Looking to Get Back in 2012 Game, Newt Gingrich Throws a Hail Mary
Around the State
Only a handful of America presidents served in the congressional leadership.
James K. Polk was the speaker of the U.S. House but he returned to Tennessee for a stint as governor before heading to the White House in the 1844 elections. James Garfield, the last president to jump from the U.S. House to the White House, led Republicans in Congress during the Gilded Age. The two modern presidents who were in the congressional leadership -- Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald R. Ford -- rose to the White House through the vice presidency.
Generally, most future presidents who served in the U.S. House used it to rise to higher positions before seeking the presidency -- George H.W. Bush, Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley, for example. The three men who were elected president while they served in the Senate -- Warren G. Harding, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama -- were essentially backbenchers.
In recent presidential elections, congressional leaders generally floundered on the campaign trail. Bob Dole did better than most when he won the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, but he flopped in 1980 and was beaten by Bush in the primaries in 1988. Almost every presidential campaign has its share of candidates who were giants in the Capitol but pygmies in Iowa and New Hampshire -- Dick Gephardt in 1988 and 2004, John Kasich and Orrin Hatch in 2000, Arlen Specter and Dick Lugar in 1996; the list goes on and on. Some of the most accomplished legislative leaders in recent decades -- Howard Baker, Wilbur Mills, Richard Russell -- flopped badly as presidential candidates.
So far, in this early stage of the 2012 contest, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia appears ready to be added to the list. While his polling started off near the top tier of candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination, Gingrich floundered during most of the summer as his campaign faced staff defections, questions regarding the candidate’s focus, and reports of lines of credit at Tiffany’s. Gingrich did not help matters when he took aim at the Republican congressional budget plan crafted by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
But this week, Gingrich and his camp insisted they turned the corner. On Monday, the former U.S. House speaker highlighted a piece in the U.S. News & World Report by Paul Bedard which hinted at a comeback for Gingrich, who spent most of summer trying to squash buzz that his campaign was imploding. Bedard pointed to Gingrich’s showing in a debate in Iowa as well as his fourth place showings in polls in Louisiana and Missouri -- states that are a bit off the beaten path to the presidential nomination as opposed to the likes of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Bedard also pointed to Gingrich’s strong stance against the ‘supercommittee’ in Congress charged with cutting more than $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years.
Gingrich clearly wants to argue that he is making a comeback.
“Our focus on providing leadership now with real solutions for jobs, a balanced budget, and keeping America safe is starting to pay off,” insisted Gingrich on Monday.
Earlier in the month, Gingrich had taken aim at the 'supercommittee’ set up by Congress as part of the deal to raise the federal debt ceiling. Gingrich returned to that theme on Wednesday, insisting that he had received more than 5,500 responses -- of which, he added, 96 percent thought the new congressional committee would fail badly.
“The idea of 12 people controlling massive debt reduction is so foolish that everywhere I go, Americans are cheering each time I condemn the concept. They understand instinctively that the supercommittee is designed to shut Americans and their elected representatives out of the process while concentrating power in the hands of a few,” insisted Gingrich on Wednesday. “We are being taxed to support an enormous government while citizens of 39 states have no representation at all in these critical decisions about its size and scope.
"Our map shows what the United States would look like based on the makeup of the supercommittee. Most Americans aren't on this map at all. The whole state of New York is lost in the crease between Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The middle and Southern states are missing almost completely. The thin line below South Carolina is where Florida and my home state, Georgia, should be. Texas and California combined have the same representation as Michigan.The only good thing about the map is that Washington, D.C., has shrunk so small, you can't even see it.”
Gingrich, who has spent his time in the wilderness writing alternative histories of the Civil War and novels on the American Revolution, brought out one of the battle cries of the Founding Fathers.
“It's taxation without representation,” maintained Gingrich. “While the supercommittee gives a select few enormous power and denies most states a place in the discussions at all, Americans from every state have lost overall representation in Congress under the plan.
“In debates this important, government should strive to involve and to represent the American people, not to exclude them and make decisions in secret,” insisted Gingrich. “There is a better alternative. Americans have sent 535 of their fellow citizens to Congress to speak on their behalf, and Congress has 217 committees and subcommittees in place to tackle the complexities of balancing the budget. Appointing one committee of 12 people behind closed doors to ‘fix’ our spending crisis, while excluding 523 of our elected representatives, isn't just dumb; in America, it's wrong.”
For the moment, Gingrich is failing to gain traction in national polls. In a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday, the former congressional leader pulled 4 percent. He did slightly better with 6 percent in a survey from CNN/ORC International released this week. While there have been some polls showing Gingrich polling in the high single digits in South Carolina, he has not done as well in surveys of Iowa -- where he placed eighth in the Republican straw poll held earlier in the month -- and New Hampshire.
Attacking the supercommitee may play to Gingrich’s strength; he’s clearly the most knowledgeable candidate on how Congress works in the field, though both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are veteran legislators. But, as Gingrich is increasingly left in the dust behind the likes of Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, it appears that the former congressional leader is throwing a Hail Mary to get back in the race. With Americans continuing to face a sluggish economy, the former House speaker might need to talk about other issues besides congressional committees to get back in the race.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.