Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

It's advantage Gingrich thanks to bumbling rivals

After his senior campaign staff resigned en masse in June, pundits declared that Newt Gingrich was toast. Now the former Speaker of the House is surging and has become a serious threat to Grand Old Party front runner Mitt Romney.

But is the pugnacious ex-congressman just the latest of a revolving cast of Grand Old Party presidential wannabe pack leaders? Or does the Georgian, who began November with massive campaign debt, really have a chance to steal the Republican nomination from Romney?

Given the body blow that the staff resignations dealt his campaign, just weeks after he'd declared his candidacy in May, Gingrich's resurrection is indeed remarkable. After several months of attracting only single-digit opinion poll support, an early November Marist-McClatchy survey of Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters found Gingrich vaulting into second place with 19% to Romney's 23%.

That surprise spike was followed last week by a Fox News poll that had Gingrich edging Romney by a 23% to 22% margin. More importantly, among GOP-driving Tea Party movement voters, Gingrich had 35% support to Romney's 15%, and Herman Cain's 20%.

So why Newt? And why now? Answer: His bumbling competition.

From Mitt Romney's embarrassing u-turns on issues like abortion and healthcare, to Rick Perry's jaw-dropping memory lapses during debates, to Herman Cain's spacey responses to foreign policy questions, Gingrich's rivals have paraded dizzying levels of fuzzy thinking.

By contrast, by packing his debate answers with mountains of facts instead of sound-bite generalities, Gingrich has been seen by many as more substantive than his rivals. And his surge, particularly among Tea Partiers, is all the more striking given the fact that he's taken stances normally anathema to the most conservative Republicans.

For example, he's said that, had he been a congressman at the time, he'd have supported the 2008 government bailout of banks and financial institutions.

He also supports the DREAM Act, which would help the children of illegal immigrants remain in the US. And he backs the 'cap-and-trade' method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But, even if Gingrich bests his bungling GOP rivals and wins over his party's most ardent conservatives, would he have a chance against Barack Obama?

In 2008, Obama used his oratorical prowess to capture the brass ring of American politics.

Unable to decisively outbox Hillary Clinton in debates, Obama exploited his much vaunted speech-making skills to secure victory.

Gingrich would be a far more daunting debating foe than Clinton.

As such, Obama would have to find other chinks in Gingrich's armour.

And chinks aplenty Gingrich appears to have.

On the 'character' front, the story of Gingrich serving his wife divorce papers as she battled cancer, so that he could be free to marry his mistress - who he would later ditch in order to marry a member of his staff - will no doubt be resurrected.

And Obama's people will surely remind Hispanic voters (who'll be a major force in 2012) of Gingrich's 2007 assertion that Hispanic children should be schooled in "the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto."

Of course, Obama's team will only get the chance to use these things if Gingrich's GOP rivals don't use them first to topple him in the weeks ahead.

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