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The Question of the Moment

The Question of the Moment

By John Ellis - December 9, 2011

Actually, it's two questions. Question #1 is: Can Newt Gingrich win the GOP presidential nomination? Question #2 is: what does he need to do to close the sale?

The answer to the first question is yes, he can win.

These are terrifying times. The global financial system hangs in the balance of ever-expanding counter-party risk. An avalanche of debt is cascading down upon us, everywhere. The Middle East is off the rails. The Israelis expect war there in the next 45 days. Jihadists seek to detonate a nuclear device on Broadway. Iran may soon supply them with the means. The European Union could, next week, disintegrate before our eyes. Mexico may soon be a narco-state. That's just a few items on a very long agenda of distress.

Desperate times demand something different. In the 2012 GOP presidential campaign, that demand has created Gingrich, who unlike his rivals, recognizes the peril of our times as we see it.

It is this recognition that propels him forward, makes him credible, confounds his opponents and critics alike. They wonder: How can he stay aloft? Surely this undisciplined, vainglorious, narcissistic opportunist must come crashing back to earth. Everything we know tells us so.

Gingrich has been running circles around his opponents and critics for months now. He has won every debate. He has been the only consistently positive candidate in those debates. He has talked fluently about the enormity of the American challenge. He has dismissed the ridiculous press games of “gotcha” as unbecoming and beneath contempt. He has been resolute in his opposition to the appeasement of radical Islam, steadfast in his support for modern science, and wide open to any idea that might lead to the unshackling of America’s future from the broken and soon-to-be bankrupt social model that now serves as an emblem of national dysfunction.

The wonder is that he isn’t further ahead.

The others argue that past is prelude: Romney says he will turn it around, as he has other ventures. Perry will Texify and re-Christianize America, thus making it prosper. Huntsman insists that the Utah prosperity model works best.

Gingrich argues that it’s much, much bigger than that; it isn’t a “turn-around” that’s needed, it’s reinvention. The economy needs powerful new locomotives to pull the freight, foreign policy needs to be “completely rethought,” the Blue Social Model is doomed and must be replaced by something that invigorates and expands all the human potential that is wasting away in bad schools, horrible social “programs,” dead-end jobs and doomed industries. Government and government policy, Gingrich argues, needs to be completely re-imagined. Like GE, he positions himself as “imagination at work.”

Can he close the sale? He need only win Iowa and New Hampshire and he’s the nominee. If Romney loses New Hampshire, the Romney campaign collapses in a heap.

How does Gingrich close the sale? First, he must acknowledge what he and the voters know: we wouldn’t vote for him under ordinary circumstances. It’s the moment that makes him and it’s the moment that matters.

Second, he must remain positive, both about the possibilities of the future and about his rivals. There is really only one positive argument that anyone can make about the global economy. It is that a very big locomotive is coming that will pull the economy forward and gather pace. That locomotive is science and technology; the genomics revolution turbo-charged by almost infinite computing power.

Gingrich, second-rate futurist that he is, is well-positioned to popularize this argument and sell it through. What else, after all, is one to believe? That financial services can pull the train? That GM can pull the train? That Facebook can pull the train? No one believes that.

Third, he must address concerns about his ability to govern by embracing his opponents. These people are my cabinet, or part of it, he might say. Vote for me and you get them in the bargain. I will put them to work.

Fourth, he needs to remind people that he is the only 2012 GOP presidential candidate who has ever moved the needle rightward at the national level. Rick Perry hasn't. Mitt Romney hasn't. Ron Paul hasn't. Rick Santorum hasn't. Only Gingrich has moved the nation rightward. That matters.

Finally, he must answer the tactical question of the election generously. For Republican caucus attenders and primary voters that question is: which candidate has the best chance of ending President Obama’s political career?

Gingrich can answer this question by saying: “on paper, it’s Romney. No question. He’s got all the attributes that you look for in a winner.” But, he might continue, the fact is that victory or defeat will be arrived at the same way it has been arrived at in 2011: through debate. You can’t defeat President Obama in a general election, if you don’t defeat him first in open debate. “I’m ready,” Gingrich might say, “to debate him every every Sunday night, from now until election day. Just the two of us, no moderators, two hours on a different topic over the course of 6 months. I think we win that debate.”

The truth is that only thing that stands between Newt Gingrich and the 2012 GOP presidential nomination right now is Newt Gingrich. 

John Ellis is a contributing columnist to RealClearPolitics who lives in New York.

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