by CHARLES M. BLOW
Newt Gingrich is spaced-out. Literally.
Anyone who remembers him from his days as speaker of the House in the ’90s remembers how erratic, unpredictable and off-the-wall he could be, but, so far, this campaign season he has managed to conceal his many absurdities and eccentricities.
Furthermore, many Republican primary voters seem willing to forgive and forget his past. Others seem not even to remember it. He has been able to pass himself off as a wise elder statesman — a historian without a history — able to capture the anger and anxiety of the right and articulate it with force, lucidity and gravitas.
Oh, it is to laugh! That is if you’re on the left.
But for those on the right with firsthand knowledge of working with Gingrich when he was in Washington, this is a nightmare scenario. The outside possibility that Gingrich could win the nomination and wreck the party scares them to death. Their panic over this has reached a fever pitch.
And this is not without merit.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week found that Gingrich now enjoys a 9-point lead nationally among registered Republican likely primary voters. However, Gingrich fared worse than all other Republican candidates when tested against Obama. The poll suggested that Obama would trounce Gingrich by 18 points.
(Luckily for Mitt Romney, Gingrich’s surge in Florida may be fizzling. A Quinnipiac poll of likely Republican voters in that state found that Romney leads Gingrich by nine percentage points. If that holds, Romney and the establishment Republicans will have dodged a bullet like Neo in “The Matrix.” A Romney loss in Florida would call his candidacy into question and send the party scrambling for a more attractive replacement.)
One of the latest establishment Republicans to try to avert the Gingrich catastrophe is former Senator Bob Dole, who wrote a letter to the Romney campaign on Thursday saying: “I have not been critical of Newt Gingrich, but it is now time to take a stand before it is too late.” It only got better from there. Dole continued, “hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him, and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice.”
Dole’s concern in his statement, and the concern of countless others, is: “If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state and federal offices.”
As Peter D. Hart, a Democratic pollster, told MSNBC, “Gingrich is Goldwater.” He continued, “In the general election, Gingrich not only takes down his ship, he takes down the whole flotilla.”
Part of the reason for this is Gingrich is thoroughly unlikable among the electorate at large and utterly nonsensical in his approach to real problem-solving. The fact that he has convinced some primary voters that he is an intellectual is one of the best electoral sleights of hand I can recall. As Dole said of Newt when he was in Washington: “Gingrich had a new idea every minute, and most of them were off the wall.”
To that point, Gingrich told a crowd on Florida’s so-called Space Coast on Wednesday that “by the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the Moon. And it will be American.” And he said that he would push for the introduction of a “Northwest Ordinance for Space” so that when the number of colonists reached 13,000, they could petition for statehood.
(By the way, I find it interesting that Gingrich didn’t insist on answering the question about Puerto Rican statehood at Thursday’s debate, yet he’s advocating for a state on the Moon. Earth to Newt: phone home.)
In the speech, Gingrich implied that he was “bold” and “romantic” and called himself “visionary” and “grandiose” in the vein of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and the Wright brothers. Gingrich is a virtual supernova of megalomaniacal madness.
In a way, the space speech made sense. Gingrich was doing what he does: tossing out random ideas like darts at a board, hoping to score. He was repackaging the idea of Manifest Destiny for the Moon and appealing to an area of the country whose pride and purpose were wounded by the ending of the space shuttle program.
But, on the other hand, this is exactly the kind of election-year lunacy that establishment Republicans have been worrying about. Florida has one of the highest state unemployment rates in the country and has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. The last thing that people who can’t hold on to their jobs and houses here on Earth want to hear about is a colony on the Moon. The whole thing bespeaks a man detached from the real world concerns of real people.
As Dole’s statement went on to say, “In my opinion, if we want to avoid an Obama landslide in November, Republicans should nominate Governor Romney as our standard-bearer.”
The truth is that the Republican Party has no good choice at this point. It only has bad choices and worse choices. And the American public is beginning to recognize that. As the Republican courtiers of incompetence beat up each other, knock down each other and reveal each other’s flaws, a number of recent surveys have found that President Obama’s poll numbers on a number of metrics have begun to trend upward.
That’s because an election is a choice, a zero-sum game — the worse the Republican field looks, particularly if Gingrich is at the front of it, the better President Obama looks by comparison, regardless of one’s misgivings about his first term.
Establishment Republicans understand this simple, painful truth: Romney is no guarantee of victory, but Gingrich is an absolute guarantee of defeat. At least here on Earth.
Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”