By Michael A. Cohen
The views expressed are his own.
WINDHAM, N.H.—Newt Gingrich is flying high these days – on top of national Republican polls and currently leading in three of the first four Republican primary and caucus states. He hasn’t been this relevant in American politics since Bill Clinton sat in the White House and Titanic was the biggest movie in America. But while the new Newt is clearly enjoying himself, seeing him on the campaign trail brings back familiar glimpses of the old Newt, defined far more by his acid tongue than he was by his policy acumen.
On Monday night, Gingrich took his frontrunner status on the road to New Hampshire, where he spoke at a packed town hall in Windham to crowds that were as ecstatic for him as they would have been for Leo and Kate. More than a thousand Republican partisans were there to greet him. What they got was the sort of grandiose ideas and red-meat political attacks against liberals – and in particular President Obama – that have been the hallmark of Gingrich’s political career, the key to his recent political rise, and perhaps his best hope for winning the Republican nomination. In a year in which Republican voters are angry with Obama and angry with Washington, all the GOP wannabes are cultivating conservative ire – but no one quite does it as effectively and as gleefully as Newt.
For Gingrich then, New Hampshire is a win-win state. The state is generally seen as Mitt Romney’s fail-safe; the place where he must—and should be able to—win in order to keep his election hopes alive. Moreover, the state GOP tends to be less socially conservative than their Iowa brethren; more attuned, it seems, to a Romney rather than Newt candidacy. Nonetheless, Gingrich’s numbers in New Hampshire are beginning to tick up, becoming Romney’s top rival and within shouting distance of first place. If he loses, the world won’t come to an end – and if he wins it could be the killer blow to Romney’s campaign. All the more reason, it seems, for Gingrich to play up his frontrunner credentials and critique Romney.
Ironically, however, Gingrich opened the proceedings by calling on Romney to end all negative campaigning. He even pledged that he would tell all his supporters to refrain from such behavior unless attacked – and such a letter was drafted by the Gingrich campaign and sent out yesterday. The tactic of decrying negative campaigning is Frontrunner 101 – if your opponent can’t attack you, he probably can’t beat you either. Of course, as these things go, this call for a cease and desist came less than ten hours after the former Speaker said of Romney that “he’s earned money bankrupting companies and laying off employees over the years at Bain.” Clearly for Gingrich some habits die hard.
Indeed, Gingrich was in a strange environment to be arguing for the politics of purity. Monday’s event was co-sponsored by the Southern New Hampshire 9.12 Project – a Tea Party off-shoot that was birthed, in part, by conservative talk show host Glenn Beck. The questioning from the audience ignored larger issues like this and instead was reflective of the group’s occasionally paranoid worldview.