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Morning Jay: Can Newt Gingrich Win the Center?

6:00 AM, Nov 23, 2011 • By JAY COST
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As mentioned before, Gingrich deserves high praise for his leadership in the 104th Congress through most of 1995, but he miscalculated during the 1995-96 budget battle. He assumed, incorrectly, that Clinton would cave to the congressional GOP. When Clinton didn’t, and the government shut down, the House GOP was caught flatfooted. Rather than pin the blame on Clinton for the shutdown, congressional Republicans seemed to exult in the cessation of government activities. This played right into the hands of Dick Morris’s “triangulation” strategy, as Clinton suddenly seemed not to be the liberal that he was in 1993-94, but rather a moderate who blunted the ideological extremism of both congressional parties.

And, of course, Clinton made sure to tether Gingrich to Bob Dole during the 1996 presidential campaign. This ad is one of many along the same lines that the Clinton/Gore team ran:

In the final analysis, I would follow Barone’s take from 1998. Newt Gingrich is, without doubt, one of the most important Republican members of Congress in the postwar era, right up there with GOP giants like Bob Taft. His vision of what the congressional GOP could be, a fearless and conservative agent for change, continues to inspire congressional Republicans to this day. Indeed, it is very doubtful that Paul Ryan would have won such strong support for his budget if Gingrich had not shown the way.

Yet his strengths outside the institution of Congress seem to be limited. The Revolution of 1994 was not a one-off event; instead, the GOP has held the House for seven of the last nine terms. But Gingrich could not sustain himself as the leader of this triumphant party. His professorial manner, his tendency to put his foot in his mouth, and his miscalculation during the 1995-96 shutdown destroyed his public image, and he resigned in 1998. 

Has Gingrich changed since then? I’m not so sure. He definitely put his foot in his mouth when he blasted Paul Ryan’s budget, ditto when he recently called child labor laws "truly stupid." That's certainly grist for the Democratic mill. And consider this news item from The Hill: Gingrich plans to teach an online course when he becomes president. Talk about professorial!

So, I doubt that Gingrich could pull in those independent voters who swing elections. He has a lot of strengths, no doubt, but he has just as many weaknesses. And it seems to me that a national campaign against Obama would draw out the weaknesses more than the strengths. 

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