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As Newt Gingrich surges in the race for the GOP nomination, some are asking how he went from being a not-a-chance candidate to a top-of-the-polls contender.
Those thinking of throwing their support behind Gingrich, certainly have a lot to judge him on, from his reformer, bipartisan approach as House leader to what some call the "New Newt." Analysts quip about which Newt is going to show up at the next event, as the horse-race for the GOP nomination trots along.
The question is becoming more important as Gingrich pulls ahead in many polls, including in the key state of Iowa. So, today, we'll take a look at what some news outlets and commentators are saying about Gingrich's bubbling to the top of the heap, whether they think he can maintain his surge and what role his past might play in his future.
Dowd: 'Out of Africa and into Iowa'
Maureen Dowd, writing for the New York Times, has had plenty to say about Gingrich lately. In her latest piece about the former House speaker, she harped on some of his strange comments and inconsistencies which led her to describe him as "an animal with ever-changing stripes."
"Newt Gingrich’s mind is in love with itself.
It has persuaded itself that it is brilliant when it is merely promiscuous. This is not a serious mind. Gingrich is not, to put it mildly, a systematic thinker.
His mind is a jumble, an amateurish mess lacking impulse control. He plays air guitar with ideas, producing air ideas. He ejaculates concepts, notions and theories that are as inconsistent as his behavior.
He didn’t get whiplash being a serial adulterer while impeaching another serial adulterer, a lobbyist for Freddie Mac while attacking Freddie Mac, a self-professed fiscal conservative with a whopping Tiffany’s credit line, and an anti-Communist Army brat who supported the Vietnam War but dodged it.
'Part of the question I had to ask myself,' he said in a 1985 Wall Street Journal piece about war wimps, 'was what difference I would have made.'
Newt swims easily in a sea of duality and byzantine ideas that don’t add up."
Noonan: 'The Comeback Kid of 2012'
Peggy Noonan, writing for the Wall Street Journal, takes a look at the basic bewilderment that has come along with Gingrich's surge in the polls. Noonan takes a look at his political baggage and why even though he played a role in many of the things that have troubled the economy and political climate, he may have a chance if voters believe he can actually do something.
"If you've seen this week's poll numbers from Iowa, Florida and South Carolina you know it doesn't look like an increase in his support but an eruption. It is as if something that had been kept down had quietly been gathering energy, and suddenly burst through its bonds. The entire Washington journo-political complex has been taken by surprise by something that not only wasn't predicted but couldn't have been. Newt had no steady movement in the polls. He was regularly dressed down by the base. His staff had fled en masse when he left the campaign for an Aegean cruise with his wife.
What happened is a better story than that the establishment didn't know what the base was thinking. It's that the base didn't know what the base was thinking.
"All it knew was that it was only moderately enthusiastic about Mitt Romney. There were a lot of debates—they were history-changing this year, whatever happens. Six, seven or eight million people would watch them and talk about them afterwards, at work or in comment boxes and email groups. And after they said, 'Romney held his own,' and, 'Perry's kind of a disappointment,' they'd come to agreement on this: 'I really liked what Newt said when he said they shouldn't bash each other and re-elect Obama.' 'I liked when Newt confronted the moderator.' It was always at the end of the conversation that this got said. Because the base knew Mr. Gingrich couldn't win, so why waste the breath or bandwidth?"
"He often seems to be playing a part in a historical novel he's dictating in his mind—Newt the underdog, Newt the visionary. He has a compulsion to be interesting, which accounts for some of his overheated language—things are always decayed, corrupt, sick, catastrophically tragic.
"He also often sounds like a cable TV political analyst, which he's been for the past decade. He appraises his own candidacy instead of just being the candidate. The race used to be between 'Mitt and Not Mitt,' but now it is between 'Newt and Not Newt,' he says. He is 'the only one who can win.' This week in South Carolina: 'I'm the one candidate who can bring together national-security conservatives and economic conservatives and social conservatives.'
Candidates should let other people say that; serious candidates should let voters say it to exit pollsters. He shouldn't be making the grubby bottom-line calculations, he should be making an elegant case for his leadership.
His biggest problem? The millions he has made lobbying—sorry, teaching history—as a former Speaker, Capitol Hill insider and member of the permanent political class. Some of his paychecks came from the very agencies (such as Freddie Mac) that succeeded for 20 years in operating without proper oversight due to the influence and protection of Capitol Hill insiders and members of the permanent political class. That is the great scandal of our time, and it helped tank our economy. He has been part of it."
Bernstein: 'Yes, Newt’s up in the Polls. No, You Shouldn’t Take His Candidacy Seriously.'
Jonathan Bernstein, writing for The New Republic, cautions that while Newt Gingrich may be doing well in the polls he's the same politician with the same problems. And that's why Bernstein believes even if conservatives say they will back Gingrich, he's not sure they actually would.
"Newt Gingrich is having an impressive national polling surge. His chances of grabbing the GOP presidential nomination have spiked up to over 30 percent at Intrade this week, and the media is full of stories about whether it’s time to start taking him seriously. Here’s my advice: don’t. None of the recent polling means he’s going to win the Republican nomination, nor does it even mean that he’s going to have a serious shot at it. Newt is still the same wildly unelectable candidate he was five minutes ago, and the polls that say otherwise are no better indicator of voters’ true preferences than a game of darts.
The reasons why we don’t have to take Newt seriously are many, but the most obvious is that, despite his recent polling, he’s still the same candidate with all the same baggage. He’s still got his history of deviations from party orthodoxy on practically every issue, and the ethics violations, and the marital problems. He’s still the same guy who wound up not being trusted at all by those who worked with him when he was in office. And he’s still got a long history of just not being very popular with anyone outside of the most intense of intense partisans—and even they are likely aware that he’s risky at best and more likely pure poison in a general election.
The lack of endorsements by party actors is the second factor working against Newt, and it suggests that the people who have the most at stake in the nomination see him the same way as I do. We’ve seen this year (Donald Trump?!?) and in the past (John Anderson 1980? Jerry Brown 1992? Rudy Giuliani 2008?) that practically anyone can get a rush of attention and therefore a surge in the polls, and if it’s timed right that can even translate into winning a few delegates. But ever since the early 1980s, when the modern selection process became fully in place, no one has come close to winning a nomination without strong support from party officials, elites, and assorted activists. No one similar to Newt has ever received that kind of support, and so far he hasn’t either: Just as was the case with Bachmann and Cain, he’s surging in the polls without winning over politicians, GOP-aligned organized groups, or other conservative opinion leaders. That rank-and-file Republicans, who are generally not aware of his weaknesses, are willing to say that they would hypothetically vote for him just doesn’t impress me as a reason to believe there’s anything to it."
Dowd: 'My Man Newt'
Another column from Maureen Dowd on Newt Gingrich, but a slightly different take. She wrote this piece in the New York Times as the GOP contender was really picking up steam. If you want to know why Gingrich looks so good in the polls, says Dowd, just look at who he is standing next to.
“In many ways, Newt is the perfect man.
He knows how to buy good jewelry. He puts his wife ahead of his campaign. He’s so in touch with his feelings that he would rather close the entire federal government than keep his emotions bottled up. He’s confident enough to include a steamy sex scene in a novel. He understands that Paul Revere was warning about the British.
Mitt Romney is a phony with gobs of hair gel. Newt Gingrich is a phony with gobs of historical grandiosity.
The 68-year-old has compared himself to Charles de Gaulle. He has noted nonchalantly: 'People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.' As speaker, he liked to tell reporters he was a World Historical Transformational Figure.
What does it say about the cuckoo G.O.P. primary that Gingrich is the hot new thing? Still, his moment is now. And therein lies the rub.
As one commentator astutely noted, Gingrich is a historian and a futurist who can’t seem to handle the present. He has more exploding cigars in his pocket than the president with whom he had the volatile bromance: Bill Clinton.
But next to Romney, Gingrich seems authentic. Next to Herman Cain, Gingrich seems faithful. Next to Jon Huntsman, Gingrich seems conservative. Next to Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, Gingrich actually does look like an intellectual. Unlike the governor of Texas, he surely knows the voting age. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, if brains were elastic, Perry wouldn’t have enough to make suspenders for a parakeet.
In presidential campaigns, it’s all relative.”