With Herman Cain thoroughly discredited, Newt Gingrich appears to be the newest rising star in the GOP primary and seems to be assuming the mantle as the favored "anti-Mitt" candidate. He is surging in the polls and just got a high-profile endorsement from an influential New Hampshire newspaper.
Is Newt really here to stay? Or will his rise and fall mirror the trajectory of the string of other alternatives to Romney -- Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain? It's hard to say, of course, but I honestly find it rather amusing that the Anybody-but-Romney crowd seems to be settling on Newt Gingrich, of all people. To my mind, Gingrich has all the flaws of Romney as well as some big additional ones that Romney doesn't have.
One of the biggest complaints about Romney is that he has flip-flopped on too many issues and therefore his conservative credentials are suspect. But what about Gingrich? He flip-flopped on his position on the war in Libya over the period of just a few weeks. He appeared in a video with Nancy Pelosi three years ago advocating government intervention to prevent global climate change, although now he is singing a different tune. Are Gingrich's positions on the issues really more conservative than Romney? I don't know of a single major issue where Gingrich is significantly to the right of Romney -- correct me if I'm wrong.
Another complaint about Romney is that he is a typical politician, willing to throw conservative principles under the bus to appeal to moderates. But again, Gingrich has the same problem. I was shocked and appalled a few months ago when I heard Gingrich recycle tired Democratic talking points about Paul Ryan's budget plan and how it would throw seniors out in the snow, etc. Those comments were at least as bad, in my view, as Romney's attacks on Perry regarding Social Security for political expediency.
Romney takes a lot of heat for being an "establishment" Republican. But I don't know how much more of a Washington insider you can get than Newt Gingrich. He served in Congress for decades dating back to the 1970's. And he seemed to have some rather "cozy" relationships (some might say corrupt) in Washington, if the nearly $2 million of payments he collected from Freddie Mac are any indication. I can well remember the ire that Gingrich provoked from the conservative base back in 2009 when he endorsed the very liberal Republican candidate in the New York 23rd Congressional race over the Conservative party candidate. In many ways, he is more of an establishment candidate than Romney is.
Romney is also criticized for his public persona. He can come across as too slick and polished, aloof, a bit of a know-it-all, even slightly condescending. But what about Gingrich? He seems to have an even more exaggerated sense of self-importance than Romney and also has a combative personality. He is less likable than Romney (in my subjective opinion) and has a history of putting his foot in his mouth and of somewhat erratic behavior.
About the only major criticism of Romney that cannot be similarly applied to Gingrich, in my opinion, is the Massachusetts RomneyCare issue. This is a big concern I have, no doubt, and no matter how much Romney tries to finesse it, that issue will hamper his ability to attack Obama's health care plan during the campaign. But Gingrich has some pretty big liabilities as well.
For one thing, most Republicans did not consider Gingrich to be a very effective leader once he became Speaker of the House in 1995. He seemed to alternate between poorly-conceived political standoffs (the government shutdown) and disappointing compromises with the Democrats, and he was the only House Speaker ever to be forced out of his position by his own party. He did well getting his party into power in the first place, but his ego seemed to hamper his ability to lead once his party took power. That doesn't seem to bode well for his ability to be an effective president. As a college professor, he is great at talking, but I'm not so sure whether he is as good at leading. Reminds me of another college professor that proved even more incompetent as a national leader.....
Then there is the issue of Gingrich's pattern of having affairs, divorcing his previous wife, and marrying a younger woman. The most recent time this happened was only a little over a decade ago, so it's not like this was some indiscretion from his youth. I know some people say personal life doesn't matter, but I disagree. A candidate's pattern of personal behavior tells you a lot about his character and how he will behave once in office. If a candidate finds it easy to break a very important promise he makes to the person closest to him, how much easier will it be for him to break those much less important promises he makes on the campaign trail to people he doesn't even know? If he is corrupt in his personal dealings, why would you expect him to be honest as an elected official? And if the latest revelation about Herman Cain's long-term affair disqualifies him from being president, why should Gingrich's affairs be considered irrelevant?
All this is just a long way of saying that I really do not think Gingrich is a good alternative to Romney. I don't think it is at all clear that Gingrich would be a more reliably conservative president, and I have doubts both about his personal integrity and his electability. Either of them, of course, would be preferable to Obama....