A Campaign Dictionary
Making sense of the candidates’ strange contortions


Victor Davis Hanson

The bogeyman of the Washington insider is often a target of the Gingrich campaign, but we have as yet no definition. To be an “insider,” should the candidate have served in the federal government for, say, ten years? Should he be currently living inside or near the Capital Beltway? Should he be conducting business with government agencies? Or is it a state of mind defined by the critic of the moment?

For the charge to stick, we need criteria. Most would accept that in 2008 John McCain fit the bill, while Sarah Palin did not. Yet Newt Gingrich has, for obvious reasons, been reformulating the charge without defining it. In the old days, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich would both surely have qualified as D.C. insiders, because of their long congressional service and their post officium, for-profit business dealings with federal agencies and departments.

One way to give the game away is by one’s boasts: The insiders assure their listeners, “I know how Washington works and can clean up the mess,” while the outsiders brag, “I will go to Washington and clean up the mess.”

Who is the establishment? Is it TV pundits at the networks, or op-ed writers at the major newspapers and magazines, but not radio-talk-show hosts or prairie-fire cable-news politicos, who often reach far more people? The big-money boys between Washington and New York, but not the even-wealthier out in Texas or Silicon Valley? U.S. senators and representatives, but not more numerous state and local officials? High-profile D.C. lawyers, power-brokers, and officials, but not far more visible governors?

It is charged that the Republican establishment is pushing Romney because it is timid and out of touch with the people, cares only about the conservative status quo, gets along with, rather than confronts, Democrats, and is of the same social class and comfortable culture as its Democratic-establishment counterparts. Perhaps. But when I talk to people out here in the middle of nowhere in central California, whether they are independents, Democrats, or Republicans, they usually opt for Gingrich or Romney, not so much on matters of ideology but on the basis of who they think might win. They do not balance Rush Limbaugh’s skepticism about Romney’s electability versus George Will’s belief that Gingrich will take lots of congressional candidates down with him, but they simply listen to the contenders and often conclude that Romney is a safer bet (fewer liabilities rather than more assets), at least this year against a vulnerable Obama.

All candidates hate to release records. Yet usually even embarrassing material is forgiven or forgotten. Issues arise only when information is withheld. Romney worried about his tax returns — largely for nothing, as they showed that he made big money and gave lots of it away. Santorum and Gingrich will probably not wish to release their last five years’ returns, given their business concerns, but few would care much whether they do or don’t.

Medical records are more important and even more finessed, as we saw from Barack Obama’s mysterious one-paragraph synopsis from his personal physician that might yet become an issue in the 2012 campaign (what’s to hide in such a young, apparently healthy president?). It is a mystery how Gingrich, the oldest and least fit of the candidates, seems to press on day after day, amid enormous stress and wear, and show few symptoms of illness or fatigue.

College records should not matter; but they do — remember the slurs from the Left against the supposed dunce George W. Bush, which all boomeranged when we learned that both Gore and Kerry were no better students or test takers. In regard to the Obama lack of transparency, perhaps the eventual Republican nominee should announce, “I will release neither my college transcripts nor my full medical records,” and leave the liberal media to make the connection.