One of the reasons this is so surprising is that I actually like Newt. He’s undeniably brilliant; he’s reasonable, and he’s produced real, substantial, conservative solutions. Wildly successful welfare reform? That was all Newt. Balanced budget in the 90s? Newt again. Child tax credit? Capital gains tax cut? The first Republican majority since Eisenhower? Newt, Newt, and Newt.
Given how effective and mainstream the man has been, he should be anathema to the Tea Party zealots who have cycled through a series of nondescript clowns and finally settled on Newt as the current non-Romney candidate. The only other one left is Huntsman, and even the Tea Party isn’t dumb enough to go there.
I’ve actually met Newt. I found him to be bright, personable, and extraordinarily gracious. I’d be very comfortable with America being led by a President Gingrich.
But that’s the problem. America isn’t going to be led by a President Gingrich.
There is no possible way that Newt Gingrich can win a general election. Yes, he’s brilliant. He’s also a serial adulterer who has flipped and flopped on all the same stuff Mitt has, including Romneycare. He’s made global warming commercials with Nancy Pelosi; he’s earned millions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and, perhaps most importantly, his quirky, brainy, and ofttimes prickly persona doesn’t wear well with Middle America.
Yet the Tea Party still prefers him to Mitt.
This is in spite of the fact that Gingrich is as much of a heretic on flashpoint conservative issues as Mitt is, and, on immigration, he’s even more so. He’s also indisputably a creature of Washington, which the Tea Party supposedly hates, and he’s even attacked Tea Party darling Paul Ryan for engaging in “right wing social engineering.”
And still, all of this is acceptable when compared to the Tea Party’s loathing of Mitt Romney.
I am forced into the unavoidable conclusion that Newt’s colossal personal and political baggage is not nearly as offensive to the Tea Party faithful as Mitt Romney’s Mormonism.
I hate to think that. I don’t like to consider myself a societal victim or a member of some kind of oppressed minority group. But if it’s not Mitt’s Mormonism, then what is it?
He’s a flip-flopper? So is Newt, and on the same issues as Mitt. He’s personally distant? So is Newt, and Mitt isn’t nearly as abrasive as Newt has often proven to be. He’s been faithful to his wife and lived his life without a whiff of personal scandal? Certainly Newt can’t say the same, but, then again, Newt can’t call himself a Mormon, either.
Four years ago, I was astonished by how deeply my faith was mistrusted by the evangelical wing of the Republican Party. In 2012, such mistrust is no longer fashionable, but that only means that it’s gone underground, not that it’s gone away. Tea Party zealots are certain to take that mistrust with them into the secure privacy of the voting booth.
Certainly all this flies in the face of the goals of the Utah Tea Party, which believes that Mormons are the ones who are going to save the Constitution as it’s hanging by a thread. Tea Party anti-Mormonism ought to give pause to Utah’s zealots, but it won’t. They’re either too deluded or just too damn stupid to notice that they have saddled themselves to an intolerant political movement that truly loathes them.
The bottom line, then, is that the Republicans are willing to nominate an unelectable candidate before they’re willing to nominate a Mormon. But that’s kind of a redundant statement, isn’t it? The lesson of Newt Gingrich’s unlikely rise in the polls is that a Mormon candidate is the most unelectable candidate of all.