Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Conservative Case for Mitt -- Over Newt, That Is

OK, for just one moment, I'm going to take the Newt Ginrich campaign semi-seriously. Ezra Klein has a very nice post on policy positions (sometimes) held in common by Newt, Mitt Romney, and...Barack Obama. It's a good start towards the long list of positions Gingrich has taken that are violations of conservative orthodoxy.

The idea that the Mitt-averse should go to Newt because he's a more reliable conservative is even more preposterous than switching to Newt from Herman Cain because of a search for a candidate with a better marital record. Not as preposterous. More.

Paul Waldman has an excellent post on this out today:
So do Gingrich and Romney share the same character flaw of unbridled opportunism that causes these changes? The answer is no. In fact, even though they share some of the same flips, the way they happened illuminates something essential about who each man is and how they make decisions. Mitt Romney flip-flops carefully, after a period of calculation in which he determines the most appropriate strategic positioning required to achieve his short- and long-term goals. Newt Gingrich flip-flops impulsively, taking positions that sound good at a particular moment without any apparent regard for the past or the future.
So: if you're a mainstream conservative and wind up with Romney as president, you know that he'll betray you sometimes, but -- to the extent this is true -- it will be a careful, thought-out, purposeful betrayal. That means a lot of things. It means the betrayal may be one in which you would agree, if you knew what Romney knew about the situation; it may be one in which organized opposition could prevent the betrayal, because overcoming that opposition would have to factor into the situation; or, at worst, it would be a betrayal that was designed to keep a Republican (that is, Romney) in the White House. Hey, it's still a betrayal -- and you have to figure going in that Romney doesn't actually believe the stuff you believe. But it's somewhat manageable. It's not unlike the Reagan betrayals, or on the other side the Obama betrayals.

Newt? You'll be betrayed by him, too. He's no conservative; he is, as Andrew Sullivan says, a radical, a Jacobin. The problem is that his betrayals will be, essentially, random and personal. As Bruce Bartlett puts it:
This is typical of Mr. Gingrich’s modus operandi. He has always considered himself to be the smartest guy in the room and long chaffed at being corrected by experts when he cooked up some new plan, over which he may have expended 30 seconds of thought, to completely upend and remake the health, tax or education systems.
It's not so much that Gingrich has taken the wrong position (from a conservative point of view) on various things; it's the way he comes to it, which appears to be entirely personal and idiosyncratic. I'm not just saying that he has nothing in common with Burkean conservativism, although Sullivan is certainly correct about that, but that there's no consistency or predictability at all. Or, rather, the only consistency is that he completely wants to redo and remake and tear out everything and start all over again, although what he wants to remake and how it should be remade vary from week to week, or even hour to hour.

Of course, that's on top of the history of ethics violations, the marital stuff, the poor performance as Speaker, and the perhaps relevant fact for Republicans that voters have never really liked the guy at all. All of course I could understand conservatives overlooking if we were talking about, say, a Jim DeMint. That's just not what you have here, and conservatives, in my view, would have to be completely nuts to even consider handing over their party to him.


  1. Nicely done - but expresses Newt's appeal to the conservative base precisely in the effort to discount it: He's out of his mind, just like they are. He comes across as what you and Sullivan call a "Jacobin": A revolutionary. That's the one thing Mitt isn't. It gives no pleasure to the true reactionaries, who dominate the psyche and even more the libido of conservatism 2011, to support Mitt except to whatever extent they believe he might be a weapon against Obama.

    Seems like there's just no one else out there to keep the fun going. The moment Newt flames out, the show is over, and it's back to boring politics as usual. Not enough fun.

  2. "rather, the only consistency is that he completely wants to redo and remake and tear out everything and start all over again, although what he wants to remake and how it should be remade vary from week to week, or even hour to hour."

    So basically, he's Tina Brown. How bad could that be?

    Bad. Quite bad. Take it from a former Brown underling.

    But seriously. Ripping everything up and starting over again is what a significant subset of conservatives *want.* Granted, not continuously, and not in all directions. But when I put on my Teabag Tricorner, I think, "I like radical. And what actual harm could he really do from the Oval Office? Not to the Armed Services, the generals wouldn't let him. Not at State, the Neocons wouldn't let him. SCOTUS? No way, even if he wanted to nominate a moderate, the Senate would block him. Health Care? Ryan would carry the ball. Taxes? Maybe even give him something resembling Obama's grand bargain, to give him a bipartisan sheen. A little harm, but on our own terms, so we can handle it.

    "The only sandbox in which Gingrich can wreak true havoc is the Executive Sandbox. His Cabinet. And I say, turn him loose. Let him try to eliminate Commerce, Education, and the EPA. Even if he doesn't succeed, they'll probably be slashed in half. That's A Good Newt's Work."

  3. So then, we establish that the Left desperately wants to face off against Romney, and fears Gingrich. ;-)

    I don't blame them. As discussed earlier in here, Romney is the one who allows them to run the only type of campaign they can win (and I don't believe they can win even that one).

    As for conservatives, I wouldn't think they much worry about it either way. When your choice is 2 unprincipled, careerist political hacks, does it really matter which steps into the oval office? One's gonna, it appears, but neither gets us what we need.

  4. I do love the description of Newt’s MO as being destroying institutions both formal (the OTA, the old school House markup sessions etc.) and informal (impeaching the President over moral peccadillos while Newt simultaneously had an affair himself, trying to sell a tv “lecture” series for hundreds of thousands of dollars while also being Speaker etc.) in order to take advantage of the chaos to enlarge his political clout and fatten his wallet. From the revolving cast of wives, to the never ending “reinventions”, to those stupid “policy” books he keeps churning out every year or so since the early 80’s to his towering heights of egotistical narcissism (this is a man who honestly said he, yes he, was the only thing standing between American society and death camps) Newt is the gift that keeps on giving. Honestly Newt makes it look like Tom Wolfe or Swift underwrote it.

    This is the best thing I’ve read about Newt in a while:


  5. Since I'm obsessed with being painfully honest, I think I have to give Romney a bit of a plug. He really wants to give his constituents, whoever he perceives them to be, what they want. So when he runs for senator or governor in the liberal state like Mass (my home), he gives convincing assurances about reproductive choice. His constituency in 2008 is not as conservative as they are now, so he's had to get more conservative this year. If he gets to the general election or White House, I expect more changes to please the wider audience.

    An important point, though, is that he does want to make the wider populace happy, not just a narrow slice.

    This puts him miles ahead of Gingrich, who wants to increase his own power above all else, then the power of his cohort, and somewhere down the list is the general good of the country, conservative principles, or whatever. I know which panderer I think would be less worse for the country. Hands down, it's Romney.

  6. ".. conservatives, in my view, would have to be completely nuts to even consider handing over their party to (Newt)."

    Exactly which group of epistemically closed, AM Radio-listening, FOX News Channel-watching, Tea Party-friendly Republican primary voters do you think we're dealing with here?

    There's no way that Newt Gingrich is a remotely plausible major party nominee based on results from the open primary era to date. But this year?

    Even with establishment Republican Party actors moving to Mitt, there's still the Murdoch/Ailes primary and Palin endorsement in play here. And for the latter two, it's not unreasonable to suggest they would do better business with a second Obama term to play against.

    New Insider Advantage Florida poll:

    Newt Gingrich 41
    Mitt Romney 17
    Herman Cain 13

    I'm not saying Gingrich is going to win, I'm saying that despite his not being a plausible presidential candidate - he may win with these voters anyway.

    Mitt Romney is the moveable object that is up against the resistable force of the GOP primary field.

  7. The idea that the Mitt-averse should go to Newt because he's a more reliable conservative is even more preposterous than . . .

    True. But they can go to Newt because they're stupid, and he's the stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like. (via Krugman) That's a sad reality.


  8. But they can go to Newt because they're stupid, and he's the stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like. (via Krugman)


    No, that would be Biden, a crack from long ago. Krugman just plagiarized it. Only difference is, Biden really is stupid, and Gingrich is plenty smart, however hackish.

  9. I'll vote for Obama - but I'm fascinated by Gingrich's recent surge in popularity. During this cycle, I sense a real searching and 'openness' among Republicans to consider a possible nominee; in contrast to cycles where the set of likely nominees were more or less clear from the outset. The Republican party's search for a nominee feels to me like the individual who's searching for a religion. I don't mean that the Republicans are looking for a political philosophy (i imagine that's less in flux), but the search for the embodiment of it seems to me to involve a surprising lack of preconceived bias. I think that Obama's election was a kind of trauma for many on the political right (more so than the election of Bill Clinton - despite the vitriol that was directed toward him as president). The conservative talk of having 'lost our country' seems to me to be a sincere (silly but sincere) sentiment. After a perceived trauma, people can become open to possibilities that wouldn't have seemed likely under normal circumstances.

    Your post is really good. Gingrich would be a very weird choice - maybe dangerous. But I wouldn't dismiss the possibility during this cycle.

  10. The worse thing about the entire conservative field of candidates is that Obama has nothing to fear. They all have so much baggage their histories are like nested eggs where you can never get down to the last one before some new personal or ideological bent is revealed. Obama thus not being genuinely challenged will continue his own Republican-lite ways. He'll shun great achievement in favor of semi-conservative mediocrity. The best thing Republicans could do for Democrats is find a genuinely smart candidate that has more than the usual voodoo economics and cultural impersonations of Iran's Imams.

  11. A couple folks here and elsewhere have dinged Gingrich for the impeachment; just to play Devil's Advocate, isn't that a feature for Gingrich, rather than a bug?

    I'm thinking in the Machiavellian sense; that an impeachment of a popular President, from the other party, is good politics. Longwalk above expressed a prevailing thought that Clinton was impeached for moral pecadilloes; that's actually being fairly generous to Gingrich and Co, as the Paula Jones case is incredibly flimsy; compared with the charges against Herman Cain, Paula Jones' complaint sounds a bit like complaining of sexual harassment cause someone shook your hand.

    (Note: she may well have been harassed in that hotel room, but the one-time nature of the incident, plus the trooper's contrary testimony, plus the suit filed 3 days before the SOL expired, all make the whole thing awfully suspicious).

    And yet, Gingrich and Co managed to frame the impeachment - pre-Fox-News-ubiquity - as an issue of perjury, which, er, it was. What's more, they managed to get a significant enough part of the zeitgeist to buy high crimes in this case to knock down extremely-successful Clinton's weak censure offer.

    From a sheer leadership perspective, isn't the impeachment a feather in Gingrich's cap? Would mealy-mouthed Romney have been able to pull off such a thing?

  12. I guess my one concern is that "reliable conservative" doesn't necessarily have so much to do with specific policy detail as it does with a general worldview and oppositional stance towards liberalism. See, for instance, the movement over the past five years on mandates, carbon taxes, and other once conservative-supported ideas that were abandoned once a Democrat supported them.

    I think it goes back to an argument made by Julian Sanchez: that movement conservatives are animated by ressentiment.

    "Conservatism is a political philosophy; the farce currently performing under that marquee is an inferiority complex in political philosophy drag....It betrays an incredible sensitivity, not to excessive taxes or regulations on the vehicles, but to the feeling of being judged."

    The Perry fall from grace is a perfect demonstration of this. That he took a position on immigration that was at odds with some conservatives was potentially problematic, but what was really damaging was the insinuation that his opponents didn't have a heart; it was possibility that he was judging them. [Newt's comments on immigration walk this line, with talk of compassion; if he had just taken the position he did and left out the compassion talk, I think he'd be okay.]

    Mitt is a guy who will side with liberals - that's the thing that will haunt him. Newt is a guy who might not side with you, but if it comes down to liberals versus you, he's with you. His style is also more in tune with that worldview - more snide and dismissive, etc.

    In other words, my critique of the original post is that it does not properly understand the motivating impulses of a significant portion of many movement conservatives. [This should not be taken to mean that ideology doesn't matter or that policy doesn't matter of course.]

  13. "From a sheer leadership perspective, isn't the impeachment a feather in Gingrich's cap?"

    The problem with that analysis is that there is no leadership needed to drive a pack of lemmings off a cliff (note: yes, lemmings naturally don't stampede off cliffs, but they are easy to drive), and that's not the kind of leadership that's wanted anyway. Gingrich wasn't able to use impeachment, or his shiny majority, to drive the kind of legislative change he claimed to want. Instead, energy was expended on a fool's errand.

  14. Tybalt, thanks for taking up my argument. I agree that the core viewership of what would become the Fox News empire was easy to sell on the impeachment. However, getting the entire caucus to go along with the impeachment required confidence from them that they could sell it to enough of their electorate to keep their jobs.

    Without the benefit of Fox News, Team Gingrich somehow managed to keep the focus on Perjury/Obstruction of Justice: which, in fairness, is one legitimate way to look at it. The weak Jones case, which could have been a platform for Clinton's many supporters to push back on the (deemed) witchhunt, was never much of an issue during the impeachment.

    I could be totally wrong here, in that Gingrich's success may have been a by-product of the fact that America loves a good scandal, and man, that was a sexy, sexy scandal. So maybe Gingrich didn't actually do anything effective. But he must at least get some points for spinning the issue the way he wanted, yes?

    BTW - as far as enacting his agenda, that goes without saying for a Republican politician these days. "The Republican agenda" is tantamount to "taking stuff away from key constituencies", so criticizing Gingrich for promising, but not doing, the impossible is to hold him to an impossibly high standard, it seems to me.

  15. I realized after posting that my last comment included a rather daft argument: Gingrich spinning well enough to get his otherwise-nervous caucus to go along with impeachment. Daft because, how many congresscritters would really be worried about their job security related to some sort of impeachment v. censure question? Even in a worst-case scenario, could more than a half-dozen House Republicans have possibly found themselves in jeopardy?

    So keeping the team on board was no difficult accomplishment for Gingrich. I'm backpedaling furiously here, because I'm seeing that the impeachment is one of those things that sort of...happens...and provides a beneficial narrative to one party, but is not necessarily a result of clever machination.

    I think we all just dug the Ken Starr Soft Porn, basically. 6 years into the Fukuyama End of History Era, at the height of Seinfeld's "Show About Nothing", the stain on the blue dress was harmless guilty fun where the WH was concerned.

  16. (totally OT)

    @CSH: the obsessive focus on Presidential peccadilloes was "harmless guilty fun" for some, no doubt -- but completely traumatic to people who were growing up while it was going down. Do you know what it's like to try to educate yourself by reading the newspaper, when you're twelve, and today's lesson is that some people like to suck on prostitutes' toes while they're on the phone with the President? *shudder* Now imagine it's a few years later and people spend a whole year talking about the President's affair with a very young woman, just a few years older than yourself, and the "good guys" are the ones arguing that serial cheating is no big deal, while the people who talk about the wife at all are going on about how lucky she is that people find her sympathetic now.

    How could people in their twenties not have dreamt of a purer breed of politician? Obama's the first President we remember who hasn't made us cringe constantly.

  17. classicist, you bring up a good way to consider that scandal, one that is arguably not thought of enough. In fact, it brings up two intriguing ideas I hadn't previously considered:

    First, the 2008 Democratic primary was so incredibly close that any move in a given cohort didn't need to be big to decide the thing. How many folks saw HRC as an enabler of her husband's bad behavior, with Obama a (seemingly) honorable alternative? We think of Obama as representing racial progressiveness or antiestablishmentarianism in 2008, but his aura of morality must have been in there too, and given the 2008 Dem primary's closeness, was quite possibly decisive.

    Second, Gore famously chose Lieberman as a moral antidote to the scuzziness of the late Clinton White House. What if Gore had reached into Illinois to choose a young state senator? Obama was a bit green for the VP role in 2000, but he was arguably not much more so than, say, Agnew in 1968. By virtue of his starring role at the 2004 convention, Obama must have been on folks' radar screens in 2000.

    Lieberman did retain his morally superior equity beyond the 2000 election, but again, with an election so close, might the young, minority, uber-honorable Obama have been a decisive help to Gore in 2000?

  18. CSH: Spiro Agnew was governor of Maryland. He was politically inexperienced as such things go, but going from Governor to Vice President is a much more modest jump than going from State Senator to VP. Of course in 2004, Barack Obama was still a State Senator, but his run for the Senate was going pretty smoothly, so it was clear that he was headed for bigger things. (And of course, nobody expected Obama to be Kerry's running mate.) To contrast, in 2000, Obama overwhelmingly lost an attempt to primary Bobby Rush.


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