Newt Gingrich’s (Unlikely) Path to the Nomination

The Republican could struggle to convince voters that he has a radically new vision.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has emerged as the most formidable of non-Romney candidates in the Republican Party presidential primary contest. His chances of winning the conservative Iowa caucuses and South Carolina election in January seem high now but he could struggle to convince right-wing voters that he best represents an alternative vision to Barack Obama’s.

Gingrich has polled at roughly 27 percent in Iowa since late November. His surge there coincided with Herman Cain’s demise during the middle of the month. The former businessman has been embroiled in sexual harassment scandals that forced him to suspend his campaign last week.

In New Hampshire, which votes in the second week of January, Gingrich struggles to topple 20 percent which is half of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s support at nearly 40 percent. In South Carolina, by contrast, Gingrich is climbing up to 40 percent whereas Romney is stuck at 20.

The presumptive nominee for months, Romney doesn’t enjoy the support of more than 25 percent of the Republican electorate nationwide. The remaining 75 percent of conservative primary voters has been busy considering alternatives, ranging from Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann to Texas governor Rick Perry. None of them quite met their standards although either could stage a comeback if (or once) Gingrich disappoints.

The one-time Republican redeemer has been dubbed the “anti-Romney flavor of the month,” but if he manages to retain his momentum into the first primary contests in January, it would position him as the more credible of reactionary candidates compared to Romney who is perceived as right of center at best.

If he is to sustain his recent surge in opinion polls, Gingrich will have to build an organization in states that vote later in the process. Romney has already set up campaign offices and field operations in “Super Tuesday states,” the ten that vote on the same day March 6. Gingrich isn’t even competing yet in the states that plan to vote in February. He can’t because he doesn’t have the campaign war chest that’s necessary to expand his operation beyond the January primary states.

The Washington Post reports that Gingrich’s is one of the most heavily indebted presidential campaigns this season. “He spent nearly $3 for every $2 he raised.” Romney’s campaign, by contrast, is not in debt and raised almost ten times as much as Gingrich’s did in September, enabling him to build an extensive operation throughout the country.

Even if he comes out strong of Iowa, South Carolina and possibly Florida, a protracted nomination battle will likely make voters think twice about Gingrich’s conservative credentials.

Romney’s main challenge is to convince Republicans that he will repeal the president’s health-care reform law although he enacted a similar health insurance scheme in the state of Massachusetts. Conservatives object in particular to the individual mandate that was enshrined in both legislations and forced people to buy insurance.

When Republicans fought against a Democratic effort to collectivize health care in the 1990s, Gingrich touted an individual mandate as the conservative, free-market solution to reforming the health insurance market. He has also flirted with a cap-and-trade system to reduce pollution and appeared in a television advertisement with former House speaker Nancy Pelosi to express his concern about climate change. None of these positions sit well with the current Republican electorate which is hostile to “big government” and skeptical of the assertion that human activity is to blame for global warming.

Finally, there’s Gingrich’s tendency to overstate his own importance to American if not world politics. He told a sympathetic interviewer on Fox News earlier this month that not only did he help President Ronald Reagan “develop supply-side economics” during the 1980s. “I helped lead the effort to defeat communism in the Congress,” he claimed. A dubious assertion for a man who was forced to resign as a congressional leader because Republican lawmakers no longer trusted him.

While explaining why America needed his leadership, Gingrich told a stunned Atlanta Journal- reporter in 1994 that he didn’t want his “daughter and wife raped and killed” in a country that had collapsed. He added, “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.” Gingrich was at the time married to his second wife whom he cheated on a couple of years later with the woman who’s currently his spouse and 23 years his junior.

Despite being a career politician for decades and later a commentator and lobbyist who was actively involved in national politics for twenty years before he announced a presidential run, Gingrich told Radio Iowa this month that he was “the most experienced outsider in modern terms” and willing to “challenge the establishment” without regard to “Republican or Democratic political correctness.”

Gingrich’s chance of securing the nomination hinges on conservatives’ willingness to delude themselves and believe that this time, he’s different. If his rhetoric is any indication, it’s the same old Newt though.