Newt and normalcy, &c.

Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton in 1998


Last week, I did a fair amount of writing about the candidates, and especially about Newt. He’s now front and center. On Friday, for example, I had a column in which I said, “I wonder whether Newt’s ‘personal’ record will hurt him, electorally.” “Personal” is just a euphemism, of course. “When you think about it, betrayal and divorce are as American as apple pie.”

I elaborated in a blogpost, here.

So, between Newt and Mitt, who’s the weirder? From what I understand, Romney neither smokes nor drinks, and I doubt he screws around. Many, many people think such a man is a veritable freak.

Several commentators have remarked that Romney seems to have gone through the Sixties untouched — untouched by the “new” America, that is. Some say, “What a loser, what a square.” Others say, “Great!”

Early in the George W. Bush years, I heard a very smart and plugged-in conservative say something about the conservatives of her acquaintance: What they most disliked about the president was that he didn’t drink. This upset them, as if Bush’s non-drinking was a kind of betrayal, an abandonment of social solidarity.

“Never trust a man who won’t have a drink with you.” How many times have you heard that? There ought to be a competing maxim: “Never trust a man who won’t trust a man who won’t have a drink with him.”

During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, I was talking to a veteran journalist about the relationship between the press and President Clinton. Boy, had the wagons circled. He recalled a sign borne aloft at the 1992 Democratic convention in New York: “Adulterers for Clinton.” There was something significant in that, thought my friend.

It is simply true that a great many people — very much including conservatives — are more comfortable with the Newt-Clinton type than with the Romney type. (Ever heard the expression “Vote Right, live Left”? It is a credo for many.) What the numbers are, I don’t know, and I don’t think Gallup could find them out either.

In a democracy, a national election is, in part, a test of who the nation is.

You recall the song about Chicago, and all the amazing things that went on there? “I had the time, the time of my life. / I saw a man who danced with his wife . . .”

In America, Mormons are still an exotic strain. Those who, if it feels good, do it? Mainstream City.

I’m reminded of an old joke — please forgive me: Have you heard the Norfolk cheer? “We don’t smoke, we don’t drink — Nor-folk!”

I keep reading that Romney is complacent, or was complacent: a “complacent frontrunner.” This strikes me as untrue, because Romney has been campaigning his butt off, night and day, for many months, pressing the case for his candidacy. I think what people mean, when they say “complacent,” is — he doesn’t emote, doesn’t beat his breast, doesn’t melt down. He is, for the most part, polite. He has an even temperament. He doesn’t make his campaign a personal melodrama.

Therefore: “complacent.”

What I think is that each candidate should be himself — his essential, straightforward self — whatever that may be. And then the people take their choice, as at an ice-cream parlor. (Some nights, it’s true, you want fudge ripple, and other nights you want raspberry swirl.) (Fred Sanford wanted just plain ripple.)

Conservatives still say, “Oh, Mitch. Oh, Christie. Oh, Ryan. Oh, Jeb. Oh, Haley. Oh, whoever. Where are you?”

In my opinion, the candidates who aren’t in the race are attractive in large part because they’re not in. They have not been bloodied. They have not been picked over. They have not had their problems exposed. (Everyone has problems.)

They’re not in the arena — presidentially, that is. They have the luxury of sitting in the stands, where we can all coo over them.

Our Mike Potemra, who worked in the Senate before coming to National Review, likes to say something like this: When Howard Baker was the majority leader, all the righties said, “If only we could get rid of this mild, compromising moderate and get a tiger like Bob Dole.” Then when Dole was the majority leader, they said, “If only we could have a true conservative like Trent Lott.” And then . . .

Just think how much better Rick Perry would look right now if he had never entered! “Why is the three-term governor of Texas, that phenomenally successful state, sitting on the sidelines?!”

What if Pawlenty had never run? “Why the hell isn’t Pawlenty in this?!”

I also think there would be cries of, “Hey, why not Mitt? Why shouldn’t he run for president, with his varied experience, easygoing personality, and keen mind? He’s a natural leader. Does he really need to make another hundred million? Where’s his public spirit?”

Etc., etc.

Think of the guy who itches to date a girl and, when he finally does, is looking over her shoulder two seconds later . . .