Ten Miles Square


January 12, 2012 12:43 PM What is Newt Thinking?

By Jonathan Bernstein

So Newt Gingrich, fresh off a 5th place finish in Iowa and a (barely) 4th place finish in New Hampshire, now goes to South Carolina guns blazing. He’s targeting Mitt Romney, but if he really wanted to beat Romney he presumably would just drop out and endorse Rick Santorum (or I suppose Rick Perry). Instead, he’s choosing a course that perhaps makes it more likely that Romney will win, but that (at least in the margins) weakens him in November, which also means that he’s seriously annoying GOP partisans.

So what is Newt thinking? I went through this last week with Rick Perry. Matt Glassman stresses that candidates may be acting strategically, but with goals other than winning the nomination. I mostly discounted that with Perry, but Newt? That’s a whole ‘nother story. There have been two basic Theories Of Newt during the 2012 cycle. The first is that it’s just a brand-maintenance exercise, with the strongest version of that claiming that Newt actively doesn’t want the nomination; he just wants to make money. The other is that Newt is following his visions of himself as Churchill or de Gaulle, about to be called back from political exile to save his nation at it’s moment of greatest peril; if that’s the case, Newt is really demeaning himself in his own eyes by even participating in the process at all.

What I can’t see is how his present course of action fits with either of those goals. Surely getting beat up by Rush Limbaugh can’t be good for his standing within the conservative marketplace. But it’s also not good for getting the nomination! Unless this is all some elaborate plan to alienate Newt from his party, thus making him even more Churchill-like when they finally wise up and beg him to be their nominee at some unspecified point in the future (this summer? In 2016? After an EMP attack by the Iranians and the North Koreans next March?)

Some have said, it’s just blind rage revenge against Mitt Romney, even if by staying in he’s actually helping Mitt. After all, Newt is a great snake oil salesman, but not a particularly good strategist, whatever he constantly says about himself.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.


  • K Wilson on January 12, 2012 5:55 PM:

    I suspect it's largely personal at this point. Newt really, really doesn't like Mitt Romney, just like Ron Paul really, really doesn't like Newt. Although he may have convinced himself that it's part of some brilliant strategy, he just wants to throw rocks at Romney, and all else is secondary.

  • Daniel Buck on January 12, 2012 7:32 PM:

    It's not that Gingrich's attack on Romney re Bain is not grounded in some fact, it's that Gingrich doesn't believe any of it. He's indulging in demagoguery.

    But then that's been the armature of his career.

    When he demagogued the Democrats, called them fascists, socialists, appeasers, and blamed liberals for Susan Smith having murdered her children, etc., (most) Republicans were delighted. But how many Republicans remember that he similarly ravaged President Reagan, calling his presidency a failure and Reaganomics a failure, and even compared Reagan to Neville Chamberlain? Did the same to George H.W. Bush. Once declared that "We have not had a competent national Republican leader. Not ever!" That's from his 1978 speech to the College Republicans.

    Does this sound familiar: "Raise Hell. Raise Hell all the time." Or this: "Don't try to educate [the voters], that's not your job."

    Strategy? No. This is DNA.

  • maryQ on January 12, 2012 7:35 PM:

    He does not want Mitt Romney to be President. Because Mitt Romney exposes the game.

    In Newt's GOP, the captains of industry and vulture capitalists sit quietly in the background, lining the pockets of lobbyists and the campaign coffers of Republican politicians. They do not run for office. The people who run for office are people like Newt, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, manly white men who can pontificate about American Greatness and appeal to both the better angels (religious faith, love of family, national pride) and the existential fears (immigrants taking your jobs, gay people corrupting your kids or tempting you in the airport bathroom, black people getting your tax dollars to have more black babies) of working class white people. Meanwhile, Newt's GOP quietly-and that's the key-quietly guards the interests of men like Mitt Romney, who are quietly screwing the white working class out of their pensions. Of course, these people don't _mean_ to screw the working class, they have nothing against them, it's just that those good folks are collateral damage in the game that allows men like Mitt to walk away with 100 million instead of settling for 75 million. And Newt's GOP tells the white working class voters that of course, the real problem in this country is not rich people screwing them out of their pensions, it is abortion, welfare for black people, and terrorists, and only Newt's GOP can save us from that.

    Newt does not believe anything close to half of what he says about Obama. After all, the rich are still rich, Bin Laden is dead, and the working class are still afraid that black people are taking all of their money. So Newt can stand four more years of Obama, if that is what it takes to keep Romney from exposing the game. And anyway, Obama, and his Angry Black Lady babymama are so useful at scaring the crap out of working class white people, and giving Republicans so much to demagogue. But Newt fears, no, he understands, that the dialog has shifted, and the coalition that Reagan built could crumble.

    Mitt Romney is breaking the trust. He talks about keeping conversation about inequality to quiet back rooms, and in his mind, it is Newt who brought it up. But Newt is putting this back on Romney, because he strolled out of the back room, up to the podium, pasted on his phony robotic smile and said "Corporations are People".

    Newt needs to put Romney back in his box, and keep any other venture capitalists from getting any ideas. If he is truly delusional, as he perhaps is, he might imagine that the party bosses will see his wisdom, and force Romney back in his box, and bring out someone who can remind white working class votes that Obama is not one of us. Alternatively, Mitt loses, and Newt gets to say "I told you so, now STFU and keep the money coming in while Rick, Rick and I take our place on the stage".

    I am really amazed at what is happening now.