Newtzilla to the rescue
Many feel that a Gingrich victory might be scarier than a GOP defeat. His chances may depend on how desperate voters feel about the state of the nation

Article Highlights

  • The stop-Newters have no doubts about how smart Gingrich is.

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  • Many feel that a Gingrich victory might be scarier than a GOP defeat.

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  • In order to stop Newtzilla, you need to explain to very anxious GOP voters that the times don't require him.

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"How do we stop Newt?"

I've now been asked that question by a lot of conservatives. It's not that I'm the go-to guy for that sort of question. Rather, one gets the sense that many "establishment" conservatives are asking everybody that question — in staff meetings, at the chiropodist, even at the McDonald's drive-through.

"The times may be ripe for precisely the sort of vexing, vainglorious and all-too-human revolutionary Gingrich claims to be." --Jonah GoldbergThe other night while having drinks with some prominent conservatives, I said I thought there was a significant chance that Gingrich will not only win the nomination but that he might be the next president. Going by their expressions, I might as well have said I put a slow-acting poison in their cocktails.

Not surprising then that there are more knives out for Gingrich than in a Ginsu infomercial. For instance, former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu has been nurturing a grievance against Gingrich since he was White House chief of staff in 1990. For two decades he's been like Inigo Montoya in "The Princess Bride." "Hello, my name is John Sununu. You destroyed my boss' presidency; prepare to die."

But Sununu's barbs bounce off Gingrich, as has George Will's more brutal rhetorical artillery fire. Conventional weapons are useless against Newtzilla.

First, what are you going to say about the guy that people don't already know? Just as it's OK to speak openly about the fact that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father, Gingrich's backstory provides no spoilers. Herman Cain was undone because people were still forming their first impressions of him. Everything bad about Gingrich — the flip-flops, the wives, the ego — is known. Once voters have convinced themselves they can overlook that stuff, it's hard to change their minds simply by repeating it.

Moreover, conservative voters distrust the conservative establishment — variously defined — almost as much as they distrust the liberal establishment (that's why David Brooks, the notoriously moderate New York Times columnist, leveled the most vicious charge he could against Gingrich: He touted their similarities!)

Also, Gingrich benefits enormously by being the last obvious "not-Romney" candidate. Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Cain were all well to Gingrich's right, and many voters assume that Gingrich is being attacked for the same reason that his not-Romney predecessors were.

But the stop-Newt forces are not synonymous with the stop-Bachmann/Perry forces. The conservative establishment knows Gingrich, or at least thinks it does. The insiders worry that Bachmann and Perry aren't smart enough or can't beat President Obama. The stop-Newters have no doubts about how smart Gingrich is.

As to whether he can beat Obama, opinions vary. But many feel that a Gingrich victory might be scarier than a GOP defeat. Gingrich's defenders say such fear is a compliment because it shows that he's a "change agent" threatening the status quo.

They have a point. Inside D.C., it sounds very strange to say that Gingrich is an "outsider." Gingrich has eaten from just about every trough imaginable inside the Beltway. And yet, he's always been very clear that he wants to ("fundamentally," "historically," "categorically" and "radically") overturn the existing order. Some critics always thought, plausibly, that such pronouncements were part of his act or a sign of his megalomania.

But there's another possibility: It's true. Moreover, the times may be ripe for precisely the sort of vexing, vainglorious and all-too-human revolutionary Gingrich claims to be. That's the argument a few people have been wrestling with. Gingrich, after all, is the only candidate to actually move the government rightward. While getting wealthy off the old order, he's been plotting for decades how to get rid of it. To paraphrase Lenin, perhaps the K Streeters paid Gingrich to build the gallows he will hang them on?

That remains a stretch. Mitt Romney is still the sensible choice if you believe these are rough, but generally sensible, times. If, however, you think these are crazy and extraordinary times, then perhaps they call for a crazy, extraordinary — very high-risk, very high-reward — figure like Gingrich.

This helps explain why Newtzilla is so formidable. In order to stop him, you need to explain to very anxious GOP voters that the times don't require him.

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About the Author

 

Jonah
Goldberg

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    A bestselling author and columnist, Jonah Goldberg's nationally syndicated column appears regularly in scores of newspapers across the United States. He is also a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a member of the board of contributors to USA Today, a contributor to Fox News, a contributing editor to National Review, and the founding editor of National Review Online. He was named by the Atlantic magazine as one of the top 50 political commentators in America. In 2011 he was named the Robert J. Novak Journalist of the Year at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He has written on politics, media, and culture for a wide variety of publications and has appeared on numerous television and radio programs. Prior to joining National Review, he was a founding producer for Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg on PBS and wrote and produced several other PBS documentaries. He is the recipient of the prestigious Lowell Thomas Award. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, The Tyranny of Clichés (Sentinel HC, 2012) and Liberal Fascism (Doubleday, 2008).  At AEI, Mr. Goldberg writes about political and cultural issues for American.com and the Enterprise Blog.

    Follow Jonah Goldberg on Twitter.


  • Phone: 202-862-7165
    Email: jonah.goldberg@aei.org

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