Commentary: Will GOP take a chance on Gingrich?

E. Thomas McClanahan is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.
E. Thomas McClanahan is a columnist for the Kansas City Star. MCT

Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid seemed improbable from the beginning, and in the early weeks he did his best to make it more so. One of his first decisions was to take some time off for a vacation cruise. Then he popped up on “Meet the Press” to bash the House GOP’s Medicare reform as “right-wing social engineering.”

The disarray was such that many of his top aides soon quit. In a column earlier this year I wrote him off.

Shows what I know. The Republican debates turned out to be the perfect Gingrich vehicle — events where he could display his quick mind, please the crowd by bashing the media and behave graciously toward his opponents. The message of the latter tactic was: Behold, the new Newt! He has matured.

I doubt it, and despite his buoyant polls I doubt he will be the nominee. I expect the new Newt to be much like the old Newt, for whom everything is portentous and apocalyptic and leavened with the latest futuristic buzzwords.

I saw him on CNBC the other day and in the midst of his voluble patter he veered into something called Lean Six-Sigma, whose principles he would apply to the federal government. I’ve heard him mention this before, so I looked it up. Wikipedia says Six Sigma “seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes. It uses a set of ...”

Well, fine. We could use more efficiency in government, but it struck me as another of Gingrich’s shiny intellectual toys.

His presence in the lights these days is testament to the frustration of Republican voters, who have been denied the A team and cannot settle on Mitt Romney.

Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush — all took a pass, leaving Romney and Gingrich as the main contenders (for now). Both would have liabilities in the general election, but Romney’s more even temperament would likely go down better with independents.

Both are inveterate flip-floppers, but Gingrich has solid partisan credentials. He led the revolt of 1994 that brought a GOP majority to Congress for the first time in eons. He pushed through the path-breaking welfare-reform law. But he strikes me as one of those politicians whose “highest and best use” is in a legislative arena, not in an executive position. In a forum where he’s one vote among many, the colleagues are there to shave off the sharper edges.

As Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, told The Wall Street Journal: “Basically, Newt can’t control himself.”

We always hear that the stakes of the next election are enormous, but this time it’s impossible to deny. Obama made it clear from the beginning that his goal was to drastically change the relationship between the government and the individual. If spending isn’t curtailed — if Obamacare isn’t repealed and replaced — the staggering new costs loaded on top of our already unsustainable entitlement system will turn this country into a European clone.

The high taxes needed to support these ballooning costs will permanently cripple economic growth and eviscerate national defense. Like Europe, we will have lackluster growth with chronically high unemployment and a large cadre of idle workers dependent on near-permanent jobless benefits.

Republicans face the kind of political opportunity not seen in a generation. Nominating Gingrich would be a reckless throw of the dice.

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