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Posted at 12:26 PM ET, 02/23/2011

How to deal with liabilities

By Jennifer Rubin

No, I'm not talking this time about unfunded liabilities; I'm talking candidates' shortcomings. Every candidate has them, but voters have to decide which ones matter, while candidates have to decide how to minimize them.

Politico reports that Newt Gingrich was confronted about his history of extra-marital affairs at a college event:

"You adamantly oppose gay rights... but you've also been married three times and admitted to having an affair with your current wife while you were still married to your second," Isabel Friedman, president of the Penn Democrats, said to Gingrich. "As a successful politician who's considering running for president, who would set the bar for moral conduct and be the voice of the American people, how do you reconcile this hypocritical interpretation of the religious values that you so vigorously defend?" . . .

"I'll bet almost everybody here can gather the thrust of your question," he said. "I appreciate the delicacy and generosity in the way it was framed. ... I hope you feel better about yourself.

"I've had a life which, on occasion, has had problems," he added. "I believe in a forgiving God, and the American people will have to decide whether that their primary concern. If the primary concern of the American people is my past, my candidacy would be irrelevant. If the primary concern of the American people is the future... that's a debate I'll be happy to have with your candidate or any other candidate if I decide to run."

His initial response was defensive and obnoxious. The question was entirely legitimate and is going to come up again and again should he run. Is he going to ask Brian Williams and Wolf Blitzer if "they feel better about themselves" when they also ask him? And free advice: When a woman is asking about your history of infidelity, it's especially bad to come across as a bully.

The rest of his answer, however, was quite good and the only feasible way for him to deal with it. It may, in fact, work -- just as Sarah Palin successfully dealt with the controversy surrounding her daughter's pregnancy. Now, certainly, the missteps of a child of a candidate are different from a candidate's missteps, but, contrary to the mainstream media portrait, Christian conservatives are forgiving types.

I would suggest that the marital problem, however, is only one aspect of a larger issue for Gingrich: his flakiness. His penchant for harebrained schemes, his disastrous tenure as speaker of the House and his personal history, in a sense, are all part of the same issue, namely a lack of personal discipline, restraint and soberness. Republicans are orderly types, and they generally go for the "dependable dad" figure, not the errant brother who's got one whacky get-rich scheme after another.

In a far different category is Mitt Romney. Chris Cillizza posits:

While Iraq was the preeminent issue for Democrats at this time in the 2008 campaign, the still-struggling economy and continued unrest in the Middle East have pushed health care as an issue to the back burner. The issues, of course, can change by the time voters start casting ballots in early 2012, but the issue matrix matters -- and the more immediate concerns there are that have nothing to do with health care, the better able Romney will be to avoid seeing his campaign defined by that single issue.

If you talk to Tea Partyers, GOP activists, House and Senate Republicans and campaign operatives you'll conclude this is dead wrong. The central issue for conservatives is the size and role of an ever-growing federal government and the consequences that entails for economic growth, jobs and the tax burden on ordinary Americans. The aversion to Romney because of RomneyCare is not, as Chris suggests, only the creation of Romney's opponents. I have yet to come across a Republican office holder or activist not aligned with a candidate who thinks this is a fixable problem.

Chris also writes: "The 2008 Democratic primary was Clinton-versus-Obama, with a little bit of Edwards thrown in at the start of the process. The 2012 GOP field is expected to be much more wide open. That means Romney doesn't necessarily need to rack up huge numbers in order to win early states. He can win with 30-35 percent of the vote if there are enough viable candidates in the running." However, the trend seems to be going the other way for the GOP, with more contenders dropping out of than getting into the race.

For now, the search for a candidate unburdened by baggage goes on. At some point the Republican electorate will simply need to decide which is the best of the lot.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 23, 2011; 12:26 PM ET
Categories:  2012 campaign  
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Next: Daniels's damage control


Nope. Such an answer, the first part excluded, could work for a politician who would show more cultural tolerance in the past, who wouldn't so often claim a high moral ground.

To say that having the future as the primary concern means ignoring his past is silly at best - how else we can predict his future if not by considering his past? Perhaps by relying on his campaign slogans?

This discussion shows that even a smart and experienced politician sometimes cannot demagogue his way out of a legitimate character flaw.

As usually, you column is less than convincing

Posted by: MR-CRMS | February 23, 2011 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer, that was the shortest, sweetest breakdown of Gingrich I have ever read. Kudos.

Republicans keep casting about for a perfect candidate, we all know there is no such thing.

Mitt Romney is your guy. Stop faulting him for RomneyCare, he was governing, and the people in Mass really like it. Instead, look at yourselves and your right wing brains for letting that become a negative. It's Republicans that have the problem, not Mitt Romney.

Posted by: danw1 | February 23, 2011 2:38 PM | Report abuse

grinch is a hypocrite like each and every repug. What hateful fools these teabagheadnazilunatics are. This fool was having an affair even as he crucified President Clinton for getting some.

Posted by: letemhaveit | February 23, 2011 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Gingrich is not presidential, even by extremely low recent standards. He has personal shortcomings and he failed as Speaker. He would be a certain loser in the general election. I hope he's just trying to get publicity.

Posted by: eoniii | February 23, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

@letemhaveit: Gee, I hope you feel better about yourself. LOL

Newt is a great bomb-thrower and we owe him for torching the Dems back in '94. But President - no.

Mitt needs to look at RomneyCare (I know that the Dems mutated it a lot from his original design, but still) and condemn it as a bad idea from which he has learned (i.e., any conservative project in which liberals are allowed to have one iota of say is, by definition, a cancer). That - and developing some real fire in the belly desire and toughness - might get him past the post.

I think Mr. Nominee is still to be found, and that is fine. I wouldn't mind us having 5 or 6 good candidates battling it out for a while, so long as they stake out a positive agenda for their interpretation of a conservative resuscitation of America, and spend their savaging on Mr. Obama, who deserves it in heaping quantities.

Which brings me to Ron Paul. The Republican candidates should absolutely refuse to share the stage with this guy. Let him debate Ralph Nader.

Posted by: jafco | February 24, 2011 12:24 AM | Report abuse

Democrat Ed Rendell said: “If I were in charge of the Republican Party…Mitt Romney would be the candidate, no ifs, ands, and buts about it. He’s got the best credentials to talk about the economy and job creation.”

Romney is by far our most PRESIDENTIAL AND ELECTABLE candidate. Mitt blows away all the other GOP possible contenders in a recent UNH/WMUR poll. Republican Primary Mitt Romney 40%, everyone else (12 others) 46%. Interesting how Romney matches up with Obama in New Hampshire: General Election Mitt Romney 49% Barack Obama 41%. Remember, Obama beat McCain by 10% in New Hampshire on election night in 2008.

Posted by: AzHombre | February 24, 2011 1:52 AM | Report abuse

As an independent, I think Republicans better figure out that Mitt Romney is lame and weak. The party establishment like Romney because they can easily control him and he's paid his dues to them.

I don't like Palin, but she will wipe the floor with Romney because she is 10x tougher than him with a 100x more personality.

Romney is a Kerry. He goes as the wind blows.

Posted by: Beeliever | February 24, 2011 4:48 AM | Report abuse

Gingrich is a truly asinine candidate. The guy was all over trying to get Clinton impeached ---- while having yet ANOTHER affair! The true definition of "hypocrite."

I don't much like Mitt Romney, but he's the best candidate Republicans currenty have IMO and would probably make a decent president. Not to mention that he comes off like Socrates compared to Palin and Bachmann's brainless babble.

Posted by: chop1 | February 24, 2011 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Newt.....Newt....must have found God....again? When God supposedly created us in his image, I think he made a DNA error with Newt Gringrich. If the Republicans are serious about the 2012 presidential race, perhaps they can find a candidate in a third world cheap labor country where all the American jobs have been moved to.

Posted by: Rlupodimare | February 25, 2011 1:55 AM | Report abuse

"I believe in a forgiving God, and the American people will have to decide whether that their primary concern."

Odd, considering that Newt decided that the primary concern of the American people, when he was in charge, was the hounding of the POTUS for a consentual fling.

Newt also claims credit for balancing the budget during the Clinton Administration. Would he be willing to back the budget now? Increased taxes on the wealthiest?

Sorry, Newt's not presidential material. Want a good Christian in the White House who believes in and lives traditional Christian values?? You've got one now and he's going to be re-elected POTUS in 2012.

Posted by: thebobbob | February 25, 2011 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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