Gingrich vs. Romney: And the Winner is....

For months I have listened to friends and family share their frustration over the lack of qualified candidates fielded by the GOP.  There is earnestness among conservative voters as they understand the urgency in defeating Barack Obama yet fear that none of the GOP candidates has the ability to win in 2012.  And they are confused as to why none of their favorite Republicans was willing to step into the ring for the sake of the country.

My personal favorite was Congressman Mike Pence.  When he announced his decision not to run in January of this year, I was forlorn and concerned as to why the man whom I thought most qualified to lead the country out of the abyss would not choose country over self.  Similarly, fellow Indianan, Governor Mitch Daniels, opted out, as did Congressman Paul Ryan and Governor Chris Christie later in the year.  Notwithstanding the urging of major political donors and GOP insiders, the seemingly strongest Republicans chose to leave the future of the country in the hands of one of nine candidates -- none of whom excited the full conservative base.

I surmise that each of the aforementioned non-candidates will make his way to the national arena in good time.  Mike Pence was likely well aware of the difficulties in moving from the House of Representatives to the White House.  (Michele Bachmann had the hubris to ignore history's teachings.)  Mitch Daniels consulted his family and determined that a presidential run would not be in their best interests, whatever the interests of the United States.  Paul Ryan too likely recognized that his limited governing experience would leave him vulnerable to attack and is waiting in the wings to be appointed Treasury secretary if the Republican wins.  And Chris Christie, in just his first term as New Jersey governor, read the tea leaves that suggested he wait a bit longer.

But all of these gentlemen thought about their chances and what was in their best interests.  And it is difficult to name a politician who is not in office because it is in his or her best interest.  Almost by definition, if individuals are willing to parade themselves on the open stage, subjecting themselves to public scrutiny; vicious personal attacks; quick, uninformed judgments against them; and complete loss of privacy, they have self-confidence and audacious egos unlike the average human being's.

And it is safe to say that a Republican politician who has decided to sit out the 2012 presidential contest has made a self-determination that he cannot win, does not wish to put country ahead of his own ambitions and the well-being of his family (perhaps Herman Cain should have considered this), or is not qualified to become the leader of the free world (oh, how we wish Obama had the ability for self-reflection rather than self-aggrandizement).

This brings us to the current frontrunners and their chances for success in a general election against Obama and his billion-dollar war chest.  Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have been on the public stage for many years, their baggage exposed and their policy positions as well as their egos fully vetted.  And while neither candidate has the full support of the conservative base, with Gingrich's recent surge, Republican voters now have an alternative to "holding their nose" and voting for Romney.  But winning the big prize requires a closer analysis of which candidate can beat Obama.

The general consensus appears to be that the 2012 election will be a very close race decided in about 10 to 12 swing states.  There has been much discussion in recent days analyzing the report titled "The Path to 270: Demographics versus Economics in the 2012 Presidential Election."  In that study, authors Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin state that "Americans will be open to replacing President Obama with an even-tempered, nonthreatening GOP leader focused on the economy."  Sean Trende further concluded, "Barring a gift from the Republicans in the form of their nominee -- and this is something we absolutely should not rule out -- the president will likely have a very difficult time holding it together."

Not only does a recent Rasmussen poll show Gingrich beating Obama 45% to 43%, but it also reflects Gingrich beating Obama among independent voters 50% to 32%.  Furthermore, the latest Rasmussen poll has Gingrich leading Romney by 21 percentage points!  And it appears that Gingrich's surge in the polls is not just another Republican receiving his or her 15 minutes of unrequited love from conservative voters searching for the anti-Romney.

Newt is the real deal, and perhaps that is why there is such a disparity in the way his surge is being received by conservative pundits and analysts.  It is one thing for Ron Paul to go on the offensive and produce a scathing advertisement attacking Gingrich for his "Serial Hypocrisy."  It is quite another for the conservative NRO's Jim Geraghty to pen an article entitled "Newt Gingrich said What?" and then list "a slew of ideas and comments that ... probably would not be helpful if one were hoping to win the votes of conservative Republicans in a GOP presidential primary."

So what are true conservative voters to do with a choice of Newt or Romney -- the latter a consummate flip-flopper (global warming, abortion, gun control), grandfather of ObamaCare, founder of private equity firm Bain Capital, and proud Mormon?  Some argue that Christian Evangelicals will not go to the voting booth to vote for a Mormon.  Others worry that Romney's days of buying businesses and laying off employees provide Obama with a treasure trove of material in an environment of high unemployment and anti-capitalist sentiment.  And columnist Ramesh Ponnuru concluded that Obama will attack Romney as being a hardcore conservative, beating the Republican due to his extremism.

Daniel Foster, calling the GOP race the "Bizzaro-Earth GOP Primary," conducted a "thought experiment" in which he concluded that the strengths and weaknesses of Gingrich and Romney cancel each other out:

Romney signed a state mandate into law, Gingrich once supported a federal mandate; Romney's a solid debater who won't make major gaffes, Gingrich is a superb debater whose own cleverness can be his worst enemy; Gingrich has a questionable personal morality but appears to have a principled vision for the country, Romney appears to have an impeccable personal morality but a questionable and perhaps unprincipled vision for the country; Gingrich helped assemble the first Republican Congressional majority in a generation but was forced out amid scandal, Romney ran a successful business and a deep-blue state but his success has pegged him as both a 'fat cat' and a 'RINO'; Romney is perceived as the favorite son of the political 'establishment', Gingrich as consummate Washington insider. And so on.

The bottom line is that conservative Americans, while hoping for the most conservative candidate, may have to settle for the most conservative candidate who can win.  Despite their frustrations with a weak field and disappointment in the opt-out politicians whom they would have strongly supported, conservatives now have a choice between two flawed Republicans.  And they must choose the man who can win in enough swing states that will lead to the magic number of 270 Electoral College votes.

While I like Newt Gingrich, I worry that he may not be that man.  It is difficult for me to ignore Bill Clinton's support and wonder if there is an ulterior motive to his kind words for a man who used to be his nemesis.  Perhaps I am being cynical, but Democrats have consistently attacked Republicans they fear (David Plouffe recently claimed that Romney "has no core") while building up the candidate they hope to see in the ring duking it out with a weakened Democratic president.

Furthermore, while surprises are not expected, Obama has $1 billion to spend reminding independents and voters in swing states of all of Gingrich's faux pas over the years.  And while three wives may not be offensive to some, distorted accusations of cheating on and divorcing wife number one while she was sick with cancer may prevent many women -- a significant voting bloc -- from supporting Gingrich in both the primaries and general election.

Michael Medved wrote a thoroughly insightful op-ed in the WSJ last month entitled "Conservatives, Romney, and Electability."  He concluded:

Conservatives, as well as their moderate and progressive neighbors, may have plenty of reasons to oppose Mitt Romney in favor of some rival candidate. Electability can't reasonably count as one of them.

So if conservative voters truly want to take back the White House, they need to stop wondering when the candidate of their dreams will enter the race and start focusing on electability.  Much will be written over the next couple of months as we head into primary voting, and the field may very well change.  But when heading into the voting booths, we had better make sure that we are not handing Obama a "gift from Republicans."

For months I have listened to friends and family share their frustration over the lack of qualified candidates fielded by the GOP.  There is earnestness among conservative voters as they understand the urgency in defeating Barack Obama yet fear that none of the GOP candidates has the ability to win in 2012.  And they are confused as to why none of their favorite Republicans was willing to step into the ring for the sake of the country.

My personal favorite was Congressman Mike Pence.  When he announced his decision not to run in January of this year, I was forlorn and concerned as to why the man whom I thought most qualified to lead the country out of the abyss would not choose country over self.  Similarly, fellow Indianan, Governor Mitch Daniels, opted out, as did Congressman Paul Ryan and Governor Chris Christie later in the year.  Notwithstanding the urging of major political donors and GOP insiders, the seemingly strongest Republicans chose to leave the future of the country in the hands of one of nine candidates -- none of whom excited the full conservative base.

I surmise that each of the aforementioned non-candidates will make his way to the national arena in good time.  Mike Pence was likely well aware of the difficulties in moving from the House of Representatives to the White House.  (Michele Bachmann had the hubris to ignore history's teachings.)  Mitch Daniels consulted his family and determined that a presidential run would not be in their best interests, whatever the interests of the United States.  Paul Ryan too likely recognized that his limited governing experience would leave him vulnerable to attack and is waiting in the wings to be appointed Treasury secretary if the Republican wins.  And Chris Christie, in just his first term as New Jersey governor, read the tea leaves that suggested he wait a bit longer.

But all of these gentlemen thought about their chances and what was in their best interests.  And it is difficult to name a politician who is not in office because it is in his or her best interest.  Almost by definition, if individuals are willing to parade themselves on the open stage, subjecting themselves to public scrutiny; vicious personal attacks; quick, uninformed judgments against them; and complete loss of privacy, they have self-confidence and audacious egos unlike the average human being's.

And it is safe to say that a Republican politician who has decided to sit out the 2012 presidential contest has made a self-determination that he cannot win, does not wish to put country ahead of his own ambitions and the well-being of his family (perhaps Herman Cain should have considered this), or is not qualified to become the leader of the free world (oh, how we wish Obama had the ability for self-reflection rather than self-aggrandizement).

This brings us to the current frontrunners and their chances for success in a general election against Obama and his billion-dollar war chest.  Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have been on the public stage for many years, their baggage exposed and their policy positions as well as their egos fully vetted.  And while neither candidate has the full support of the conservative base, with Gingrich's recent surge, Republican voters now have an alternative to "holding their nose" and voting for Romney.  But winning the big prize requires a closer analysis of which candidate can beat Obama.

The general consensus appears to be that the 2012 election will be a very close race decided in about 10 to 12 swing states.  There has been much discussion in recent days analyzing the report titled "The Path to 270: Demographics versus Economics in the 2012 Presidential Election."  In that study, authors Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin state that "Americans will be open to replacing President Obama with an even-tempered, nonthreatening GOP leader focused on the economy."  Sean Trende further concluded, "Barring a gift from the Republicans in the form of their nominee -- and this is something we absolutely should not rule out -- the president will likely have a very difficult time holding it together."

Not only does a recent Rasmussen poll show Gingrich beating Obama 45% to 43%, but it also reflects Gingrich beating Obama among independent voters 50% to 32%.  Furthermore, the latest Rasmussen poll has Gingrich leading Romney by 21 percentage points!  And it appears that Gingrich's surge in the polls is not just another Republican receiving his or her 15 minutes of unrequited love from conservative voters searching for the anti-Romney.

Newt is the real deal, and perhaps that is why there is such a disparity in the way his surge is being received by conservative pundits and analysts.  It is one thing for Ron Paul to go on the offensive and produce a scathing advertisement attacking Gingrich for his "Serial Hypocrisy."  It is quite another for the conservative NRO's Jim Geraghty to pen an article entitled "Newt Gingrich said What?" and then list "a slew of ideas and comments that ... probably would not be helpful if one were hoping to win the votes of conservative Republicans in a GOP presidential primary."

So what are true conservative voters to do with a choice of Newt or Romney -- the latter a consummate flip-flopper (global warming, abortion, gun control), grandfather of ObamaCare, founder of private equity firm Bain Capital, and proud Mormon?  Some argue that Christian Evangelicals will not go to the voting booth to vote for a Mormon.  Others worry that Romney's days of buying businesses and laying off employees provide Obama with a treasure trove of material in an environment of high unemployment and anti-capitalist sentiment.  And columnist Ramesh Ponnuru concluded that Obama will attack Romney as being a hardcore conservative, beating the Republican due to his extremism.

Daniel Foster, calling the GOP race the "Bizzaro-Earth GOP Primary," conducted a "thought experiment" in which he concluded that the strengths and weaknesses of Gingrich and Romney cancel each other out:

Romney signed a state mandate into law, Gingrich once supported a federal mandate; Romney's a solid debater who won't make major gaffes, Gingrich is a superb debater whose own cleverness can be his worst enemy; Gingrich has a questionable personal morality but appears to have a principled vision for the country, Romney appears to have an impeccable personal morality but a questionable and perhaps unprincipled vision for the country; Gingrich helped assemble the first Republican Congressional majority in a generation but was forced out amid scandal, Romney ran a successful business and a deep-blue state but his success has pegged him as both a 'fat cat' and a 'RINO'; Romney is perceived as the favorite son of the political 'establishment', Gingrich as consummate Washington insider. And so on.

The bottom line is that conservative Americans, while hoping for the most conservative candidate, may have to settle for the most conservative candidate who can win.  Despite their frustrations with a weak field and disappointment in the opt-out politicians whom they would have strongly supported, conservatives now have a choice between two flawed Republicans.  And they must choose the man who can win in enough swing states that will lead to the magic number of 270 Electoral College votes.

While I like Newt Gingrich, I worry that he may not be that man.  It is difficult for me to ignore Bill Clinton's support and wonder if there is an ulterior motive to his kind words for a man who used to be his nemesis.  Perhaps I am being cynical, but Democrats have consistently attacked Republicans they fear (David Plouffe recently claimed that Romney "has no core") while building up the candidate they hope to see in the ring duking it out with a weakened Democratic president.

Furthermore, while surprises are not expected, Obama has $1 billion to spend reminding independents and voters in swing states of all of Gingrich's faux pas over the years.  And while three wives may not be offensive to some, distorted accusations of cheating on and divorcing wife number one while she was sick with cancer may prevent many women -- a significant voting bloc -- from supporting Gingrich in both the primaries and general election.

Michael Medved wrote a thoroughly insightful op-ed in the WSJ last month entitled "Conservatives, Romney, and Electability."  He concluded:

Conservatives, as well as their moderate and progressive neighbors, may have plenty of reasons to oppose Mitt Romney in favor of some rival candidate. Electability can't reasonably count as one of them.

So if conservative voters truly want to take back the White House, they need to stop wondering when the candidate of their dreams will enter the race and start focusing on electability.  Much will be written over the next couple of months as we head into primary voting, and the field may very well change.  But when heading into the voting booths, we had better make sure that we are not handing Obama a "gift from Republicans."

RECENT VIDEOS