family values. And you can be sure Gingrich will never be a deer-in-the-headlights during a debate or press conference.
Schaller added in yesterday's column, "Gingrich is an ideas guy -- a recent National Journal poll of Washington insiders ranked him the GOP's most 'creative thinker' -- and he is more credible on foreign policy and defense than Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, combined."

On Gingrich's weaknesses, he writes that besides the personal baggage, his biggest one may be the way he speaks, which goes against the grain of today's thirty-second sound bites and pandering lines. "His erudition, policy command and historical references may be assets when he's on a panel at the Heritage Foundation or AEI, but it just doesn't work at events like his speech today to attendees at the Conservative Political Action Committee national meeting," Schaller writes. "In little more than a half hour, Gingrich managed to reference the Judiciary Act of 1802, Camus’ The Plague, Orwell’s 1984, Hayek’s notions of centralized planning, and John Paul II. I was waiting for him to announced that copies of the speech's footnotes would be available in the lobby."

However, while some may not respond to such a speech, many people -- including a lot of conservatives -- are hungry for a more in-depth discussion of issues than what passes as political debate today. Gingrich has been urging for years a complete reformation of the presidential debate process, to a system in which the discussion is more free-flowing and not bottled up by moderators. In that spirit, he and former New York Democratic governor Mario Cuomo sat at Cooper Union, site of one of Abraham Lincoln's greatest speeches, and showed how the new debate process would work.

Here is a four minute-plus sampling of the Cooper Union event:

(Full video here:

Though Schaller does not mention it, Minnesota governor and likely 2012 presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty gave one of the most silly statements that an aspiring national leader could. A National Review contributor summed it up: "[W]hen I read that the governor 'appealed to the tea-party movement, calling its critics a 'brie-eating' elite from 'Ivy League schools' who don't like 'Sam's Club Republicans' who 'actually like shopping at places like Wal-Mart,' I thought just one thing: The guy's a phony. And patronizing, too. Good grief."

Wrapping up the piece, Schaller opines: "[Gingrich] can, in short, position himself as the candidate who has proactive ideas and can convince the country that Republicans can ably run the government rather than just obstruct it. That will be a lecture worth hearing."

Newt at CPAC

Yesterday, Gingrich gave a speech at the 37th annual Conservative Political Action Confrence (CPAC). Walking to the stage through a standing room only crowd -- the man who introduced him, David Bossie, said it was the largest crowd he saw this weekend up to that point and The New York Times called it "a rock-star-like entrance" -- with "Eye of the Tiger" playing on the speakers, Newt began with his speech. (He was the only speaker to walk through the crowd; one commentator called it a "great tactic -- the energy built as he moved across the room and the applause continued."

He said he believed that this was the most important CPAC since Ronald Reagan called for a party of "bold colors" and no "pale pastels." He wanted to correct Evan Bayh, the Indiana senator who last week announced his retirement. Bayh said that if all he did was enter the private sector and get a job, that that "would be more than Congress has created in the last six months." Gingrich jokingly said, “I think that's an exaggeration. President Obama has created at least three jobs that I know of: Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, and Scott Brown. And I guarantee you, as an historian, without Barack Obama, Scott Brown could not have won in Massachusetts.” He took another swipe at Obama later: “I know from a Chicago, Springfield background that it's hard to fully grasp that honesty could be a part of government.”

In the same vein as the Scott Brown victory, what Gingrich calls the “coming, massive conservative majority that will recenter this country decisively for the first time in seventy years” would not have been possible without the "Pelosi-Reid-Obama machine." That machine, says the former Speaker, is "secular-socialist" and “anti-ethical to the survival of America as a prosperous, healthy country based on sound principles."

One of the themes of it was "Principled Bipartisanship." He has received heat from some conservatives for an alleged "selling out" for the idea he first raised in a Time article on February 18th. While he never called for an abandoment of principles, some purists consider any talking at all to be a terrible idea. But if they listened to Gingrich's plan -- which is to demand the right to bring anyone the Republican negotatiors want, not just the ones Obama wishes to invite; that each side would get an equal amount of time to present their case; and that each side could propose their own ideas, not simply responding to the current bill -- they would know it was not a squishy proposal. In fact, Gingrich quoted Reagan on any such talks: "Trust but verify."

The fact that Obama proposed a health care summit is a good sign because "[h]e's figured out they can't pass the health bill without somehow pretending it's not the health bill."

He pointed out that when he was Speaker, spending was cut to its lowest level since the 1920s, balancing the budget "while cutting taxes to raise jobs" -- mentioning the conservative possibility of such bipartisan talks and talking up his own record at the same time.

He advocated bipartisan talks in future issues besides health care, predicting that the GOP would retake the House and Senate this Novemeber -- and the White House in 2012. But until then, Republicans could not sit on their hands. "[H]istory doesn't stand by. History doesn't say, 'Okay, can you all do nothing for three years?' "

The point of recalling that half of the Democrats voted for welfare reform because they would have faced serious trouble in their districts for opposing it was that it is possible to create proposals that are supported by 70%-plus of the American people, isolating the left. “Let's work together until we finish defeating the left, and then we won't have to work with them as much," Gingrich said. And then with tongue-in-cheek, added, “But candidly, we should adopt rules that say even when they are in a small minority, down to the last 15 or 20 left wingers in the Senate, the last 100 or so in the House, we should still have rules that allow them to bring their ides to the table -- because we are not afraid.”
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