James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Newt Gingrich Makes It (Facebook) Official

by James M. Lindsay
May 11, 2011

Newt Gingrich speaks to reporters after a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington on March 18, 2011.

Newt Gingrich speaks to reporters after a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington on March 18, 2011. (Jonathan Ernst/courtesy Reuters)

It’s official. Newt Gingrich announced today via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube that he is running for president. As the New York Times’s Matt Bai points out, if Gingrich succeeds, he would be the first person since Dwight D. Eisenhower to win the presidency without previously being elected to statewide or national office.

I wrote Monday that I don’t see Gingrich duplicating Ike’s feat. Here are four reasons why:

1. He has alienated people who can help him win. Sarah Palin isn’t a Gingrich fan. She referred to him and other Republican colleagues in a 2009 email as “egotistical, narrow-minded machine goons.” Don’t ask New York Times columnist David Brooks for a Gingrich endorsement. He recently told Time:

Newt Gingrich is not going to be president. I wouldn’t let that guy run a 7-Eleven, let alone a country.

2. He can’t stay on message. Gingrich’s fits of pique derailed his speakership. He led reporters to believe he was declaring his candidacy back in February and then decided not to. On March 7 he called for a no-fly zone over Libya and the ouster of Qaddafi. Sixteen days later, he criticized President Obama for imposing a no-fly zone on Libya.

3. He has a long political history, emphasis on long. Republicans are hungering for a fresh face. Gingrich is anything but. As former George W. Bush adviser Mark McKinnon explains, he has:

been around the track one too many times. At a time when people are hungry for something different, new and refreshing, Newt just feels stale.

Gallup poll data sums up the problem: Gingrich is well-known to Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. But he is also widely disliked—and his negative ratings are growing.

4. His, ahem, complicated personal history. Gingrich has been divorced twice and has admitted to infidelity. That’s a high hurdle to overcome in American politics. His explanation for what he agrees were poor choices is that he loved America too much. That at least seems to be his explanation:

There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.

It’s hard to see that argument winning many votes in Graettinger, Iowa, Gilmanton, New Hampshire, or Gaffney, South Carolina.

Callista, Gingrich’s third and current wife, plans to play a vital role in his campaign. Expect her to talk about his conversion to Roman Catholicism and his commitment to Christian causes. Redemption provides a powerful narrative in American politics. Still, it’s probably not powerful enough to vault Gingrich into the White House.

What Gingrich brings to the GOP race is provocative and innovative thinking. Count on him to say something that shakes up the race. Just don’t count on it helping his electoral chances.

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