11.30.11

Welcome to 2012’s Newt-onian Politics, With Gingrich as Lazarus

According to Newton, what goes up must come down. But with the Cain Train derailed, another Newton—Gingrich—seems to be defying those odds. Mark McKinnon on why The Professor’s attributes may win out.

There may be no more raisin’ Cain, but Lazarus appears to be wearing a Newt suit.

Gravity is only a theory. But in Newtonian politics, what goes up must come down. Unless it doesn’t.

Newton Leroy Gingrich, whose campaign was deemed dead on arrival in May by obviously omniscient political pundits like me, now leads the GOP presidential field in positive intensity among Republicans and Republican leaners nationwide, according to Gallup.

The former House speaker, just days after receiving the coveted, but not always predictive, New Hampshire Union Leader endorsement, now leads in national poll averages, and, more important, in Iowa and South Carolina, two of the early primary states.

Gingrich, the dragon slayer, has been one of the few candidates to benefit from the slew of Republican presidential debates so far this season. In this whack-a-mole campaign season, where each week’s leader is hammered down the next, Newt’s wit, wonk, and hard-hitting candor have helped him climb in the polls.

He has shown strength. And that attribute may help him combat two immutable forces: poll gravity and criticism from those in search of a pure conservative. Newt’s apostasies, as viewed by the faithful, are numbered. To name just a few: He has supported a health-care mandate, which moots an argument against Obamacare; he has criticized Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal as “right-wing social engineering,” then apologized, but the harm was already done; and he has spoken the hard truth about the impact on families of a strident immigration enforcement policy.

But people vote more on attributes than policy. And his perceived strength directly contrasts him with perceived weakness not only among the seven other GOP candidates, but also with President Obama, who is seen as lacking in strong leadership.

And folks on the right are fixin’ for a fight. They seem anxious for “The Professor” to take on the onetime Chicago law lecturer in a debate.

Folks on the right seem anxious for “The Professor” to take on the onetime Chicago law lecturer in a debate.

The race is not over, by any means. Newt is a “Warshington” insider, when the country is tired of insider games. He is an undisciplined bomb thrower, when the people are looking for predictability. And he has little congressional support, when folks are looking for an end to the “Standoff on the Hill.” But the Cain Train has come off the tracks, Bachmann has proved to be weak tea, Perry’s posse is outnumbered, Paul has peaked, Santorum never struck, and Huntsman is making some progress in New Hampshire but has yet to break through. Meanwhile, make-no-waves Mitt Romney remains steady.

But in the end, Newt, like John McCain in 2008, may beat expectations. Lazarus may yet again rise, defying the laws of nature and gravity.