I began Thursday's radio show by playing the clip of Newt Gingrich telling ABC's Jake Tapper that he would be the GOP nominee --not once but five times in various ways in less than 60 seconds.
I then asked for callers --first time callers only-- and their reactions. In an eleven minute segment I fit in 20 callers, 17 of whom applauded the former Speaker's bravado, three of whom dissented. Radio folks know this is more than a little astonishing (hat tip to call screener Nick who worked at a dizzying pace) and is the sort of reaction that only is triggered by something connecting with the audience on a very emotional level. My producer Duane has thought the statement off-putting. My network's content guru, Lee Habeeb, who was with me in the studio at Regent University where we were visiting, thought it was brilliant. The instant, unfiltered reaction of first-time callers --not the practiced, planted callers of Team Obama's negative machine-- favored the confidence of Newt, just as his recent rise in the polls has been largely fueled by his performances in the debates in which he has routinely attacked not Mitt Romney but the president and especially the media, which the center-right has gone from merely disliking to loathing in recent years because of the Manhattan-Beltway media elite's collective swoon for the president in 2008 and since.
The MSM narrative about these events is as wrong as usual when it comes to deciphering the thinking of conservatives. GOP primary voters aren't looking for an anti-Romney. They are looking for the nominee who will take it to Obama and his allies in the media every single day. Governor Romney's solid base of support has been built on the expectation that he will do so even though he has been careful in his roll out. Romney's debate performances have routinely focused on and blasted the president, and this accounts for his early lead in New Hampshire and strong national showing in head-to-head match-ups with the president.
But it has been a restrained approach, a foreshadowing of the summer and fall game plan, one designed not to exhaust the energy and commitment of the anti-Obama activists.
Newt's surge is powered by that portion of the conservative electorate that wants more now: more heat, more fire, and a lot more volume directed at the Chicago gang and their enablers in the MSM. This is the same electorate that first powered Bachmann, then Perry and then Cain, and now it is trying on Newt. A small portion of it is anti-Romney, and an even smaller portion of that slice is simply anti-Mormon. But most of it is simply itching for a fight to begin that they have wanted for four years, which Senator McCain never even began, and which the new GOP House has largely avoided, except for the boldness of Paul Ryan. Recall that Newt's spectacular opening fiasco was because he attacked Paul Ryan, and the same group that is surging to him now reacted in an instant to defend the Wisconsin congressman who had taken it to the president.
With his surge comes the focus that Newt expected, and which I asked him about in a Tuesday interview, and it appears as though the former Speaker will continue to blaze away at all comers. The best defense against old gaffes is an offense that never stops, never sleeps. It is as though new Newt intends to drive out all references to old Newt by flooding the zone with great new material on which to chew.
Recall the early days of the Afghanistan campaign when Americans (and the Taliban) were introduced to the AC-130 H/U gunship, also known as "Spectre" or "Spooky II" and capable of firing between 3,600 and 4,200 rounds - per minute! Well, that's Newt. And many, many conservatives are cheering.
Then, however, come the second thoughts. Here are three emails received after yesterday's show, one that is pro-Newt, two with misgivings:
I never have time to call your show, but listen every day. The discussions
concerning Newt's candidacy overlook such political indiscretions as the
one noted below concerning poor children. The truth, with respect to the
cultural development of dysfunctional habits, is not at issue. I.e., we
know that the Great Society created a generation eminently ill-equipped for
the rigors of adulthood. It's how it's characterized that makes all the
difference, and Newt doesn't have the requisite skills that a Reagan did to
make the argument in a politically sanitized and adroit manner.
The single question we should ask with respect to Gingrich is this: Do we think Obama and the Democrats would rather run against Romney or Gingrich.
The answer is simple and unambiguous. Like many conservatives, I have issues with Romney, but we can't have a replay of 2008 with another general election candidate that just isn't viable. The thought of another four years of Obama is not only horrifying, it will absolutely ruin the Republic.
Romney can win in places like Pennsylvania, and Ohio, perhaps even Wisconsin, but there's no way Gingrich could.
The next email was pro-Newt, succinctly restating the general view of the great majority of the earlier callers:
I firmly believe, independents will back Newt. You got to believe they are smart enough not to fall for Chicago style tactics. The icing on the cake will be the debates. Newt vs Obama... I can't wait! Those debates will only confirm Obama is not up to the task. The debates will confirm to the independents Newt is the right person to tackle today's ills!! Let give the independent electorate some credit!! They will fix their own experiment gone bad of hiring someone not fit for the job.
Then email #3:
I'm a post-9/11 Republican who lives in Greater Cleveland. I remember Newt Gingrich through the prism of a former Democrat. Even though I agree with many of his positions today, I really disliked him in the '90's, and believe this is the sentiment that will endure with many independents. The other side will have a field day associating Newt with the "unreasonable, heartless, Republican idealogues" of the past. "Do you want to go back to the bad old days?" they will ask. The old ethical complaints will serve as abundant cannon fodder, too. The independent voter who doesn't engage until next summer will simply be turned off by their own memories and a steady attack message that Newt is "Back to the Future."
We need to win this election and it's clear to me that Romney is far and above best candidate in his own right and under the totality of circumstances. This is not the time for a fanciful trip down memory lane to try to relive 1994.
Having said all that, I'll vote for any Republican, except Ron Paul, of course.
And there is the divide, the one that will consume the GOP for the next many weeks. It is even possible that Rick Santorum or Rick Perry will figure out how to tap into this energy and steal the ball from Newt or that Romney will use the debates of December 10 and 15 to deepen the commitments of the "must win" voters while widening that message's appeal.
Where, you have to wonder, are Paul Ryan, Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio and Sarah Palin, four big endorsements among the "electeds" that could move the needle for one or another of the candidates. Mike Huckabee has joined John McCain is swearing off picking a candidate, but what about John Bolton and Dick Cheney?
So much at stake, and so little time left to choose.