The Party of Ideas
I have predicted (on this blog and in conversation) that Newt Gingrich will be a presidential candidate in 2008 because he best represents conservatism's attempt to return to its intellectual roots and guiding principles. This sentiment, I believe, is shared by the conservative movement at large. In a straw poll conducted at redstate.com after the election (link goes to results, for which you have to take the poll), Newt was one of the clear favorites amongst potential 2008 candidates, and moderates like McCain received sizeable votes against their candidacies. In a Fortune interview last week, Gingrich stated that he was not "running" for president but rather trying to build a movement that would then force him into running, using as his model...Abraham Lincoln.
I'm not just teasing Gingrich or his followers. I take this threat seriously. Not serious in that I think he has a chance of winning--he won't. But conservatism has thrived for forty years because it has believed two things: its principles will restore America, and that a majority of Americans share these views. If Gingrich were to be nominated, his loss would directly repudiate the second cornerstone of the conservative movement (populism), and force the first principle to reexamine its committment to winning power through the electoral process. Why am I so certain of Gingrich failing? There's three reasons.
- Gingrich has been out of the public eye for some time now, but all the old skeletons will come out of the closet once he is a national figure again. Remember, any national Republican candidate now has to appease both the libertarians and the social conservatives. It will be interesting to see how many of the latter will be willing to ignore the former Speaker's personal hypocrisy on these matters.
- When Gingrich and his fellow Republicans swept into Washington in 1994 they had a "Contract with America" that ended up being little more than a PR spectacle. The function and scope of the federal government was not altered by the conservative intellectual and his ambitious freshmen in the House. The changes they made helped Republicans maintain power into the future, and distinguished itself by hounding Bill Clinton for a year. The "revolution" didn't happen. Why would a Gingrich administration be any more successful?
- Most important, Gingrich's status as an intellectual is thin. In 2008, Iraq will still be a problem for America. The best solution he has is to stay resolute, like George Washington did. "Victory or death," says Gingrich on Iraq. There you have it, folks. This is supposedly the man with the intellectual integrity to be an honest conservative and save America. His analysis of the biggest problem facing America? It is no different than America's war for independence. The stakes are just as high.
I'm not sure who still buys this "World War IV" worldview today, and I'm sure no one will in 2008. And without a foreign policy, no one is going to be elected president in 2008. The last guy that did was Bush. And his shocking lack of interest in the world around him led straight to Iraq. I guess by comparison, Gingrich would appear to be the savior of intellectual conservatism.