What would a Newt run mean?
News reports suggest Newt Gingrich is on the verge of forming a presidential exploratory committee Could he win the GOP presidential nomination? And who would he hurt the most?
Gingrich has a financial empire, nearly 100 percent name recognition and the support of many Tea Partyers. He is an adept public speaker and debater. And, yet, it's hard to see how he gets the nomination. There are, I would suggest, at least three challenges for him.
First, he's his own worst enemy, a gaffe-maker of epic proportions. He will seize on a bit of data or an odd theory (as he did on Obama's alleged "Keynian, anti-colonial" world view) and create a firestorm. Sarah Palin's verbal miscues may be more frequent, but Gingrich's are often more egregious. At a time when the public is arguably looking for a grown-up and a sober-minded leader, Gingrich projects instability and unpredictability.
Second, he was a terrible speaker of the House. Bill Clinton outfoxed him. He was a gadfly and a distraction, and virtually every House Republican who is still in Congress who went through that period has very negative memories. This isn't to say that Republican congressmen determine presidential primaries; but there will be no shortage of remembrances of a bitterly disappointing time for Republicans.
Third, he is going to have to win over Christian conservatives in Iowa, South Carolina and elsewhere. Sure, he talks a good game on religion these days, but let's face it: He has a huge personal issue that he's going to have to explain, again and again:
Gingrich, who frequently campaigned on family values issues, divorced his second wife, Marianne, in 2000 after his attorneys acknowledged Gingrich's relationship with his current wife, Callista Bisek, a former congressional aide more than 20 years younger than he is.
His first marriage, to his former high school geometry teacher, Jackie Battley, ended in divorce in 1981. Although Gingrich has said he doesn't remember it, Battley has said Gingrich discussed divorce terms with her while she was recuperating in the hospital from cancer surgery.
Perhaps if he were less flaky in other respects, this would not matter, but it is certainly baggage other candidates won't have.
That doesn't mean Gingrich would be a push-over, or that other candidates have nothing to fear. If nothing else, he's a fierce inquisitor. He will blast Mitt Romney on RomneyCare and attack Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on everything from the social "truce" to Daniels's apparent neo-isolationism. In that sense he will be, if he decides to run, a fascinating figure, someone unable to win but highly entertaining and, as far as other candidates are concerned, quite dangerous.
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