What goes up must come down. But Newt Gingrich may just add his own twist to the law of physics. Gingrich may prove that if a politician toughs out the inevitable career downs, he might rebound -- and spectacularly. Could Gingrich surprise everyone by securing the GOP presidential nomination and winning the presidency?
Two new polls should encourage Gingrich. On Friday, a McClatchy-Marist Poll showed Gingrich edging out Herman Cain. A CBS News Poll shows Gingrich tied with Romney. If these polls are correct, they indicate that sexual harassment allegations against Cain have begun to stick. Further polling in coming days should reveal whether or not Gingrich's movement up is a trend.
Dust off your Ouija board. Ask Deng Xiaoping or Richard Nixon about career revivals. On second thought, better to ask the more exemplary Winston Churchill. One of the best stories in life, sports, and politics is the comeback. You know, the guy who lost his business, was loading trucks, came up with a great idea, and turned that idea into a million bucks. Or the quarterback pegged as washed-up who claws his way back into the lineup and leads his team to a championship.
Certainly it would be premature to declare Newt Gingrich "Comeback Player of the Year" and put his mug on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That honor awaits the first Wednesday in November, 2012 -- if it comes at all.
There are plenty of obstacles that Gingrich has to overcome if he's to achieve that honor. One is named Mitt; the other is named Herman. The others are named Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, and Grant - in other words, money, as in campaign contributions. Yes, we live in a new era of social media, "asymmetric" politics, and all that stuff, but money remains the mother's milk of politics, as the long-dead, colorful California House Speaker Jesse Unruh was given to say.
Gingrich, like the other A.B.M. candidates (Anybody But Mitt), has doggedly worked to position himself for a breakout opportunity -- the chance to go mano y mano with Mitt the Mired. As observers have seen with Cain's campaign, a breakout opens contributors' wallets. Gingrich moving past Cain means he should see a dramatic boost in contributions, giving him the firepower to go after Romney.
Gingrich doesn't have to match Romney or Cain dollar-for-dollar to contend with them, however. Gingrich needs enough money to extend and sustain his messaging past what earned and social media provides. Gingrich needs a satisfactory ground game in key states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, for starters -- to better reach and consolidate target voters.
Gingrich's debate performances and his public appearances have been keys to his rehabilitation and rise. Most viewers are impressed with Gingrich's communications skills. They should be. Gingrich is a different communicator than Ronald Reagan, but no less powerful in his way. Gingrich has always been an ideas man with a wicked talent for framing the debate. Don't discount the latter. He who controls the debate - who establishes the parameters - often wins the argument.
From the beginning of his political career, Gingrich preached the need for conservatives to seize the initiative -- to aggressively define the terms of the argument with liberals and Democrats. Gingrich's early call for a "Conservative Opportunity Society" was a very determined effort to recast voters' thinking. A Conservative Opportunity Society was the antithesis of the liberal welfare state. The contrast was vivid and powerful.
Whether or not Gingrich gets to square-off against Romney depends on Cain's stock continuing to fall. A Cain rebound isn't out of the question, which would be mixed news for Gingrich.
Dick Morris, a Cain fan, has been arguing that the existing sexual harassment allegations against Cain won't do long term damage to his candidacy.
Morris argues that given the poor state of the nation, voters are in no mood for distractions. Voters don't care for the seamy game-playing in the Cain allegations. Voters want Uncle Sam reined in and the economy freed. Sideshow dirt-dishing isn't resonating with voters, who fear for their jobs, homes, and retirement savings. Or not.
Gingrich should hope Morris is mostly right. For years, the former Speaker has been dogged by a messy personal life. But with paychecks at risk, mortgages underwater, and middle-aged folk facing the prospect of working as Wal-Mart greeters to make ends meet when they retire, Gingrich has to hope that his three marriages and unpleasant divorces (how many divorces are pleasant?) won't be disqualifiers for voters. Some conservative evangelical leaders appear to be forgiving toward Gingrich, as The Washington Times reports.
An advantage that Gingrich has is that his untidy personal life is more broadly known. No surprises with Gingrich -- to this point. Many conservative voters have already factored in Gingrich's personal liabilities. Whether or not General Election voters would calculate about Gingrich in the same way as conservative voters is an open question.
What probably hampers Gingrich at this stage among conservative voters (those three-quarters of the GOP electorate that don't want Romney) more than his personal life is his reputation for straying from conservative ground. Gingrich's earlier all-too-green positions on the environment, his infamous commercial with Nancy Pelosi, and his characterization of the Ryan plan as "right wing social engineering," are more than head-scratchers for conservatives; they're downright infuriating, understandably so. (Gingrich's call to scrap the EPA in favor of a defanged Environmental Solutions Agency redeems him somewhat for his green deviations.)
During the 1980s, Gingrich's ideas and arguments were the undergirding for the more general arguments and principles advanced by President Reagan. In the 1990s, the Gingrich-led U.S. House gave the nation welfare reform and a balanced budget, most notably. After leaving Congress, Gingrich has continued to be an ideas-super generator. Culling and prioritizing his ideas to address the nation's pressing issues might prove a bit daunting for Gingrich, who, as illustrated, can go off on tangents.
President Gingrich would be susceptible to tangents, no doubt. But if the choice boils down to a Schwarzenegger-like Romney as the GOP standard-bearer or Gingrich, with his occasional impulse to leave the right path, better to contend with Gingrich. Conservatives in and outside a Gingrich administration could at least work to corral the former Georgia politician. How would conservatives corral Romney, whose waffling self seems always pulled to the mushy middle?
Many are considered but few are chosen, and that includes the cover of Sports Illustrated. Is Gingrich primed for a political comeback award next year? Gingrich started his political career in Carrollton, Georgia, an obscure college professor and GOP activist. It took Gingrich three tries, but he finally won his congressional seat in a heavily Democratic district; then Gingrich battled Democrats to earn the top spot in the GOP leadership in the U.S. House. Those were starts and advancements in Gingrich's political career, not comebacks, but they tell us something about man.