Jonah Goldberg

He's baaack!

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is back in the saddle after falling off his horse at the starting line. At least according to one poll (Public Policy Polling), Gingrich is actually the GOP front-runner.

Many say it's simply Gingrich's turn to be the not-Mitt contender, now that Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain have had their chances.

But that's not entirely fair. Gingrich has been relentlessly seducing GOP voters in the debates. Romney may have been winning on points and technicalities, but Gingrich has been consistently winning the crowds.

Moreover, he's been deftly using the debates to develop a sales pitch to GOP voters. His Reaganesque refusal to attack fellow Republicans has been appreciated, as has his more mercenary determination to ridicule the media by pouncing on stupid -- and sometimes not-so-stupid -- questions from debate moderators.

But the core of his strategy has been to plant a question in the minds of Republican voters. The question he wants them to ask is, "Whom would you most like to see debate Barack Obama?"

In each debate, he keeps mentioning how he wants to challenge the president to as many Lincoln-Douglas-style debates as possible. And if the presidential baloney won't march into the Gingrichian grinder? Well then, the grinder will come to the baloney. Gingrich vows to follow Obama on the stump, offering rapid response after every presidential utterance.

It's a brilliant tactic. Watching Gingrich walk onto the debate stage, it's like seeing a great beast returned to its natural habitat. They should play "Born Free" whenever he comes out from behind the curtain.

The tactic works because the unifying conviction among hard-core Republican voters is that Obama is both overrated and full of it, a man pretending to be presidential and intellectual rather than the real thing. (Ironically, Gingrich has long been the subject of similar criticisms, mostly from the left.) Gingrich's promise to goad Obama into a fair fight is beyond tantalizing.

Talk to rank-and-file conservatives about such a matchup and they grow giddy, like nerds asked if they'd like to see a battle between Darth Vader and Gandalf the wizard. Ask them if they'd like to see an Obama versus Romney debate (the thrilla with vanilla!) and they shrug. Meanwhile, if you nominate Gingrich, you'll get a ticket to the fight of the century.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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