Talking Points Memo notes that Newt Gingrich’s poll numbers peaked a few days ago and now seem on a decline of the sort one sees on rollercoasters or cliffs. I’d personally like to think it was because Gingrich blathered stupidly about how he’d arrest federal judges whose rulings he didn’t like; there is a word for the sort of leader who responds to the Constitutionally-approved concept of the independent judicial branch by threatening its members with arrest, and it’s not “president.”
But that’s only a specific case of a more general issue with Gingrich, which I imagine the GOP electorate is now remembering about him: Gingrich, bless his heart, can only give a stab at being a statesman in brief, isolated bursts. Then his Gingrichosity shines through, he decouples prudence from his pie hole, and he starts doing the 68-year-old poltiwonk version of a college freshman midnight bull session, only in public and in front of cameras, and without someone there to say “whoa, duuuude, you’re getting pretty out there” before passing over the bong to mellow him out. He just can’t shut up.
It’s not just that he can’t shut up. It’s that Gingrich is also apparently incapable of distinguishing which of his ideas are reasonable, and which ones have been beamed in straight from a transmitter located on a high mountain deep in the heart of FrothyLand. It’s not that Gingrich doesn’t have some good ideas in his head. He does. The problem is they share space with some absolutely terrifying ideas. When Gingrich prepares to hork an idea out of his mouth, he doesn’t roll it around first to see if it tastes bad. He just spits it out, and there it is, on the carpet, Gingrich looking at you in that way he has, the way that says yet another brilliant thought from the mind of Newt. You’re welcome. And then the idea rears up, hisses at you, and tries to mate, horribly, with your shoe.
This is why, should Gingrich buck the current trend and gain the GOP nomination, the absolute worst thing he could do is have a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate with President Obama. Seriously: an hour to ninety minutes of raw, unscripted, uninterrupted Gingrich? There is no limit to the size of the hole that man will dig for himself, all the while thinking how dazzling he’s being. And there’s Obama, grinning his ass off, letting Gingrich dig, waiting for his turn. If we know anything about Obama, it’s that he knows how to stay focused and on message. He’d do just fine in a long form debate; you might not like the policies he espouses but you can bet he’d promulgate them in a safe and sane-sounding way, which, to anyone not already in the Gingrich camp, and with the fortitude to withstand an entire three-hour debate, would be all he would need. Obama might bore you, but he wouldn’t scare you.
Dear Newt: Obama would love to do a Lincoln-Douglas debate with you. He would love it more than candy. But it looks like he won’t get that chance.
Mind you, Gingrich’s essential Gingrichosity is not the only reason he’s trending down at the moment. The scads of negative ads his opponents are targeting at him are doing their fair share as well, and as I understand it Gingrich’s campaign is cash-poor enough that responding to those ads has not been something he’s been about to afford much of (he did just make an ad buy in Iowa, but it’s small compared to the ad buys of Romney and Perry). Even so, I don’t think Gingrich being Gingrich helps him any.
He can draw this out a while (and make no mistake that the Democrats would love for him to do that, as long as humanly possible) but at the end of the day the reason I suspect we’ve hit and passed the Peak Gingrich moment is because ultimately Gingrich reminds people of someone who is an unpleasant showoff. The person he’s reminding them of is possibly him.