Politics is a tricky game and Newt Gingrich knows how to play the game better than anyone. Despite flirting with the individual mandate, pulling the chapter on man-made global warming from his forth-coming book, describing himself in the past as a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican”, and even claiming to to be a “real-politick Wilsonian”, Newt has seen a surge in popularity – winning South Carolina and commanding a decisive lead in the current Florida polls (for whatever the polls are worth). He’s finding support among many Republicans and oddly enough the Tea Party movement seems to be gravitating in his direction. Meanwhile, the true conservative in the race, Rick Santorum can’t seem to build any steam despite a reversal of his fortunes in Iowa. He finished third in South Carolina and is currently trailing Romney in Florida.
Santorum was solid during the last debate on CNN but of course Newt stole the show with his ovation-inducing slap-down of moderator John King. Many in the mainstream press as well as the conservative media are still pondering whether or not this threw the election in his favor. I think we can at least agree that it certainly didn’t hurt him. Gingrich isn’t specifically out-debating his competition, he’s just saying things in a way that clearly resonates with the American electorate. The way he answers moderator questions and the way he sticks it to the liberal press corps is refreshing. With a Republican party that is afraid of its own shadow and afraid of criticizing the President, people are yearning for a candidate that is not afraid to duke it out with the press and call the President what he truly is – a disaster and a joke.
For all his bombast, however, Newt is still not the model conservative for me and I’m sure I speak for others with the same sentiment. We don’t need a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican” in the White House, we need a Constitutionalist. We don’t need “grand” ideas from a “grand” candidate. We need someone that will adhere to the Constitution and place his faith in the people of this country not the government. Unfortunately, Newt just doesn’t appear to be that guy, despite his great debate responses and small government references. His checkered-poltical past tells a different story and for some, it’s hard to get that image of him sitting on the couch with Nancy Pelosi out of their heads.
The country is at a crossroads and so is the Republican party. The establishment sees fit to nominate a moderate in Mitt Romney but he isn’t exactly running away with the nomination. This process is going to be drawn out and that’s a good thing – especially for Santorum. If Romney wants the nomination, he’s going to have to not only move to the right but begin to explain conservatism the way Newt has been doing over the past several weeks. Santorum isn’t going to captivate audiences the way Newt does with his catchy one-liners and off-hand remarks, but he has to continue plugging away and making a case for conservatism. His focus has to be on conservative principles and ideas and less about what he’s done in the past. We’ve already heard that and it’s not doing much for him in the polls or at the ballot box. Santorum has just as much opportunity as Gingrich and Romney to get this nomination, but there’s still a lot of campaigning to do between now and the convention in Tampa. Gingrich is going to continue to do what he’s been doing so far, but if Santorum wants to make a surge and challenge Newt, he’s going to have to shift his game plan.