TCS Daily


Is Gingrich the One?

By Nick Schulz - March 12, 2007 12:00 AM

For many Republicans and Democrats who were supporters of Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich might emerge as the most attractive potential presidential candidate for '08. Here's why.

The coalition of economic libertarians, social conservatives, and Cold Warriors that united under Reagan's banner has always been a fractious lot. But it agrees on far less than usual these days.

Libertarians are ready to bolt and have started flirting with liberals (even if the liberals don't flirt back). The Wall Street Journal op/ed page spars with nativists and paleoconservatives over immigration. National Review's William Buckley opposed the Iraq war while his magazine was in favor of it. Conservative George Will mocks the conservative Weekly Standard for advocating what he calls the 'radicalism that is neoconservatism'; meanwhile while Norman Podhoretz's Commentary argues we are in the middle or World War IV. (On the pages of TCS, Arnold Kling and others have outlined some avenues forward for libertarians, conservatives and fair-minded liberals.)

In a sign of the persistent uncertainties and confusion among the heirs to Reagan Country, new breeds of hyphenated conservatives keep popping up - South-Park-Conservatives, Crunchy-Conservatives, and Sam's-Club-Conservatives.

All this sniping, debating and hyphenating is unsurprising. Reaganites are searching for a reformulation and rearticulation of their convictions in a new political era. The Cold War and stagflation are long gone (even if Jimmy Carter isn't). Islamic radicalism, a waning Europe and ascendant China constitute new challenges in foreign policy. Rapid technological change, rising inequality, Boomer retirements, and the crisis of abundance in health care pose new tests in the domestic realm.

Gingrich recognizes this and is building the intellectual architecture for addressing them.

Rarely a full week goes by that Gingrich has not published a significant think piece somewhere outlining philosophical and practical approaches to America's political problems. He recently weighed in on health care (Philly Inquirer), Iraq (Wall Street Journal), economic competitiveness and basic scientific research (Washington Times). This just scratches the surface of his latest output, not to mention TV and lecture appearances that are less stump speech and more lecture in political economy or foreign affairs.

This is Gingrich running for president as policy wonk. And despite some concerns that Gingrich is too much the technocrat, many Reaganites are beginning to eat it up. Other candidates are snapping up campaign operatives for Iowa or developing whip teams; Gingrich is spending a lot of his time churning out brain food. And in doing so Gingrich is pursuing the right strategy for appealing to the remnants of the Reagan coalition at this time.

Most Reaganites would happily lose the presidency in 2008 - provided they knew that in doing so they emerged thinking clearly and thus better girded for future political conflict. There is a reason - and a good one - that Reaganites are so nostalgic for Barry Goldwater's unsuccessful attempt for the presidency in 1964. AU H2O lost badly, but reoriented the Republican Party and in losing the battle, won a larger war.

This is why a frequent knock on Gingrich - too wonky to be electable - hasn't stopped Reaganites from showing interest. This is not to suggest that his candidacy, should he run, is doomed to failure, as Goldwater's was given the time and context of his campaign. But amidst the current philosophical unrest, Reagan Republicans and Democrats are not necessarily looking for a winner above all else. They're looking to figure out exactly who they are. The candidate who helps them do that will command their affections. And only one potential candidate is trying to do that right now. Will others seek to compete?

The conditions that gave rise to Reagan are no longer extant. So a reincarnation of Reagan is not possible, even if it were desirable. Gingrich understands that. He's the only major political figure on the right who tacitly acknowledges the need to move beyond the Reagan legacy, and is charting a path to do so.


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