As Newt Gingrich has risen in the presidential polls, the campaign of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has flushed a bevy of Republican establishment figures to criticize the former House Speaker.
And they have plenty to work with. In a forty-year career in politics, Gingrich has stepped on a lot of toes and made plenty of enemies who are only too happy to come forward to say that he is temperamentally unfit to be president, would waste money on faddish intellectual exercises, has too much personal baggage, etc.
As Gingrich himself acknowledges, some of these concerns are legitimate issues to weigh when taking the measure of a candidate for President of the United States.
But much of what has appeared in the media in the past week or two is nothing more than the personal trashing of Gingrich to mask the real reason the Republican establishment is deathly afraid of a Gingrich presidential candidacy.
What the Republican establishment is really afraid of is not Newt Gingrich’s personality or baggage, but a campaign about conservative ideas.
For the past fifty years, the Republican establishment has mostly run content-free campaigns and regularly lost elections at the national level. The three major Republican victories of the past half-century -- the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, the 1994 Congressional elections and the 2010 Congressional elections -- all occurred only because Republicans deviated from the establishment’s content-free model and ran on conservative ideas.
And Newt Gingrich was the leader of, and catalyst behind, one of those campaigns.
The major fault line in today’s Republican Party is the split between those who are part of and benefit from Washington’s insider culture and those who don’t.
The last thing establishment Republicans who benefit from business-as-usual in Washington want is a great ideas-based crusade that actually builds a national movement behind reducing the scope and intrusiveness of the federal government, holding government accountable and changing at a fundamental level the way the federal government does business and interacts with citizens. That is exactly what Newt Gingrich is calling for.
Grassroots conservatives and Tea Partiers are flocking to the Gingrich candidacy because outside of Washington, conservatives don’t want another content-free election. They want a campaign that says, “here’s how the federal debt crisis can be solved and the American economy restored,” and, “here’s how government can be more accountable and efficient.” That means building public support behind the kind of fundamental change that Gingrich is talking about.
And the Republican establishment fears more than anything that, just like in 1994, Gingrich actually means it and can pull it off.
I have yet to endorse a candidate for President -- I don’t know when or if I will endorse a candidate in the Republican presidential primaries. But one thing has become remarkably clear since Newt Gingrich’s rise in the polls has gelled into something more solid than the flavor of the week: the Republican establishment fears Newt Gingrich, and they fear him not because of his tart tongue or his personal life.
What establishment Republicans really fear is that Gingrich’s great conservative ideas-based crusade will actually succeed, and that on Inauguration Day 2013, Gingrich will arrive at the White House at the head of a vast citizen movement with a legislative agenda and dozens of Executive Orders ready to implement the conservative government establishment Republicans have promised -- but failed to deliver -- for the past 45 years.