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Why Washington Is Shocked, Shocked By Newt Gingrich's Rise Over Mitt Romney
By Christian Whiton 12-9-2011
One of the more enjoyable spectacles out of Washington lately has been the horror of establishment Beltway Republicans that Newt Gingrich just might be their presidential nominee, having jumped ahead of Mitt Romney in recent polls. The cause of this is simple if often disguised: Newt is the opposite of everything they just know to be true.
Take for example Peggy Noonan, who pronounced Gingrich all but dead in May, noting “I have yet to meet a Gingrich 2012 supporter.”
But last week, without quite admitting her analytical shortcomings, she said “the entire Washington journo-political complex has been taken by surprise by something that not only wasn’t predicted but couldn’t have been.”
At least not from Washington or Manhattan.
Back in our capital city, Jennifer Rubin, the Republican at the Washington Post, congratulated herself noting “I suggested that Republicans ‘could pull a name out of a hat and find a more consistent and personally stable conservative’ than Newt Gingrich. Many smart conservatives seem to agree.” Maybe Ms. Rubin should start listening to people she thinks are dumb.
And then there is Karl Rove, the man George W. Bush called the “architect,” who echoed the growing refrain of establishment Republicans that “Mr. Gingrich has little or no campaign organization in Iowa and most other states.” Yet somehow Gingrich is ahead by 12% in the RealClearPolitics average of Iowa polls.
When not writing for the record, the voices of the establishment are even more incredulous. Newt is not only not their first choice—he is their last choice.
Why is this so? The answer lies in the nature of the Beltway Republican establishment. The problem is that most of what Gingrich proposes runs counter to what they have been conditioned to accept.
After all, this basically remains the Republican establishment that ran both of the federal government’s political branches for the better part of the last decade and managed to achieve essentially no conservative goals. The establishment Republicans didn’t merely acquiesce to big government implications of George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” – they insisted on it. More than a few Bush officials who visited Capitol Hill lamented that it was difficult to tell the difference between Republicans and Democrats on spending issues. While President Obama has normalized trillion-dollar deficits, establishment Republicans got us halfway there during the previous decade.
Do not suppose Beltway Republicans have found religion since. Recall Republican Speaker Boehner claiming earlier this year that he would cut $100 billion of government spending—a modest goal considering the federal budget now exceeds $3500 billion. That cut soon became $61 billion, then a mere $39 billion (and realistically nothing when gimmicks are excluded). And Republicans share with Democrats parenthood of the subsequent ‘Super Committee’ fiasco.
Now reenter Newt Gingrich, the man whom Republican Washington just knows failed as Speaker of the House, despite the welfare, capital gains tax and balanced budget reforms that bear his fingerprints.
On EPA replacement, for example, Gingrich says: “I don’t think you can train the current bureaucrats. I think their bias against capitalism, their bias against local government, their bias against economic rationality, is just amazing.”
Here, Gingrich is revealing his reverence for Andrew Jackson, who in his presidency succeeded in replacing fully one-fifth of the federal bureaucracy, seeing this as a requirement for radical change.
Most Washingtonian Republicans view desires like this as hopelessly naive. During their careers, they have seen modest changes, but nothing like the major shifts in Washington that have occurred at turning points in American history. Those with historical knowledge of them tend to know only of times the bureaucracy grew as opposed to those where it was actually tamed.
The idea of reversing federal growth is fine to keep on the wish list, but those who advocate it seriously are seen as rubes—either new arrivals in Washington who just fell off a turnip truck or unsophisticated congressmen from ‘flyover country.’ To be a true Beltway Republican is to have accepted the assumption that the scope of government cannot be radically altered. And they think it is politically foolish to try.
Thus the establishment just knows that you run a moderate like Mitt Romney for president. Conservatives have no place else to go and independents will be attracted—historical evidence to the contrary be damned.
Gingrich challenges this, believing 2012 may be one of those historical turning points where voters will be most attracted by a candidate who offers a radical divergence.
But even more damning, Gingrich has the audacity to imagine that Washington can be run without his own party’s establishment. Their assumption of dominating the next Republican administration is not safe if it is Gingrich. He is not proposing to replace the Democratic piano player at the brothel that is Washington with a slightly sterner-sounding Republican. Instead, he claims he will close the brothel. And the establishment of his own party just knows that can’t happen. In their lives, it never has. And where are they then to go for their pork and porking?
The establishment may still prevail. There are nearly infinite news cycles until the nomination is won by someone. Gingrich’s opponents are not close to giving up and serious Wall Street money is falling squarely behind Romney. But the champagne glasses will clink a little lighter on the Potomac this season—a little Christmas miracle of its own.
Christian Whiton is a former U.S. State Department senior adviser and is a principal at DC International Advisory.
Gingrich Up in South Carolina, Florida
By DAMIAN PALETTA And JAMILA TRINDLE 12-11-2011
With the field of Republican presidential front-runners narrowing in advance of the Iowa caucuses, Newt Gingrich is solidifying his lead in key states while Mitt Romney faces criticism for a $10,000 bet he offered Rick Perry over the weekend.
A poll released Sunday showed support for the former speaker of the House soaring in South Carolina and Florida, making Mr. Gingrich the distinct front-runner in those states. His commanding performance in a debate Saturday night shows he remains on stable footing as the nominating battle enters its final stretch before Jan. 3 the Iowa caucuses.
During Saturday's debate, Mr. Romney offered to bet Mr. Perry $10,000 that the Texas governor had mischaracterized the former Massachusetts governor's stance on health-care policy. Mr. Perry turned down the bet.
The remark triggered a quick backlash among both Democrats and Republicans. By noon Sunday, the Democratic National Committee had sent out seven emails either mocking or slamming the high-priced wager.
Mr. Perry, speaking on Fox News Sunday, said he was "a little taken aback" by the proposed bet and that it showed how Mr. Romney was "a little out of touch with the normal Iowa citizen." The campaign of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman immediately set up the website 10kbet.com and headlined it "Why Mitt Romney owes Rick Perry $10,000."
Stuart Stevens, the Romney campaign's chief strategist, said it was a simple turn of phrase. "I've asked people, 'I'll bet you a million dollars' lots of times," he said.
A new NBC News/Marist Poll showed Mr. Gingrich leading Mr. Romney 42% to 23% among likely Republican primary voters in South Carolina. In Florida, the NBC/Marist poll found 44% of likely Republican voters who were undecided said they were leaning toward Mr. Gingrich, compared with 29% for Mr. Romney.
Many Republicans have said they are watching the former House speaker to see if he'll veer off message and lose his momentum. At the debate and on Sunday, he drew fire for comments he made last week in which he suggested that Palestinians were an "invented" people.
Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that the comment was "probably unnecessary in the scope of this campaign" and makes you "wonder what kind of discipline he might have." Mr. King hasn't yet endorsed a Republican in the presidential race.
Mr. Gingrich defended his Palestinian comments on Saturday night, saying Palestinians encouraged terrorism and shouldn't be put on an equal playing field with the Israelis.
Reps. Ron Paul (R., Texas) and Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.), who are trailing in the polls, said Messrs. Gingrich and Romney shared similar philosophies on governing and didn't represent the break from the past that Republicans need.
"I would say they are not consistent" as conservatives, Mr. Paul said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I think they have more or less admitted that. It's not that they are in denial." He also called Mr. Gingrich's past work as a consultant for the government-seized mortgage giant Freddie Mac "immoral."
Ms. Bachmann, appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," tried to reiterate a theme she invoked Saturday night, when she suggested the two front-runners were essentially the same person. "There's not a dime's worth of difference between the two of them," Ms. Bachmann said.
Mr. Paul said he wouldn't rule out running on a third-party ticket or endorsing a third-party candidate if he didn't win the Republican nomination, but he said it wasn't something he was thinking about at this point.
"I'm not going to rule anything out or anything in," he said. "I won't talk in absolutes."
—Laura Meckler contributed to this article.