Today, Newt Gingrich is set to kick off his latest ambitious project. His “Solutions Day” is aimed at coming up with a “broad set of nonpartisan solutions” that will move the government “from the world that fails to the world that works.” This Saturday, over a dozen workshops will be held nationwide to tackle a range of issues, from tax reform and reducing bureaucracy to conservation and space policy. This effort perfectly fits Newt’s reputation for bold thinking and innovative policy ideas. He is less well-suited, however, for the presidential run he continues to flirt with.
The tireless former Speaker recently explained that over the next few weeks he will be testing the waters for a presidential bid by seeking commitments from financial backers. He believes that pledges totaling $30 million would show the requisite enthusiasm and resources for a viable campaign. He already has the ideas; to his credit, he has spent the last several years thinking and talking about many of the toughest challenges we face. No candidate has a platform as comprehensive and compelling as his “Winning the Future” agenda. We have no doubt that, if he were to join the crowded stage at the next Republican debate, he would elevate the forum by challenging the other candidates to offer equally creative proposals.
But the late entry of such a controversial conservative candidate to the presidential field wouldn’t benefit the Republican party, or the Republic. There are already three top-tier candidates — Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and John McCain — contending to be the conservative alternative to Rudy Giuliani. With the support he manifestly enjoys among the grassroots, Gingrich would take his share from those conservatives unwilling to back Giuliani. But it’s extremely unlikely he could win the nomination. Legitimate reservations about his electability, his lack of executive experience, and his troubled tenure as Speaker would limit his appeal. Slicing up the considerable conservative vote into smaller shares would not, needless to say, advance the ideas he champions.
The hard truth is that, in a general election, Gingrich would go toe to toe with Hillary Clinton — in unpopularity. In a Rasmussen poll this August, a majority had an unfavorable opinion of the leader of the Republican Revolution: Only 37 percent viewed Gingrich favorably, with 54 percent holding a negative view. Hillary was viewed unfavorably by 52 percent and favorably by 48 percent. With voters eager to “turn the page,” a contest between Newt and Hillary would be redolent of a bitter past. The Republican party owes Newt Gingrich a big debt. It will benefit should GOP politicians borrow some of the initiatives that result from his latest project. But not if he runs for president.