**UPDATE BELOW: "I'm going to be the nominee," declares Gingrich.**
An interesting and provocative thesis from Joshua Green, writing in the Boston Globe:
For two years, the driving force in national politics has been the Tea Party, whose founding myth was that ordinary citizens were rising up in defiant objection to the hidebound, self-dealing ways of Washington. Greedy politicians, this view held, had bloated the government and lined their own pockets at taxpayers’ expense, while letting the country go to rot. Prime examples were the expansion of government health care and federal support for the housing market - especially Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored entities that many conservatives blame for the financial crisis. The mere fact of being a veteran Washington legislator made respected conservatives like Senator Bob Bennett of Utah into Tea Party targets and cost many their jobs. Should all that anger, energy, and antipathy to Washington end up concentrating itself in the person of Newt Gingrich, then the movement will have failed in its most important race.
Temperamentally, Gingrich is well-suited to represent the Tea Party. His zestful attacks on the media and unbridled self-regard both reflect movement tendencies. But since being deposed as House speaker in 1999, he has earned millions of dollars by conducting himself in almost point-by-point contrast to what the Tea Party claims to stand for. Shortly after leaving Congress, he established The Gingrich Group, a lobbying and strategy firm that grossed $55 million over the next decade. Like most Washington eminences who trade on their public service, Gingrich huffily rejects the “lobbyist’’ label, claiming that he simply provided insight and strategic advice. But that’s what lobbyists do.
They also create politically acceptable rationales for others to support their clients’ interests. Gingrich was paid at least $1.6 million by Freddie Mac to help fend off new congressional regulations, presumably by convincing fellow Republicans to set aside their philosophical objections. Gingrich also established a health care consulting firm, the Center for Health Transformation, that took money from drug companies like Pfizer and AstraZeneca - and also from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the main drug lobby - during the successful push in 2003 to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. According to the Washington Examiner, Gingrich personally leaned on Republicans in Congress to support the bill.
Green, whose piece makes clear he's not a great fan of the Tea Party movement, also sets his sights on Gingrich's own flip-flop handicap:
And beyond lobbying, Gingrich has held many positions that are anathema to Tea Party conservatives. He once supported an individual mandate to buy health insurance - Mitt Romney’s inexpiable sin. He teamed up with Nancy Pelosi to urge action against global warming. Earlier this year, he criticized House Republicans’ budget plan as “right-wing social engineering,’’ only to change tack when criticized. In fact, Gingrich felt obliged to post to his campaign website rebuttals to 18 separate controversies and apostasies involving his positions and their evolution.
None of this has stopped him from trying to claim the conservative mantle. “We think there has to be a solid conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,’’ he told a South Carolina radio station this week. “I wouldn’t lie to the American people. I wouldn’t switch my positions for political reasons.’’ But of course he has already done so many times. And yet, this hasn’t appeared to hurt him with conservative activists, who are, in fact, rallying to his side. A Republican primary that began as a contest for the hearts and minds of these activists - causing mainstream figures like Tim Pawlenty to contort themselves in accommodation - now seems likely to end as a desperate bid to find anyone who isn’t Romney. If that’s Gingrich, it will be a measure of just how far the Tea Party has fallen.
The counterpoint to Green's column, I suppose, is that Newt has at least made a conscious effort to reach out to Tea Partiers over the last two years -- a distinctly friendlier tack that Romney's awkward semi-embrace. Still, is it premature or hypocritical for conservatives to appoint Gingrich as the acceptable non-Romney alternative? Many conservatives don't seem to think so. The national numbers are trending strongly in Newt's favor, and some key primary state polls are almost other-worldly:
This particular poll comes from American Research Group, Inc., and shows Gingrich with a whopping 50 percent of support among likely Republican voters in Florida. Mitt manages to capture 19 percent — but that’s still more than 30 points behind the former Speaker of the House. Compare that to just one month ago, when Gingrich registered just 11 percent support and Romney still mustered 28 percent. At that point, Cain led the state with 34 percent.
A word of caution for those swept up in full-speed-ahead Newtmania:
If Mitt Romney's the Republican nominee, Obama's in a lot of trouble in the Sunshine State. Obama leads Romney only 45-44, and given that the undecideds skew largely Republican he'd probably lose to Romney if the election was today. Obama being stuck in the mid-40s against Romney is par for the course in our Florida polling. In September Obama led 46-45, in June it was 47-43, and in March it was 46-44. The dial has barely moved all year.
But if Newt Gingrich is the Republican nominee it's a completely different story. Obama leads him 50-44 in a head to head. To find the last time a GOP Presidential candidate lost Florida by more than that you have to go all the way back to Thomas Dewey in 1948. Even Barry Goldwater did better in Florida than Gingrich is right now. The conservative Republican base is certainly a lot more enthusiastic about Gingrich than they are about Romney right now. But when it comes to appeal to Democrats and independents, Newt just simply doesn't have it.
That's not Romney boosterism (although go ahead and accuse me of it, it's fun!), but it does spotlight Newt's real problems with independents in a must-win swing state. Nevertheless, Gingrich ("it may turn out to be Newt and not Newt") and his team ("down goes Willard!") seem to be ramping up the braggadocio in the wake of this favorable survey data. That said, the candidate is cunningly instructing his aides not to attack other Republicans, including Romney. This makes sense for several reasons. First and foremost, Newt's comeback has been aided by his adherence to Reagan's eleventh commandment. He's also betting that his rivals -- spooked by his stunning momentum -- will start unloading on him, and that they'll look small and petty in doing so. As long as he's ascendant, why not leave the sniping to others and float above the fray? Smart move. In fact, it's the posture Romney has taken for much of this cycle, but it only works if you're perceived as the top dog. Romney may soon have to abandon that air of inevitability and unleash the hounds, out of necessity.
UPDATE - Big news: The primary is over, apparently!
A very confident New Gingrich asserted to ABC News Thursday afternoon that he will be the Republican presidential nominee. “I’m going to be the nominee,” the former Speaker told ABC News. “It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.”
Problematically presumptuous, or just Newt being Newt? Or both?
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography