Entry from December 21, 2011

Unlike P.G. Wodehouse’s immortal Gussie Fink-Nottle, I am not a Newt-fancier, but I feel about Newton Leroy Gingrich rather as I used to feel about Sarah Palin: the more he is hated — by his own side as much as by the opposition — the more I am inclined to like him. Even if I liked him more than I do, however, I still could not find the way to gainsay the conventional wisdom which says he would be a disaster for Republicans and their hopes of defeating President Obama next year. Apart from anything else, he is the one candidate in the field whose nomination is most likely to inspire Ron Paul to run on a third party ticket. The latest poll results suggest that some of those whose new-found enthusiasm for Mr Gingrich a week or two ago briefly made him the clear front-runner for the nomination are beginning to come back down to earth, and probably for a similar reason. If you want to defeat Mr Obama’s formidable re-election campaign, you have to do it by winning over independent voters, and Newt just doesn’t look like the man to do that.

Without denying that this is the case, I would like to point to one new and unexpected ally that could be working in favor of Mr Gingrich’s winning the nomination, if not the subsequent election, and that is the mainstream media consensus which you would assume must align itself with the haters but hasn’t quite done so, at least not yet. Unexpected is putting it mildly — and not only because Newt has come as far as he has in large measure by beating up on the media, and in particular on the self-important TV talking heads who moderate the so-called debates he in common with the other candidates has felt it necessary to submit himself to. The conservative base loves that stuff — and so, by the way, do I — partly because it reclaims some of the dignity that a would-be leader automatically loses whenever he condescends to appear on television. Bagehot’s dictum about not letting daylight in upon magic also applies to the presidency, if not to the same extent that it does to monarchy.

Yet, paradoxically, it is just because Newt is a more natural television performer than any of his rivals that he is so successful, and is best positioned to make the most of looking more rather than less presidential by appearing on TV. Even more paradoxically, the media themselves are complicit in helping him to do so. At least on television, a good performance trumps even ideology. More importantly, and equally appealing to all sorts of media, Mr Gingrich has the best story of the lot, especially now that Herman Cain has dropped out. Here’s what The New York Times had to say about him a couple of days ago.

Mr. Gingrich has hardly dispatched all of his problems. Vociferous critics within the party say he is incendiary and undisciplined, carries too much personal baggage, and is not a true conservative. As the perceived front-runner, he is drawing a barrage of attacks from his rivals. His strategy appears to be set on the spur of the moment: he had planned to spend this weekend at home, but as the criticism mounted and his negative ratings rose, he added a Sunday-morning television appearance and conference calls with reporters and supporters . In one call, he asked listeners to press 1 if they wanted to speak on his behalf in Iowa and 2 if they wanted to be a precinct captain. The burst of activity underscored just how far he remains behind Mr. Romney in fund-raising and get-out-the- vote efforts. But if Mr. Gingrich can sustain his resurgence, he will have pulled off one of the most striking turnarounds in American politics.

This is an illustration from someone hardly likely to be sympathetic to Newt politically (Katherine Q. Seelye) of what Dan Henninger wrote last week in The Wall Street Journal, namely that “If this improbable figure wins those primaries, Newt Gingrich will become the Rocky Balboa of American politics — a flawed, scarred figure who, against the odds, resurrects himself.” Even the liberal media might be suckered into sympathy with him if that looks like becoming the narrative, and this could help him just as much in the general election as it does in the primaries. President Obama’s story of “history”-making upward struggle has lost a lot of its resonance, even with his base and even more so with the media. They may prefer in spite of themselves and their ideology the story of someone who promises such surprises. Everything we thought we knew about politics, including even the media’s precious scandal culture, could be on the point of being turned on its head. Could the media themselves resist a story like that?

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