The New York Times had a major and significantly positive profile of former Speaker of the House Newt Gincrich the other day ( Hat tip to Nate). It’s worth reading. The NYT gets many things right about Gingrich and Gingrich nails many of the problems currently bedeviling the Republican Party:
…..Now, as Republicans on the Hill begin to awaken from a November beating that left them semiconscious, Gingrich finds himself, once again, at the zenith of influence in conservative Washington. It is a fortuitous collision of man and moment. Having ceded the agenda to a Republican president for the past eight years (and having mostly obsessed over White House scandals for much of the decade before that), Republicans now find that they have strikingly little to say that isn’t entirely reactive – or reactionary. “It was like ‘The Matrix,’ when Keanu Reeves wakes up and his eyes hurt because he hasn’t used them,” David Winston, a pollster for House Republicans, told me recently, talking about the 2006 election that relegated Republicans to the minority for the first time since 1994. “We just didn’t know how to do ideas anymore.” Whatever else you think of Gingrich, he has always been considered a prospector in bold and counterintuitive thinking – floating ideas, throughout his career, that have ranged from giving every poor child a laptop to abolishing the entire concept of adolescence.
….Gingrich is all about offering, as he puts it, a “better value” for the American customer – constructive solutions Republicans can take on the road during the next midterm election season and beyond. “Most Republicans are not entrepreneurial,” he lamented to me. “They’re corporatists. They like the security and the comfort of a well-thought-out, highly boring boardroom meeting in which they do a PowerPoint once. And it worries them to have ideas, because ideas have edges, and they’re not totally formed, and you’ve got to prove them, and they sound strange because they’re new, and if it’s new how do you know it’s any good, because, after all, it’s new and you’ve never heard it before.”
- First Newt conceives of politics in strategic, structural, longitudinal, terms.
- Secondly, Newt is an idea merchant. He has them and he is quick to recognize the potential of ideas generated by others. Often, Newt’s capacity for horizontal thinking leads him to appropriate attractive concepts or proposals that are neither “conservative” or even “political” and make them conservative Republican signature policies.
- Third, Newt excels at crafting and framing tactical messages. He regularly comes up with phrases that have strong memetic “pull” or “hooks” to them and distill the essential idea out of a complicated policy and he can use this ability to punish enemies or promote his own side. This is not the same thing as being a great tactician. Arguably, when Newt as Speaker had to juggle managing the House, formulating strategy and tactics, the latter consistently suffered to Newt’s personal disadvantage. Gingrich demonstrated better tactical skills as a Minority Leader and especially as a Whip but he had far fewer distractions at that time.
- Fourth, Newt cultivates leadership in others. He makes connections. He educates. He gives his assistance freely and promotes the careers of proteges and allies.
This is not to say Newt is without flaws. Politically, for the Democratic Party, Newt is a “target rich environment” whose unpredictability in the public spotlight can generate incidents that become the story rather than the message Newt was trying to get across. However, lacking any official position, it is much harder for Democrats to represent any gaffe by Newt as coming from the Pope of the GOP. In fact, engaging Newt directly in public debate at this time, especially by a senior member of the Democratic Party leadership or President Obama, will superempower Gingrich politically and increase his influence and profile regardless of what they say. The mere fact they are saying anything confirms Gingrich’s status as a major “player”. Nor can they ignore him forever if his advice permits the Republicans to score significant victories.
Gingrich has his opponents in a familiar bind and I’m sure he likes it that way.