News for Newt

by John J. Pitney, Jr.


Shakeups in the GOP nomination race mean good news and bad news for Newt Gingrich. The good news is that Public Policy Polling surveys identify him as the Republican who would benefit most from a Cain collapse. The bad news is that his emergence as Mitt Romney’s main competitor would suddenly put him under much more scrutiny. As a second-tier candidate, he has largely escaped the flyspecking that Romney, Perry, and Cain have faced. Consequently, he has been able to make highly provocative proposals (e.g., defunding the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, abolishing the Congressional Budget Office) without getting a lot of nasty headlines. If he gets a promotion from Interesting Fringe Candidate to Real Contender, he’ll find that provocation has its price. He should reflect on the early days of his speakership, which he recounted in his aptly titled book Lessons Learned the Hard Way:

I hadn’t shifted from my old job to my new job fast enough. I hadn’t shaken off some of the habits I had acquired being the minority whip. I’ll give you an example. As the minority party, we were in the position of having to fight every day just to get some media attention. We tended to say and do things that were far more strident and dramatic than are prudent to do and say as the leaders of the majority who find themselves in front of the microphone every day. If you are seldom covered by the press, which was the case with House Republicans for forty years, you have a lot of leeway to make mistakes. But when you are in people’s living rooms every evening, your mistakes are magnified.

— John J. Pitney, Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.

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