I’ve made no secret of my support for Mitt. I generally keep it out of the Corner, in part because my career is much more focused on the law and culture than it is on political consulting/campaigning and also because this space is largely reserved for undeclared conservative pundits — those NRO writers who don’t have a dog in the hunt, so to speak. But sometimes I just can’t resist, and this is one of those times.
Newt’s unmistakeable rise in the polls makes me chuckle. Not because I don’t take him seriously. I do. He’s a formidable opponent — a great debater (as we’ve seen), a big-picture thinker, and a person who’s literally seen everything his opponents can throw at him. If I had a dollar, however, for every time I’ve been told that the conservative movement won’t ever support Mitt because he’s “establishment” and because he’s a “flip-flopper,” I’d be part of the 1 percent. Yet is there a conservative in this race more “establishment” than Newt? The former speaker of the House has collected vast sums of money from from quasi-lobbying activities and has been a fixture in conservative Washington for decades. Newt as an outsider? No way.
And like many (most?) people with long records in public life, Newt has changed his positions on a number of issues. Already a number of sites are tracking these changes, and many of his flips do not date back to the 1990s but occurred in the last few years, from the Pelosi global-warming ad to Paul Ryan’s alleged “right-wing social engineering,” and even to his longstanding (and recent) support for individual mandates. The list goes on and on.
To be clear, I don’t happen to think “establishment” is an insult when it comes to conservatism. Many establishment thinkers and leaders gained their positions because they are quite formidable and effective. Many outsiders are constantly on the outside because they are, in fact, cranky loudmouths who couldn’t lead or think their way out of a paper bag. By the same token, some establishment figures need replacing and some outsiders rightfully demand attention. The binary world view of establishment (bad) and outsider (good) is foolish and simplistic.
If Newt Gingrich is to be the “anti-Mitt,” then so be it. He’ll be a worthy opponent and (if he won) would be a vast improvement over the current president. But if he is the anti-Mitt, then I think it’s safe to say that the race will have moved well past arguing about who is (or isn’t) a “true conservative,” well beyond the sometimes inane ideological hair-splitting of early debates and controversies, and perhaps into the much more conventional debate over which longtime conservative leader is best equipped to lead a nation in distress.