For months, Newt Gingrich has declined to say whether he will run. All his energy, Newt said, was needed to build a new grassroots reform network, culminating in an "American Solutions" conference happening this week in Atlanta. Next week, Newt says he will consider a presidential run -- if his supporters pony up $30 million.
"I'm not going to try to get into a race where Governor Romney can write a personal check for $100 million as a middle-class candidate if we can't find a way to raise money and to be competitive," Gingrich said Tuesday on "Good Morning America."
There's something grand, and also grandiose, about Newt's approach. He knows that the conservative movement is suffering from a profound identity crisis, manifested in a plethora of GOP candidates for president. Republicans are desperately searching for the man who can do two things: beat Hillary and hold together the conservative coalition (economic conservatives, hawks and social conservatives) for one more round. Even after Fred Thompson's recent entry into the race, a quarter of registered Republicans told a CNN poll that they are still not satisfied with the candidates, about the same percentage as in May.
For Newt, this is evidence people are hungry for, well, him. He reports (on national TV) that at a Republican conference in Michigan this weekend, "An amazing amount of people walked up to me and said they want somebody who can debate Senator Clinton, who can go toe-to-toe and debate the kind of changes we need in America. So I'm prepared to try to."
Try to do what? Gingrich cited six examples of "dramatic change" he would make:
"Levees shouldn't fail. Bridges should not fall. School should actually educate. The border should be controlled," he said. "English should be the official language of government. Congress should not spend more than it has."
This is a dramatic reform agenda for the 21st century?
I have three problems with the idea of Newt as a candidate: One is historical, one is substantive and the third is political.
First, the history. In the '90s, as speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich had a chance to go "toe-to-toe" with the Clintons. He failed miserably, and for some of the same reasons, his would-be campaign is also likely to fail: He's an undisciplined, energetic, self-involved, intellectually driven guy, a little squeaky and a little geeky, whom normal (i.e., not especially political) people find, well, odd. When Newt Gingrich stepped down as speaker in 1999, 70 percent of Americans told pollsters they were glad.
That Newt might hunger for a rematch with the less talented pol of the Clinton pair is perfectly understandable. Why we should imagine he is the man for the job, is less clear.
The second problem is substance. Go to www.americansolutions.com and you will find much that is not new at all and some new ideas that are genuinely bad ones. The so-called "Fair Tax," for example, will fuel a massive expansion of government because consumption taxes are invisible to the people who pay them. Meanwhile, the Web site has little to say about health care or Iraq. "English as the official language" is not going to get us very far.
Finally, Newt Gingrich is the only GOP candidate who has higher unfavorables than Hillary Clinton. The American people know him well. A USA Today/Gallup Poll taken last March showed less than 10 percent of Americans had never heard of Gingrich. The bad news is that his unfavorable ratings topped his favorable ones 48 percent to 29 percent.
Newt Gingrich has done a lot of good for the GOP, and he's perfectly entitled to run for president. But Newt as the solution to what ails the GOP? It's an expensive personal fantasy.