the national interest

The Newt of the Poisoned Tree

Republican presidential candidate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks during a primary night rally January 21, 2012 in Columbia, South Carolina.
You made me, now you will pay. Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

The Republican Establishment, having spent three years stoking its voters into a fit of wild rage against President Obama, now finds itself in a panic over the possibility that those voters might be wild and enraged enough to go ahead and select Newt Gingrich as their nominee. There really is a lot of humor in the situation. The proposition Gingrich is offering GOP voters is just the natural extension of what they have come to believe. Obama is an ultra-radical, as well as a lightweight, who can’t speak without a TelePrompTer, so simply forcing him into a series of lengthy debates will expose his incompetence and extremism. To convince Republican voters to settle for Mitt Romney, the Establishment now has to tell them that defeating Obama will be … tough.

Consider Jay Cost, a writer for the Weekly Standard. Cost, sensibly enough, urges conservatives to consider the risks of nominating a strident, unpopular figure like Gingrich. “No doubt conservatives are frustrated,” he writes, “but is that enough to defeat Obama in 10 months?”

If conservatives had gotten the idea that it would be enough, it would have come from reading the work of conservatives like Jay Cost, a kind of pro-Republican Nate Silver, who cranks out relentlessly sunny analyses of the GOP’s electoral prospects. Here he is arguing that we should dismiss Obama’s approval rating bounce since last fall, the economy is not improving in any way that could help Obama, Obama can’t win by contrasting himself against the Republicans, he’s no Truman (“he will lose, and by a large margin, if things continue on their present course”), he has doomed himself with a terrible strategy from the outset, the fundamentals look bad for his reelection, the deficit will doom him, he’s like Jimmy Carter (a comparison he’s made repeatedly), and Obama is “just plain bad at politics,” and on and on and on.

So here is an uncharismatic, politically clumsy, Cater-esque president facing unremittingly terrible circumstances and advocating wildly unpopular policies. And now Republicans should worry that if they don’t nominate the right opponent they’ll lose?

This isn’t an insolvable dilemma for the GOP Establishment. The solution is to bury Gingrich beneath a pile of money, just like in Iowa. But Republicans find themselves with an expensive problem that is largely of their own creation.

The Newt of the Poisoned Tree