The news is in today from Iowa, and it looks like the Republicans have a new leader of the pack: Newt Gingrich. According to a new poll, the former Speaker leads the field at 33%. The next closest are Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, both tied at 18%. And that’s not all: the Realclearpolitics.com poll of polls has him in the lead as well. As you’ll note from the chart, the Republican race has been the story of one candidate after another surging and then falling while Mitt Romney remains about the same.
A similar fate could be in store for Mr. Gingrich, but for the fact that time is growing short. The Iowa caucuses loom on January 3rd, and two other early states in which Gingrich has a big lead vote before the end of that month. Only in New Hampshire (1/10) does Mitt Romney currently have the plurality of support.
Things could change. I’ve said for a long time that it looks like Romney will be the Republican nominee, but I’m starting to waver a little. Gingrich was never a factor until now. He brings with him a lot of baggage, yes…but also some hefty credentials and a depth of government experience hard for his peers to match. In an article on Slate last week entitled “If I Were King…” John Dickerson offered the following guarded praise:
When Gingrich brags about the profound change he’s going to bring as president, he joins a long line of boring politicians promising bold change. But where he differs from the others is that he shows that in small and large ways that he’s thought through just what big change requires. He doesn’t ask his audiences to vote for him but rather to “stand with me.” “If you vote for me you’re going to vote and go home and think Newt will fix it,” he says. Change, he argues, comes only through an entirely new kind of citizenship where people become actively involved in their government again. In his new Contract With America, the third item is a training program for executive branch employees. “You can’t just appoint smart people. You have to have a team and operate as a team, and any corporation would have a training program to acculturate people.”
As an academic historian, I’m also aware that Gingrich is a member of my guild, having earned a PhD in Modern European History. The Weekly Standard has poked a bit of fun at Gingrich’s historical grandstanding, but a part of me is excited that either party has the potential to consider a candidate who has spent a significant portion of their life studying and reflecting on the past. Politics aside, I think that having such knowledge, training, and experience is in general a big positive. This would be the first historian in the White House since Woodrow Wilson, I believe. Plus–and I have to be honest here–all this gives me hope that maybe I’ll be able to serve my country in elected capacity one day.
The “big” question, though…and I can’t resist asking it a little tongue-in-cheek: in addition to feeling like we were reliving the 1990s, how weird would it be to have a President named Newt? “No stranger than Barack,” some would say. I’m not so sure about that, though. “Barack” strikes all sorts of mystic chords about the United States as a multiethnic society of immigrants. Though in start contrast to the Anglo-Saxon nomenclature of most of our presidents (George, James, William, Franklin, etc.), President Obama’s name complements them in a very “American” way. Newt? That’s just weird. I don’t have visions of a melting post when I hear his name. The first thing I think of is Monty Python…
In any case, I’m not saying I’m supporting a Gingrich candidacy–or anyone’s, at this point. But I do find the process interesting. I think I’ll spend Tuesdays for the next little while blogging my thoughts about this electoral season.