(As usual, the agreement with the syndicators means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)
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NEWT’S MITT PICKING
BY BOB FRANKEN
Because they make buckets of money from it, political professionals hate to hear us smart alecks contend that their hovering presence around candidates means little. That’s because elections are not won but lost. There’s a lot of evidence to back that up. Do the names John McCain, John Kerry and Al Gore make that point? How about Michael Dukakis? In the elite arena of presidential campaigns, they all are in the Stiffs Hall of Fame.
Among the active players who are making a valiant effort to reach those fallowed heights we certainly can include Mitt Romney.
Romney’s awkward pretense that he has any idea about common-people concerns time and again end up with him blurting out in ways that demonstrate he’s oblivious. His little aside about making “not very much” from speaking fees quickly becomes an embarrassment when we find out he’s talking about $374,000 in one year. When the pressure is on to release his tax records, he seems to become visibly agitated. He starts speaking faster, his eyes appear to jump. It’s no wonder. At least a chunk of his massive fortune was made by causing misfortune for many others.
All of that said, we cannot ignore the very clever tactics of Newton Leroy Gingrich. He loves to disparage Romney’s “poll-driven, consultant-guided” campaign. His rise and fall certainly have defied the political industry’s conventional wisdom. This is Newt’s Law of Gravity -- the opposite of the other Newton: What goes down goes back up.
Gingrich’s life has been one big roller-coaster ride. However, to give credit where it’s due, the man is a master at reversing a slide. He is a ferocious counterpuncher, most dangerous when he’s against the ropes.
Just one example: The very same day the tawdry interview with his ex-wife Marianne was released and then grossly overplayed on cable TV, Gingrich turned what might have been mortifying embarrassment into a triumph that will be long remembered in debate history.
The memorable moments usually are defined by a single sound bite. Lloyd Bentsen’s “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” shot inflicted permanent damage on Dan Quayle. Ronald Reagan’s “There you go again” arguably had a lot to do with his making Jimmy Carter a one-termer.
Poor John King of CNN. When he led off the evening by asking about Wife No. 2’s bitter comments, Gingrich made mincemeat of him, getting a roar of approval from the audience. It was a defining moment in a state chock-full of rock-solid conservatives and evangelicals who scorn the “elite media,” as Gingrich put it, for “protecting Barack Obama.”
A chagrined King, a consummate professional, nevertheless became Gingrich’s Quayle. It will be replayed forevermore..
Now, it’s a new game in Florida. This time, Romney’s money and organization would seem to make a difference. But he has one big disadvantage: himself.
He leaves an impression that he’s not comfortable in his own skin, certainly not when he tries to cover it in a Regular Guy costume.
Meanwhile, in Gingrich, he has an opponent who is willing to do and say whatever it takes to win. Anybody who overlooks Gingrich’s willingness to appeal to base instincts underestimates not only him but his ability to rattle his opponents. He would be formidable in debates with Barack Obama.
The wounds he most has to worry about are the self-inflicted ones. He does seem to have a psychological need for grandiose grandstanding. It gets him in trouble.
But his opponents make a mistake if they wait for that. If they are unwilling to get down in the gutter with him, it is plausible that a year from now we will be saying these three words “President Newt Gingrich.”
© 2012 Bob Franken