Nobody likes Newt Gingrich!
This is why I always found the former Speaker of the House's quixotic campaign for President so fascinating. He can't be serious after all. Racking up bills at Tiffany's and sunning himself on a rock when he's supposed to be kissing babies and feeling up campaign donors. The fact that when he loves America too much his wives don't fare too well. The fact that he went to war with a weakened Bill Clinton in the 90s, got his ass handed to him, and was run out of Washington. But he's back now! And still painfully clueless! His staff is abandoning him en masse. No one wants to give him money. Yet ... if Gingrich keeps this up, he just might fail his way into being the next Republican nominee for president. Then get his ass handed to him by a weakened, but still beyond better than the competition, President Barack Obama.
Back in the summer of 2007 about a billion folks were running for President during a period in history when, amazingly, you'd think most folks would have been all, "Never mind. I don't want to fix that rotten egg George W. Bush laid for eight years. When that sucker finally hatches people are going to be pissed and he's going to be somewhere cutting brush in Texas, whistling."
But, nope. Everybody wanted to rule the world.
One of the billion running was Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. McCain was total weaksauce that summer. He ran out of money. His staff was all over the place. And he looked old and pathetic compared to all the other folks who, in hindsight, also looked lame in the race for the Republican nomination. They were all destined to lose to then Senator Hillary "Inevitable With No Plan Past Super Tuesday" Clinton, then became destined to lose to Barack Obama, the only person who could beat the once unbeatable Clinton machine.
The bumper crop of now 10 Republican candidates running for President is a nice mix of blandly competent and batshit crazy, ranging from a "socially liberal" John Huntsman grasping for Reagan-esque grandeur in front of an audience of dozens and a de-looned Michele Bachmann hoping you won't notice her husband used to try to "de-gay" gay people. But all these folks are problematic for the same reason -- they have to survive a Republican primary.
Unlike the Democratic primary, where you can give lip service to your progressive base, then ditch it at first chance for a mad dash to the center, the Republican presidential primary has turned into a confusing series of "purity tests" everyone is destined to fail. The tests, which sometimes conflict each other, range from loyalty to low/zero taxes, to loyalty to the anti-abortion movement, to loyalty to "State's Rights," to loyalty to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, to loyalty to populist themes in the Tea Party, to loyalty to blowing up brown people in far away countries who look at us funny.
The conservative base has turned into the RNC's Frankenstein Monster, once useful, it's now weakening their best chance at producing national candidates who appeal to the great, bland middle-of-the-road voter for whom Democrat and Republican are just different flavors of the same mix of American Exceptionalism, Big Macs, Midwestern accents, pick-up trucks and warmongering.
These voters call themselves "fiscal conservatives," but don't want you to touch any entitlement programs. Some even have a decent understanding of how taxes work, but most don't. And most are perfectly fine with the existence of abortion, gay people and brown folks in a non-housekeeper, groundskeeper capacity, as long as they have jobs.
But the Franken-Conservatives who vote in these primaries are trying to bring back the damn Caliphate. (Or rebuild that temple in Jeruselum. I'm sorry. I get all my heretical religious zealots confused at times.) They created these people, encouraged their wing-nuttery, and now they have to get elected by it.
The Franken-Conservatives in 2007 loathed John McCain. He failed all kinds of tests. He was against torture and once flirted with crossing party lines. Many times before McCain had shucked conservative principles when convenient because he really liked TV cameras and really hated George W. Bush for doing him dirty in South Carolina back in 2000. But McCain ended up being the last Republican standing because everyone else in the field couldn't survive the impossible purity tests either.
- Rudy Giuliani was a hawk ("A noun, a verb and 9/11!" You just got Biden'd, Giuliani!), but dressed in drag, was ethically compromised and "socially" liberal. He blew a ton of money just to win one, sad Florida delegate.
- Fred "Foghorn Leghorn" Thompson was too damn lazy to run a decent campaign and had the decadent stench of Hollywood on him.
- Mike Huckabee had the right religious background and some ol' Arkansas charm, but didn't have enough money, wasn't considered strong enough on taxes, was gullible in a Jimmy Carter seeing a jackalope kind of way, and had a faint "cornpone grifter" whiff about him. Plus, his name was "Huckabee."
- Ron Paul created to Tea Party movement and was a money-making machine, but was a fundamentally unsound, whackadoo ideologue who wanted to bring back the gold standard and called for an end all foreign wars in a party that had endorsed everything George Bush ever wanted to blow up.
- Alan Keyes was a trap and a waste of everyone's time at this point.
- Duncan Hunter had a strong sense of "Who?" going for him.
- And my favorite, dear Willard "Mittens" Romney, had the look and the money, but was an empty suit who was for universal health care before he was against it and was, decidedly, the wrong religion for most Christian evangelicals in the Franken-base, being the Ned Flanders of Mormonism.
McCain ended up being the last man standing because Romney was trying to buy your love, and failing miserably, while the rest of the weaker candidates joined in to pummel Romney during the debates to ensure that McCain, the establishment candidate, got the nod. McCain mostly got the job because he "almost" got it that one time 2000 and had "earned it" by engaging in the time honored Republican tradition of waiting your turn.
The Democrats have no such tradition. It's pretty much an "every man and woman for themselves" party. So Hillary Clinton had to go down in a hail of race baiting and sour patches as Barack Obama came out of nowhere to snatch victory from the jaws of Clinton's once assured, colorfully pant suited, equally historic potential presidency.
These same issues are the issues of today's Republican wannabes, who, like a Monet painting, look awesome from a distance, but fall apart upon closer inspection. No one wants to draw blood now in the RNC primary race and everyone wants to play nice, but the reality is, the vast majority of them would miserably fail the purity tests in the hands of Tea Partiers, conservative Christians and your classic Daddy Warbucks Republicans. And since the Daddy Warbucks Republicans make up "the establishment" of the party, it's up to them to pick the least loathed, but least fringy of whoever is left standing after the plebes get their hands on them.
And that's how we ended up with McCain.
The establishment is likely leaning towards Romney as he "waited his turn" and is cut from the Daddy Warbucks, Robber Barons N' Wall Street, cloth. But he still fails a ton of purity tests and has that air of desperation and "I'll say anything" about him. The more he tries to get people to like him the more they seem to recoil in horror. This means that as long as Newt Gingrich, like McCain, can survive this summer of discontent, he still has a chance to be the choice of compromising Daddy Warbuckes who feel Romney is weak for being politically flip flopping follower of Joesph Smith.
Now can Newt win against Obama? Goodness no. But he's just recognizable yet pedestrian enough to survive. He has basic name recognition. He still has conservative bona fides for his Contract With America stunt with the help of a little selective, revisionist history. He's still associated with that "winning" feeling of the mid-1990s when the Republicans took over Congress. Although he's botched the whole subtle move to the center to appeal to folks who can't tell the difference between their Ds and Rs with dissing Paul Ryan's plan way too early, and he's probably sitting on some John Edwards-level epic fail that has caused his staff to abandon him. Gingrich is the most likely to execute the old Hollywood and business practice of "failing upwards."
Failing up is what's used to explain the careers of Hollywood actors and actresses who still get major roles or pull nice salaries when most of their films were critically dismissed or financial flops. Case in point: The entire career of Ben Affleck. I really want Hollywood to stop trying to make Ben Affleck happen. Yet, there he is! He keeps coming back! It's obvious that Matt Damon had all the talent in that duo. Affleck is associated with a slew of critical and financial bombs. And as somewhat enjoyable "Gone Baby Gone" was, most folks still snicker when they think of his J. Lo period.
Newt Gingrich is the Ben Affleck of the RNC. Coasting on the success and hardwork of others, yet somehow still liked by certain conservatives even though he has miserably failed at almost everything he's touched since he was booted from Congress. Extra-marital affairs, tacky excesses, ethics violations and sheer smuggness mean nothing when for some reason someone out there really, really likes you and keeps putting you on Meet the Press on Sunday.
You keep saying "WHO IS THIS GUY! AND WHO KEEPS INVITING HIM TO THINGS!" Yet there he is! Others from the 90s Republican Revolution Gingrich was part of are on the backs of milk cartons or publicly disgraced (what's Bill Frist, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay doing these days?), but look at Gingrich! He's half-assed running for President.
Yet unless Tim Pawlenty fever captures a nation and the oligarchs bore of Romney, Gingrich still has a good chance of failing his way right up into a presidential nomination.
It can happen. It's happened before.
And somewhere John McCain forgets what he was just about to say and Sarah Palin checks her teeth for lipstick.