By Michael Ross
Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and Republican extraordinaire, announced on May 11 that he will be seeking the GOP nomination for president in 2012. Can he make it?
Gingrich rose to prominence in 1995 as the man behind the Contract with America. This feat contributed to the Republican party’s control of the House in the 1996 elections. The contract pledged to bring issues such as welfare reform, term limits, tougher laws on crime, and budget balancing to the floor of the house within the first one hundred days of Congress. Gingrich, as speaker, dutifully brought the issues to the floor within the time frame, and many of his parties initiatives eventually got passed. Surely, a man with such credentials would be a strong candidate for the GOP nomination.
But, his story continued. The winds of change were blowing, and Gingrich was about to fall from grace. In a duel with Clinton and the democratics over the budget, Gingrich and his party led the country into a government shutdown, forcing many nonessential offices to close their doors and suspend pay for employees. Around this same time, Gingrich’s dissatisfaction with being forced to use the rear exit of Air Force 1 (when he flew to Israel with Clinton), and subsequent comments he made stressing a harder line, led many to see the shutdown as revenge for Gingrich’s hurt pride, and resented him for it. In the end, Gingrich lost his battle with Clinton and fell from grace.
So, can this Republican fallen star reclaim his former glory and capture the nomination? While he was once a major player, the odds are cast against him this time around. For one thing, his name recognition lies within the Republican old guard, who are increasingly being pushed onto the sidelines. He no longer captures the minds and imagination of new Republicans, particularly among the influential Tea Party. Furthermore, his personal life is a black stain that could hinder his chances with social conservatives. Gingrich has been married three times, but not only that; he met his second wife while cheating on his first wife and ended up marrying her before his divorce with his first wife was finalized. He met his third wife the same way – by cheating on his second wife (incidentally at the same time that he was criticizing Clinton for his similar behavior). This is an anathema to the social conservative constituency that the Republicans rely on. Gingrich, however, converted to Catholicism and claims to have changed his ways, and hopes that his tale of redemption will win him votes.
Gingrich has a lot of problems and a flawed legacy; however, his previous and highly successful championing of the Republican cause might just win him the nomination. We will have to wait until 2012 to see.