Familiarity Breeds Newt
In accordance with the rhythm of the Republican contest so far, it’s time to ask when Newt Gingrich, the unlikely race car of the moment, will run out of gas.
Much of the emerging thinking goes like this: He’ll be spared the sputtering by dint of the calendar. The caucuses in Iowa, where the latest polls show him in the lead, are less than a month away. Between now and then there’s too much gift shopping, gift giving, eggnog and “Auld Lang Syne” for distracted voters to travel the whole attraction-to-repulsion arc with him. The attraction endures. Gingrich contends. Mitt Romney, uncharacteristically, sweats.
I buy the contention and perspiration parts. But if they happen, I don’t think the sole or even principal explanation will be the lucky timing of Gingrich’s velocity. There’s something else — something more potentially advantageous — at work.
In sharp contrast to the candidates who sped up (and then slowed down) before him, he isn’t a relatively unknown quantity, some sudden crush whose real personality has yet to be revealed and whose demons lie in wait.
Quite the opposite. His demons have been dancing across the national stage for nearly two decades, since he emerged on Capitol Hill as the tantrum-prone enfant terrible of the mid-1990s Republican revolution. They’ve done the jitterbug, tango and gavotte, and at this late date can’t have too many new moves left or much more leg to show.
The voters lining up behind him have already heard that he’s a hypocrite, so his ascent hasn’t been halted by all the fine reporting into his lucrative behind-the-scenes consulting for Freddie Mac, the mortgage company he later railed against. These voters know he’s imperious, so his scornful grimaces during debates and his self-aggrandizing soliloquies at all times aren’t the buzz kills they should be.