Entry from January 12, 2012

In the light of the New Hampshire primary results and Newt Gingrich’s extraordinary outburst against Mitt Romney’s business career at Bain Capital, it’s beginning to look as if it is bye-bye Newt. He’s still hoping to turn things around in South Carolina, but the most recent polls there, as elsewhere in the country, are not encouraging. Real Clear Politics today has him nine points down to Mitt Romney and one ahead of Rick Santorum. Conservatives can now be divided between those who are bowing to the inevitable and embracing Mitt and those who want Newt and Rick Perry to get out of the race so as to leave a clear field for Mr Santorum to be the conservative alternative. Either way, it seems that nobody has a good word to say for the former speaker, so before he’s gone completely, I would like to say just a word in his favor.

Like almost everybody I know, I started out thinking Newt was too undisciplined, too much of a flake to be president. His campaign has lately shown once again just how undisciplined and flakey he still is, too. There’s no excuse for some of the things he has said, but it’s also true that he has had the bad luck of the kid who gets caught and punished for hitting his brother only because nobody saw the brother hit him first. It’s also terribly unfair if inevitable that he’s being held to a higher standard because it once seemed that he promised something better, in fact a genuinely new kind of politics. Here’s what Steven Hayward wrote about him a couple of months ago.

But beyond handicapping the primary campaign dynamics, Newt is doing something interesting and maybe profound: he is trying to run for president according to an older model that stresses substance over sound bytes and gimmicky, targeted campaign strategy. (Hence the emphasis on Lincoln-Douglas style debates that de-emphasize the place of the media questioners, among other things.) It is a bid to see whether presidential politics can still be conducted along the line of the old republic that would be more familiar to the Founders, to the style of public argument more akin to what Hamilton had in mind in talking about “refining and enlarging the public view” through “reflection and choice” in Federalist #1.

I myself always thought that the best reason to support Newt was that if a man with that many scandals in his past could be elected the entire media culture would simply implode. What a wonderful thing that would be! If people didn’t care about their endlessly hyped scandals anymore, the media, too, would be forced to go back to something more like the Hamiltonian politics mentioned by Mr Hayward. Meanwhile, Newt would have accomplished at least one thing fully commensurate with the greatness that he once seemed to promise.

Alas, alas, madded by vicious negative attacks from the partisans of Mitt Romney and his resulting plunge in the polls, Newt has lately condescended to play the media’s scandal game as the only way to save his candidacy — which, ironically, was also the way to negate all that was good about that candidacy and so, presumably, to wreck it another way. His sad career is an illustration of how our political and intellectual life have been impoverished by the scandal culture’s stigmatization of ideas as well as people. That’s why any sensible conservative should hate not Newt but the media who delighted in goading him into a display of ill nature and above all the political culture they have created which even he, potentially the greatest man of our age and now the lost conservative leader, could not change.


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