Friday, June 10, 2011

Newt Gingrich's Struggles

It’s difficult to see how Newt Gingrich remains in the race much longer. He was already in trouble going as far back as several weeks ago.

First, he insulted the Paul Ryan plan by saying “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering.” Most of the House Republican caucus is behind the Ryan plan, so he upset many Republican congressmen. In order to have a chance to win them back, he probably needed a full throated apology, or explain that his position was mischaracterized. He could have said that he thinks the Ryan plan is reasonable, not right wing social engineering. Instead, Gingrich apologized for the way he made his critique, but not for making the critique in the first place.

Second, Gingrich just had most of his campaign staff quit, including his campaign manager and important workers in early states. They all cited “irreconcilable differences over the direction of the campaign.” In the past days pundits have said that Gingrich wanted to show up at debates and run a social media campaign while aides wanted him to commit to a more traditional campaign, which he refused to do. Regardless, of what these irreconcilable differences are, the mass resignation is a stunning vote of no confidence in him as a candidate.

In some sense, it was always difficult to take Gingrich seriously as a candidate. He has been out of office for more than ten years which is now unusual for someone aspiring to the presidency. Before the campaign began, he was poised to alienate important constituencies in the Republican Party. He had supported cap and trade, as well as a mandate for healthcare that would have upset economic conservatives, and which would have had the added effect of making him look like a hypocrite in the general election for criticizing President Obama’s positions on these issues. His messy personal life—he has had three wives and has admitted to adultery-- could only hurt him with social conservatives. It is not possible to win the nomination without solid support from at least one of these two factions.

I actually worry that Gingrich risks diminishing himself in the campaign. For example, he became the first major politician to sign the sigma six pledge. The pledge goes like this:

First candidates must promise, “to eliminate spending deficits and start paying down the national debt by 2017 by deploying Lean Six Sigma waste reduction methods to detect and eliminate 25 percent of spending per year across the federal government.”

Then “to attend two days of training on the Lean Six Sigma method and complete a waste reduction project prior to my inauguration.”

Signing a pledge like this makes Gingrich look like a desperate panderer, not the intellectual leader of the right that he has sought to become. Gingrich plans to forge on in the campaign. His chances of winning are not 0, but neither are they very high at this point.

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