Politics & Policy

Choosing Gingrich

Newt Gingrich in Dubuque, Iowa, Dec. 27, 2011
He’s the candidate with the best record of accomplishments.

No one seems to be really happy with this year’s field of Republican candidates for that party’s presidential nomination — except perhaps the Democrats.

The sudden rise, and equally sudden fall, of a succession of Republican frontrunners is just one sign of the dissatisfaction of the Republican voters with this field of candidates.

In this, as in many other aspects of life, we can only make our choice among the options actually available. So Republican voters who want to be realistic need to understand that they are going to end up with qualms and nagging doubts about whomever they pick this time.

Not all voters want to be realistic, of course. Some voters, whether Democrats, Republicans, or independents, treat elections as occasions to vent their emotions, rather than as a process to pick someone in whose hands to place the fate of the nation.

#ad#People who think this way tend to vote for someone they just happen to like, whether for personal or ideological reasons, and regardless of whether that candidate has any realistic chance of being elected.

The surprising support in the polls for Rep. Ron Paul seems to be of this sort. Does anyone seriously want to put the fate of this nation in the hands of a man who can casually brush aside the danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism?

Barring some astonishing surprise, the contest for the Republican nomination for president boils down to Mitt Romney versus Newt Gingrich. It is doubtful whether either of them is anyone’s idea of an ideal candidate or a model of consistency.

The fact that all of the short-lived frontrunners in the Republican field gained that position by presenting themselves as staunch conservatives suggests that Republican voters may have been trying to avoid having to accept Mitt Romney, whose record as governor of Massachusetts produced nothing that would be regarded as a serious conservative achievement.

Romney’s talking point that he has been a successful businessman is no reason to put him into a political office, however much it may be a reason for him to become a successful businessman again.

Perhaps the strongest reason for some voters to support Governor Romney is that the smart money says he is more “electable” than the other candidates in general, and Newt Gingrich in particular. But there was a time when even some conservative smart-money types were saying that Ronald Reagan was too old to run for president, and that he should step aside for someone younger.

Washington Post editor Meg Greenfield said that the people in the Carter White House were “ecstatic” when the Republicans nominated Reagan, because they were convinced that they could clobber him.

Today it is said that the Obama administration fears Romney, but would relish the opportunity to clobber Gingrich because of his “baggage.” CNN has already started digging into Gingrich’s most recent divorce.

Much depends on whether you think the voting public is going to be more interested in Newt Gingrich’s personal past than in the country’s future. Most of the things for which Gingrich has been criticized are things he did either in his personal life or when he was out of office. But if we are serious, we are more concerned with his ability to perform when in office.

Even some of those who believe that Gingrich would devastate Obama in head-to-head debates on substantive issues nevertheless claim that all Obama has to do is come back with questions about Newt’s work for failed mortgage-finance giant Freddie Mac.

But even at the personal, point-scoring level, Barack Obama would open up a can of worms by going that route, since Freddie Mac at least never planted bombs in public places, the way some of Obama’s political allies did.

There are no guarantees, no matter whom the Republicans vote for in the primaries. Why not vote for the candidate who has shown the best track record of accomplishments, both in office and in the debates? That is Newt Gingrich. With all his shortcomings, his record shows that he knows how to get the job done in Washington.

— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the HooverInstitution. © 2011 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Thomas Sowell — Thomas Sowell is an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher, and author, whose books include Basic Economics. He is currently senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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