Over the weekend there was a spate of news reports and analyses about Newt Gingrich’s confession of past adultery. The Wall Street Journal published an extensive piece over the weekend, speculating on what the “Hamlet” of the 2008 presidential campaign will do — “to run, or not to run.”
It’s time for me to say it: I’m 100 percent positive that Gingrich will enter the battle for the GOP nomination. I don’t need to hear a confirmation from his lips, nor will I seek to press him on the point. That could put him in the awkward position of having to offer an indefensible untruth.
As for his various past sins, there are untold “other sides” to these matters that are privately mitigating the disapproval conservative Christians might otherwise be starting to heap onto the former speaker.
The real issue for Team Gingrich on a presidential announcement is not if, but when. Newt’s original strategy was to sit by and watch earlier-announced candidates flounder and waste money. That might have seemed workable before nearly all heavily populated states with ambition decided to move their presidential primaries to early February. Florida may even hold its primary in January.
All of this may account for why, suddenly, Gingrich appears to be accelerating efforts to raise his press profile, and to engage in a little “dust-busting” on issues such as his past marital problems. With forgiveness now offered by the likes of Jerry Falwell and others, Gingrich already has cleared a major hurdle that he probably hadn’t intended to address before the summer.
There’s certainly a strong and devoted GOP hard core waiting for Gingrich to run. His problem is that too many of the key Republican activists and campaign contributors are already joining other campaigns. A check with one of Gingrich’s most prominent sources of major funding confirmed that they might be close to opting for another Republican candidate if Gingrich doesn’t give the proper signals soon.
And now, with a primary season likely to commence in January and end, for practical purposes, before March 2008, he may no longer have the luxury of waiting for already financed and organized candidates to collapse.
If Gingrich is waiting for a GOP version of Howard Dean’s 2004 meltdown, he’s relying on an already outmoded campaign model.
There is both good news and bad in Gingrichland.
The good is that the former speaker is getting treated like a rock star at just about every event he attends these days. Even with his rumpled look, complete with glasses resting on his nose, Gingrich seems to have the same political “sex appeal” that followed Henry Kissinger around in the 1970s — which is still a mystery to me.
The bad news is that Newt’s political acumen has always been sharper in more insulated political arenas like the U.S. House, rather than in the wild world of national electoral politics. Given the time, I could document many political miscalculations Newt made in races he won by the slimmest of margins, but could have won easily had he not outthought himself by trying unique and unnecessary strategies.
Here’s just one example: During Gingrich’s first congressional re-election bid in 1980, I served as his debate coach. Long before I agreed to that duty, Newt already had challenged his unknown Democratic opponent to an unprecedented series of debates on all three major network TV affiliates in the district, as well as in every county.
Gingrich overwhelmed his poor opponent in these debates. Nevertheless, by the mere holding of them, we supplied the Democrat the badly needed name recognition he lacked.
Sure enough, with just weeks to go until the election, Gingrich’s polling showed the Democrat making gains. Big shock. The real problem was that Newt had blown through his cash. He had to hit the road to raise additional money in order to finish off what should have been an inconsequential opponent.
Gingrich’s current “September strategy” is to wait to be drafted as a GOP candidate after the collection of uninspiring options now announced all stumble into next year with strategies as flawed as Gingrich’s debate-the-unknown-opponent concept was in 1980.
But Newt is fiddling while Rome burns, as campaign checks are being reluctantly written to second-tier choices from sources that would be only too happy to finance Gingrich were he a candidate.
I never ask Newt Gingrich questions. I’ve never needed to. I know his history like the back of my hand, as I do his brilliant but sometimes whacky political thinking.
Trust me. Newt Gingrich will run for president. Now expect a draft-Gingrich movement to gear into overdrive. Especially with new potential rival Republican candidates also waiting in the wings, such as former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson.
With Mitt Romney capturing “the Bushies” state by state, and Sen. John McCain running close behind in the early commitments, Gingrich is running out of time quicker than anticipated.
Lastly, which candidate would most need to fall on his face in order for Gingrich to enter the fray?
Rudy Giuliani. That’s right. Many say otherwise, that Gingrich needs another right-wing darling to stumble. But the real fall guy is the former New York City mayor.
By making his “confession” to Dr. James Dobson last week, and by then receiving forgiveness from major religious-right leaders, Gingrich outflanked Giuliani and his own publicly unacknowledged transgressions. Gingrich has left Giuliani on an ethical island as the “two-woman” mayor.
With little or no grassroots organization in most states, Giuliani looks to be the ’08 version of Howard Dean: leading in the polls, but with a campaign built on a foundation of sand.
Yes, Gingrich — despite all of his protestations and disclaimers — is in this race. The question is, will he have waited too long to reclaim his supporters?
And if he protests this column, he doth, indeed, “protest too much.”