I promise that this third post on this topic since last week will be my last for a while. However, given some of the comments that I have received to my last two posts that focused on Newt Gingrich—here, on Facebook, and in private emails—there are some additional points I want to address, and clarify, before I leave this topic.
First, I have not abandoned my support for Governor Perry. The policies that he says he would promote most closely match my viewpoints about the immediate reforms that need to be made in Washington, and I believe his campaign during 2009-10 showed that he is the candidate who most understands the desires of the GOP base. Add these qualities to the relative strength of the Texas economy more than 3 years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and, in my mind, you still have the best candidate in the field.
However, even considering the effectiveness of his recent ad campaign—which I believe has been very good—a realist must acknowledge the hole his candidacy is in right now. Without rehashing a lot of painful detail here, suffice it to say that it is one thing to have low poll numbers because you’ve never engaged the attention of the electorate—from that position you always have a chance to improve. It is another thing to have engaged such attention and have disappointed the electorate—it is very hard to get them to give you a second chance during the same election cycle. If you don’t believe me, just ask Presidents Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani about their experiences in 2007-08.
Therefore, while I still support Rick Perry, I believe it is prudent to evaluate the remaining candidates and have a “second choice” for whom I am prepared to vote in the Texas Primary.
Second, one of the comments I received reminded me that my evaluation of the field left out former Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico. I know very little about him, other than from what I have read and from what I have observed in a couple of TV interviews. My impression is that he left office still well-regarded in New Mexico, but that he does not have any organizational ability to run a viable campaign for the Presidency. Moreover, what little I have heard of his foreign-policy leads me to believe that I would have the same disagreements with him that I have with Dr. Paul on those issues. The one thing I find interesting about his candidacy, together with the continued strength of support for Dr. Paul, is consistent with a trend I have been observing for a few years now: libertarians in our party are competing aggressively with religious conservatives for the philosophical and ideological soul and future direction of our party. How this battle will end, and how it will affect the whole conservative movement, is anyone’s guess at this time.
Third, I spent very little time in my previous posts addressing my views and concerns about Mitt Romney, so I want to share those with you now. Mitt Romney appears to be a very fine man, who comes from a certain tradition within our party of pragmatic leaders, many of whom spent their formative years in the private sector or the military, who have provided capable leadership when we have needed effective management and stability from government at all levels. Examples of such GOP leaders since World War II include Dwight Eisenhower; Gerald Ford; George Herbert Walker Bush; and even Romney’s father, George Romney, as the Governor of Michigan. All of these men shared a conservative temperament honed through experiences that required pragmatic approaches to problem solving—as the Chief of Staff to Douglas MacArthur and then as Supreme Allied Commander of the European Theater in World War II, as Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, as an Oil Industry executive and founder of the modern Republican Party in Harris County and in Texas, and as the Chief Executive of a major Automotive manufacturer. They brought the skills they developed from these experiences to manage and stabilize government and politics during difficult times, and were not pre-occupied with political philosophy or ideology. These skills and strengths were also their weaknesses, as these men seemed to prioritize achieving stability over implementing principle, and that is why such men have often befuddled and disappointed those of us who desire more principled reformers over effective managers.
It is this very tendency in Mitt Romney that leads to our perception of him as an unprincipled “flip-flopper” without a political “core”. However, the skills he honed outside of government, coupled with his management of a very liberal-leaning state government in Massachusetts, show that Romney has the skills to provide effective and stable management—if that is the only quality of leadership we want and need right now. A close friend of mine, whose experience and judgment I trust, worked with Romney and his team when they took over the production of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. He has told me a lot about the challenges they faced, both before and after September 11th, to get the facilities and operations ready for the Olympics. He has told me that Romney was the finest manager of both business and people with whom he has ever worked. I don’t take that recommendation lightly. But, personally, I am looking for more this year than just an effective manager—I believe we are at a tipping point that requires fundamental reform.
Now this leads me back to Newt. After I wrote my two posts, I saw an interview with Senator Coburn of Oklahoma, who is a serious man whose judgment I have come to respect. Coburn was quite critical of Newt’s capability to be an effective leader, though he was not very specific as to the basis for his opinion. Coupled with some of the responses I received over the last few days, I want to provide a little more detail to my evaluation of Newt for you to consider over the next few weeks and months.
I didn’t start out as a fan of Gingrich. I spent most of my formative years living in the Congressional District in Central Illinois represented by Bob Michael, who rose to be the Minority Leader of the House during the 1980s and early ‘90s. My parents knew Michael, and he gave me his recommendation to West Point (though I eventually decided to attend another school). Because of my deep respect for Congressman Michael, I always viewed Newt Gingrich’s treatment of Michael during his rise through the GOP ranks as ungrateful and disloyal—I didn’t much like him.
But what he, Dick Armey, and others pulled-off in 1994 was miraculous. After that, I started following Gingrich closer, and read some of his books. I was impressed with his ideas, how he was willing to confront and discuss difficult social and political issues, how he was trying to make conservatism relevant to a technological revolution that was unfolding before our eyes, and with the legislative successes he was leading. Then, he, and the movement he inspired, seemed to derail as ethics and fidelity charges came to light, and there was a deep sense of disappointment over opportunities squandered as he left office. I didn’t pay much attention to him for a number of years after he resigned from the House.
When I began considering the problems with our local party organization back in late 2008 and early 2009, I looked again at some of Gingrich’s books, and studied the CDs of the “American Civilization” college course he taught in the mid-90s. I was re-introduced to his fertile mind, and how spot-on many of his comments and ideas were to the problems we faced as a party and as a country. I found that, among all of the leaders within the GOP, he was still thinking and discussing the issues and ideas that were most relevant to implementing conservatism successfully. I came to the conclusion that Gingrich has been, and will continue to be a consequential public figure, but I still did not consider Gingrich as a viable candidate for President.
However, as the 2012 Presidential campaign has unfolded, I, like many of you, have had to do a lot of thinking—soul-searching—about the candidates, and especially about Gingrich. As I’ve watched his debate performances and his interviews, I’ve ultimately asked myself these questions:
- At the age of 68, and after having been in self-imposed exile from elected office for about 12 years, is the man we are seeing a Nixon, a Reagan, or a Churchill?
- At this moment in time, can we afford to take the risk to find out the answer to that question?
Let’s address the first question. Although it is difficult to ever pigeonhole a character like Newt by comparing him to other distinct historical figures, a comparison and contrast with Nixon, Reagan and Churchill has been helpful to me.
Nixon, like Newt, was a brilliant man. Nixon, and Herbert Hoover, too, proved to be inexhaustible in their writing and thinking about government until virtually the day they died. But as we learned to our detriment, Nixon had personal demons. He rose to power so quickly (within 6 years he rose from a freshman Congressman to the Senate, and then to the Vice-Presidency; and his rise from the backbench to the Presidency spanned only 22 years), and in such tumultuous times, that he didn’t have the life experience from which to gain the perspective and wisdom needed to control his demons—and the country paid a dear price for that experience. But, let’s also remember that by the time Nixon was Newt’s age now, he had become an elder statesman whose writings and diplomatic work were relied upon by Reagan, Bush and Clinton. One can fairly ask, would the Nixon of the 1980s and 90s been a more mature and wise President? I don’t know, do you?
As for Reagan, it is so hard for any of us who followed him to look at him objectively now, but let’s try for a moment. Go back and look at the film of Reagan giving his famous televised speech in 1964, and other speeches during his first term as Governor, and you’ll see a man of deep intensity and seriousness that captivated, but also scared, many people. Then look at the genial, confident man who, in his late 60s, debated Jimmy Carter on the eve of the 1980 election. The maturity and wisdom that evolved over those 16 years is plain to see. But Jimmy Carter couldn’t see it. Instead, Carter tried to run against the Reagan of 1964, and he lost in a landslide.
Now, let’s consider Churchill—another brilliant man, whose historical importance was eclipsed only by his own elevated view of his historical importance. That self-confidence caused him to participate in some of the most remarkable and consequential events of the late 19th and early 20th Century—from the Boar War to the division of the Middle East after World War I. But, by the early 1920s, his mistakes and ego had caught up with him, and his contemporaries ostracized him to the backbench of British politics, where he languished for almost 20 years. Then, a more measured and disciplined Churchill was there when his country needed him, and when it seemed only his unique talents could lead England through the battle it faced. And it is that Churchill that we remember as perhaps the most consequential figure of the 20th Century.
So, as I’ve evaluated Newt, I’ve had to ask these questions—is he still the brilliant, undisciplined, and self-destructive political figure who had the ability and intensity of a young Nixon, a young Reagan, or a young Churchill, but who should not be handed the keys to the Oval Office? Or, is he, at 68 (after working in the private sector for 12 years, becoming a grandparent, and converting to Catholicism), the elder, wiser Nixon, Reagan or Churchill who is ready to reform this government at precisely the time his imaginative talents are needed? Although no one can answer these questions definitively, my observations have led me to answer the second question “yes”—at least to the point of elevating him to my second choice in the GOP field.
And that leads us ultimately to the second question I posed above: at this moment in time, can we afford to take the risk to find out whether Newt has grown-up enough to be trusted with the keys to the Oval Office? For me answering this question required me to weigh which quality at this time is more important—the short-term effective management of the government to establish stability for renewed economic prosperity that we would get from Romney, or the fundamental reform needed for long-term prosperity and national strength that we could get from a mature and disciplined Gingrich.
A lot of people I respect would choose, and are choosing, the Romney path as their second choice, and I don’t blame them. But I feel we need to do more than what a Romney candidacy promises, and to do it sooner rather than later. We need to tackle fundamental reform as we stabilize short-term economic performance, and, in the end, that is why, as between Romney and Gingrich, I would take the risk of voting for Gingrich.
He had so many questions. That's why he had come. From his seat on the 22nd row he could see the old Preacher in his wheelchair up on the revival stage. He could hear the song sung softly through the loudspeakers and felt tears begin to fill his eyes. There were so many questions he wanted to ask the ancient Evangelist, butwhat were his chances that he could even get near the old man, much less ask and have answered his questions. But that I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me…believers began making their way toward the stage. And that Thou bidst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. He got up from his seat and shuffled to the aisle. He put one foot in front of the other, transfixed and began to walk slowly toward the stage. Why was there war? Just as I am though tossed about. Why do tornados destroy churches? With many a conflict, many a doubt. He was at the stage now and the old evangelist in the wheelchair met his gaze. Questions were running circles in his head. Fightings and fears within, without. He yelled out "Would Jesus approve of the new Rick Perry ad?" The old man looked at him through wise old blue eyes. A hint of a smile curled his lips. He motioned for his assistant to wheel him away. O Lamb of God I come, I come….
David Jennings says
One of my favorite songs. I miss singing it, they don’t do the old hymns at the church I’ve been attending. Thanks for the reminder.
Half of my brain suggests that Perry's latest TV ad may be the last of his campaign. The more satirical half of my brain hopes that it isn't.