Recently, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sounded off on the state of the GOP field, noting the strength of unannounced-candidate Fred Thompson in relation to two other serious contenders, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, and dismissing John McCain as campaign roadkill. Right away I flashed back to an extemporaneous speech I delivered in early 1992, declaring that George Bush was a lock to win that year's presidential election, a lock. Following the successful prosecution of the first Gulf War and observing the stumbles of candidate Bill Clinton, I felt confident that Bush would have to begin barking at the moon to lose that race. Bill Clinton? No way that goober could beat a war president. As a Democrat (at the time), and as an idealist (less and less, I must admit), I believed in the "Man from Hope," but I didn't have a hope that he could win.
Now I think about a fellow like Newt Gingrich handicapping the candidates, ticking off pros and cons with barely disguised glee. Here's a guy who advanced from the bomb-throwing back benches to lead the 1994 GOP Revolution, overthrowing four decades of Democrat rule in Congress, the same guy who disintegrated in a fit of hubris and overreaching before abandoning Congress merely four years later. This guy now surveys the current crop of candidates and seems to believe, "I could beat these guys." And he may be right.
Not since Richard Nixon's Shakespearian decline has the GOP seemed so lost. Fred Thompson: an undistinguished former senator known mostly for reminding people vaguely of Ronald Reagan. Mitt Romney: a handsome and clever former governor who has a problem keeping his positions straight. Rudy Giuliani: the former mayor who believes his unflinching performance on 9/11 will inspire most mainstream Republicans to forget that they disagree with the candidate on pretty much everything else. And let's not forget John McCain whose hapless campaign can't seem to get anything right these days. In this race, Newt Gingrich -- wonky, mercurial, goofy looking, smarter-than-you Newt -- is a serious contender. He doesn't have to endure a sweltering summer of baby kissing and all those silly "debates." Gingrich needs only to watch and wait, and to leap into the race in September or October as today's frontrunners knife each other up.
Will he do it? To be honest, I don't think so. I believe that Gingrich prefers to pontificate than to engage in the soul-sucking minutia and endless fundraising necessary for a run these days. I think Gingrich will sit this one out, recognizing that either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama -- maybe both as a Democrat Dream Team -- have a lock on '08. A lock.
But then again, I said something similar in 1992…
Eleanor Clift has written an interesting piece entitled, Comeback Kid?. She states, "The country wants different leadership, and Gingrich sees an opening. It’s hard to imagine him winning the nomination much less the presidency with the baggage he brings, but he’ll have a following if he can break through the canned commercialized process we’re trapped in."