Friday, February 4, 2011


The Newt Gingrich presidential campaign team finally found someone to buy their spin -- Chris Cillizza wrote up the case for Newt yesterday, concluding that Newt was "underrated" as a contender and that "simply writing the former Speaker off is a major mistake."

Underrated is always an easy out, but fortunately we have two new pundit rankings this week, so we can judge exactly how Newt is rated. National Journal has him as their #7 prospect, while David S. Bernstein has him 12th, up from 19th last month. Since I'd say that NJ is closer to representing conventional wisdom than my brother is (sorry, David), I'll go with that 7th spot as where he's rated. Does Cillizza really think that he should be significantly higher than that?

On the plus side, as Cillizza says, Gingrich was big in the 1990s. Well, that's something.

On the down side...well, outside of that no one gets presidential nominations despite having achieved nothing higher than the House of Representatives, and outside of Newt's continuing lack of popularity, and that he was pretty much chased from office because he was terrible at being Speaker, and then there's the messy personal life...put that all aside, and you're left with: he was big in the 1990s. Which is, you know, a long time ago.

You know, there was a point at which it was generally considered to be a big advantage to seek the presidency while not holding office: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Walter Mondale all won nominations that way. Since then, however, there hasn't been one: Obama, Kerry, Gore, Clinton, Dukakis, McCain, W., Dole, and George H.W. Bush were all in elective office when they won their nominations, as was McGovern, earlier. Moving back to pre-reform times, Richard Nixon had been out of office for eight years in 1968, which I guess is the modern record.

Looking back to ancient history...the immortal John W. Davis, he of the 103 ballot victory in 1924, had been a Member of the House from 1911-1913, but had then served as Solicitor General (1913-1918) and Ambassador to Great Britain (1918-1921). So he was a decade removed from elective office, but only a few years out of government. Fun John W. Davis fact (assuming that wikipedia is correct) I did not know: he appeared for the pro-segregation side before the Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education, on behalf of South Carolina. Nice legacy, Mr. Davis!

The record holder, for what it's worth, seems to be William Jennings Bryan, who had been out of office 13+ years by the time he was last nominated in 1908. Unless, of course, you count "Democratic nominee for president" as an office, in which case he still had an eight year gap from 1900 to 1908. There's also Horace Greeley, who before his 1872 nomination had been a Member of the House for a few months in 1848-1849, but his claim to the nomination wasn't really based on that service, presumably.

Newt Gingrich left office in disgrace in January, 1999. So he'd be basically challenging the all-time record, depending on how you count these things, if the Republicans nominated him for president in 2012.

Of course, none of these things make it impossible for him to win, I suppose, but underrated? No way. I'll stick to what I said before: he's Sarah Palin without enthusiastic supporters but with a marital record worse than John Edwards.


  1. National Journal and your brother, in all due respect, probably don't deserve to be cited as authority in any way.

    They are "very-insiderish" conventional wisdom.

  2. How long will it be before someone mentions his 527 fundraising numbers? Oops. Answered my own question.

    Well, he'd better start spending it.

  3. Gringrich is over-rated (even by your brother). There must be 25 Republicans with obviously better chances for the nomination. Just in the Senate alone.

  4. >Moving back to pre-reform times, Richard Nixon had been out of office for eight years in 1968, which I guess is the modern record.

    But unlike any previous election of which I'm aware, several of the prospective candidates are Fox News contributors. We don't know how that's going to affect things. It could lead to a break with precedent.

  5. I like Davis, Polk and Wardell is a better legacy...

  6. Talking about John W. Davis and his role in Brown v Board... since you like movies, there is a rather obscure 1991 TV movie about the case in which Burt Lancaster plays him (his last role ever, actually) and Sidney Poitier (of course) plays Thurgood Marshall.

    Haven't watched it though (hard to find in Barcelona, Spain!) I hope you do and tell us all about it!

  7. I'm no fan of Gingrich, but it's probably a little unfair to say that he left office "in disgrace," a term usually reserved for people looking at federal indictment or something (a la Richard Nixon in 1974). Yeah, he was essentially forced out after his party lost seats in the '98 midterms, but that was a political judgment on the part of his colleagues, which is like filmmakers falling out over "creative differences" -- it still allows for the ejectee having been arguably right, or right but at the wrong time, etc.

    I mean, look how Hitler bounced back after actually being jailed for the Beer Hall Putsch. And that was an act of treason! Didn't discredit him, though, and he still managed to win the Nazi Party nomination for Fuehrer -- although granted, against kind of a weak field.

    OK, maybe that's a bad comparison. ;-) Or maybe not.

  8. Jeff,

    No indictment, but he did have ethics troubles, and a personal...well, I don't know if it qualifies as a scandal or not, but I think it would. I don't think either of those things were the reasons that he was booted, but still, I don't think "in disgrace" is too strong. I'd use it for Jim Wright, too, and I think his ethics troubles were just as trumped up as the stuff Newt had (and Wright didn't have the personal stuff to go along with it).

    Oh, and Anon 12:20 -- if NJ isn't a good measure of conventional wisdom, I don't know what is.


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