The personal flaws of Newt Gingrich are not enough to stop him from beating the flawed Obama administration in 2012 general election match-up.
It is evident from the momentum found in the “Anybody But Romney” sentiment that some candidate flaws do matter in a campaign, especially when social conservatives will govern the Iowa Caucus in just a few weeks. That appears to be the case regardless of what some polling data might suggest regarding Mitt Romney’s overall chance of winning the White House in 2012. Anytime political power brokers convene a Mafioso-type secret meeting aimed primarily at overcoming an unwelcome front-runner, shifts in past policy positions are not enough to win over a determined majority from an essential voting base.
However, some flaws – even ones deemed to be fatal politically – can be overcome through contrition and time, allowing the flawed to become respected (if not beloved) political figures again. Further, such flaws are not obstructions to winning the presidency. A quick glance at the backgrounds of the past three presidents tell a story that some GOP candidates are hanging on to as they march into 2012: that American voters, under the right circumstances and with the right explanations, are willing to forgive personal flaws if the potential for presidential greatness is there.
That is why the personal flaws of Newt Gingrich do not matter half as much to social conservatives as people think they do. In fact, in a presidential campaign quagmired by high unemployment and economic uncertainty, divisiveness from issues such as Mormonism do not have the relevancy it did in 2008 with many voters.
By playing his flaws as nothing more than a ruse to distract voters from the issues, the former Speaker of the House has a unique opportunity to pull off a much-needed trifecta in time for the Iowa contest on January 3. By being the Republican godfather fending off the media, boomeranging past former front-runner Herman Cain by way of a clever “compare-and-contrast” debate with Texas Tea Partiers, and captivating the “Anyone But Romney” vote previously lost by Bachmann, Cain, and Perry, Mr. Gingrich is now positioned to win Iowa. He will also march into Florida with a good shot of having two of the first three GOP primary contests in his personal win column.
Gingrich’s presidential appearance during all of the debates so far, and his record of leading within divided government to garner American prosperity in the 1990s gives him momentum. Combined, Gingrich suddenly becomes a tough candidate for President Obama to beat in the general election at this point. Social conservatives know that, despite head-to-head polls showing Speaker Gingrich behind President Obama.
The current GOP front-runner has a record on key economic indicators that Americans crave today that the incumbent president cannot provide – namely strong economic growth, entitlement reform, and a balanced budget. This record of success, coupled with the Speaker’s well-documented debate skills and the president’s challenges with this economy make Gingrich a likable candidate for the GOP conservative base, despite some of the perceived political warts both past and present.
Social conservatives may still care about issues such as abortion and universal health care, issues that seemingly scare them off from supporting Mr. Romney. However, they care more about issues such as unemployment and economic recovery, which is why concerns over the past are not enough to halt the continuing surge for the former Speaker at this point. Watching the one-time presidential cast-off come back from near-fatal GOP polling numbers and staff implosions to come within 3 percentage points of the margin of error against President Obama will keep the social conservative base excited about Gingrich as he settles into the GOP front-runner position. Time will tell if he is able to maintain that lead. He seems to have the political moxie to do so.
If nothing else, President Obama provided some of the political roadmap that Mr. Gingrich has been using to claw back into this nomination race. Americans want a president that can articulate a vision, not just provide experience at the top. Americans can forgive past mistakes if they see promise for a better future. At this point, they will take choppy success over picture perfect disappointments. It comes down to a presidential race between two different men: one who can eloquently talk past his personal flaws to address the problems over the past 4 years; and the other who will have a hard time justifying his record despite his own eloquence. Don’t be surprised if the flaws of one man overcome the flawed administration of another in November 2012.
Lenny McAllisteris a political commentator found every Saturday with host TJ Holmes and fellow pundit Maria Cardona on “CNN Saturday Morning” at 10:30 AM Eastern (9:30 Central / 7:30 AM Pacific), and “CNN Newsroom” this Sunday at 6:15 PM Eastern (5:15 PM Central.) This week’s “Saturday Remix” is now available exclusively onPolitic365.