Never has a presidential campaign been so absent of concrete ideas. Sure, Obama had “Hope” and “Change” but at the same time he had healthcare, race to the top, and ending the war. The Republican establishment can’t seem to get a handle on why Romney has failed to resonate and why Gingrich has caught on, despite his legendary pile of personal baggage, but the answer is simple: the American people like a candidate with actual ideas. It doesn’t matter how good or practical those ideas are, really—we are a nation that likes to be excited about the future, rather than terrified of it. For his many, many faults, Newt Gingrich seems and has always seemed excited for the future. Romney treats the future like an alcoholic uncle—something not to talk about in public but that creates private stresses. At the heart of things, he’s not a man who deals well with confrontation. He says that the income disparity in this country, one of our greatest problems moving forward, should not be discussed on the campaign trail. Instead, it should only be talked about “in quiet rooms.” Romney was born for quiet rooms: Perrier in hand, light jazz in the background, hair gelled into a firm helmet. Most Americans would prefer to have campaign issues discussed openly.
At the beginning of this absurd process, Mitt Romney was a candidate that I respected. He seemed reasonable and intelligent. He didn’t seem like he’d be a terrible president, even though I disagreed with nearly all of his positions. Now he’s devolved, once again, into a robotic caricature of himself. The only plank in his platform is that tired and dangerous notion that America is the unquestioned greatest nation in the world. If you can tell me one policy proposal that Romney has campaigned on, other than more tax cuts we can’t afford or repealing the progress of the last four years, where he actually differs from Obama—one original suggestion that justifies his candidacy—come to Forest 334 and I will give you five dollars. There are none; his entire campaign has been reduced to the laughable claims that Obama is alternately a crony capitalist or weak on foreign policy. Somebody should tell his staff that for attacks to resonate with the public, they need some basis in truth.
Newt Gingrich is a man of ideas. He has a solution for everything, from poverty to resource depletion. I’m particularly fond of his obsession with building a moon base. True, they range from impractical to blatantly racist. But at least you know he’s thought about the problems of the day and tried to come up with an original solution; at least he has a reason to run other than nice hair and a photogenic family. These, ideas, more than anything, are why he has caught on with the Republican base. Romney represents nothing. Newt represents a Conservatism that actually looks for solutions to the problems of the day and the challenges of the future.
My last column predicted confidently that Romney would win. That may no longer be the case. Gingrich’s support has increased throughout the nation and he’s taken the lead in Florida, the next state in the primary calendar. While the Obama campaign would rather face Newt than Mittens in the fall—polls show that two percent of the public think that’s his real first name—there’s a lot of danger in that; the American people want a reason to be excited about the future. Romney does not offer that. Obama offered that in 2008, but his communications staff seems to have retreated into a black hole where they no longer have any contact with the media. There’s little exciting about his presidency right now, and little hope that he’ll recapture it. America has not learned its lesson, though. We’re not ready to “settle” for the nice man with the steady paycheck, or several steady paychecks in Romney’s case. We’re not ready to settle for good, boring policy. We want the guy who promises us the moon. In 2012, Newt may be that man.