Monday, December 5, 2011

Beltway Insider Secret Decoder Ring Needed

Help! I've read this morning's fascinating Politico story about how Republicans who hate Newt are keeping their mouths shut for now twice, and I still can't figure out how to understand it. The article goes through a long list of Republicans who were in or around Congress in the 1990s and have a history of disliking Newt, and makes the case that they're all (sort of) keeping their powder dry just now.

Should we be accepting the surface meaning: that Dick Armey, Tom Coburn, and all the others who worked with him as Speaker and consequently know that he should be nowhere near the presidency have decided, for unclear reasons, not to say so right now?

Or is the true meaning the opposite -- is this like the candidate who starts every stump speech by proudly proclaiming himself a positive campaigner and swearing never once to mention his opponent's divorces, flip-flops, ethical violations, and other embarrassing episodes?

If it's the first, then the article is saying that Gingrich might actually be able to persuade a lot of people who don't like him with good reason to at least accept his candidacy, if not support him. If the latter, then it's an early warning reminder to everyone that you can expect a lot of Newt dirt to be spread far and wide, and by solid conservative Republicans, if his boomlet continues.

I mean, the whole point of Politico is that it's supposed to be firmly in-the-know, which suggests that we should always look for what's actually being said, rather than just take it at face value. But this one? I'm stumped. Which, of course, suggests the limits of this kind of inside-baseball signaling; you have to be very careful about making sure that everyone knows all the signs, or else you're going to get all sorts of misreadings.


  1. It's a little more fun if you read it in concert with Nancy Pelosi's "Oh, we'll have a conversation about Newt later" threat/promise this morning.

    But to my mind, I think your last graf gets at it- there's not a real potent coordinated message here. They're all keeping their mouths shut for different reasons right now. When in doubt, assume that shit is disorganized, not that you just can't figure it out.

  2. I'm not sure why you'd expect someone like Dick Armey to come out swinging against Newt right now. There's a non-zero chance that Gingrich could be the nominee, in which case he'll either (a) lose, and haters like Armey would end up being blamed for sending a socialist back to the White House, or (b) win, in which case Armey and his followers would be blackballed from the White House.

    Perhaps the thinking is that Armey would try to deny Gingrich the White House out of concern that he might be bad for the country, but that seems pretty far-fetched to me.

  3. Roy Perkins, impartial dogcatcherDecember 5, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    Or maybe the answer is, both. It is a common tactic for political analysts, like psychics, to make statements that can be interpreted in multiple ways, so that whatever happens they can claim to have predicted it.

  4. Roy Perkins, impartial dogcatcherDecember 5, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    For example: Steve Kornacki has a post at Salon today explaining how Romney, Gingrich, and Paul can all win the Iowa caucus. Whatever happens on January 3, he will be able to go on TV that night and say "Well, this is just the way I said it would go."

    So, you know, if Dick Armey ever comes out definitely as either a supporter or an opponent of Gingrich, Politico is vindicated.

  5. Given this, and the recent embrace of Huntsman by people like George Will, Jim Pethokoukis, and Eric Erickson, is it possible GOP party actors are starting to consider Huntsman as the conservative challenge to Romney? Cain was never serious, Perry still has a shot but I think party actors are nervous about how he'd perform in the general, and Newt is...well, Newt.

    Also, even Ross Douthat's criticism could be seen as part of the party conversation over whether Huntsman would be acceptable or even preferable to Romney or Gingrich.

  6. Hunstman is the new Wendell Wilkie.

  7. Doesn't Armey hate romney? so it may be difficult to decide which he hates more. Or pressing the neither button leads, this time, to Huntsman


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