According to the conventional wisdom, Newt Gingrich’s campaign for president is DOA after the Ryan Plan foofaraw, but it’s still very early. He never really had a shot at winning at all, but with his kind of determination, he can successfully debase himself for almost another year before bowing out. And the media love a horse race, so many of the talking heads have been searching for a constituency to make Gingrich’s run sound like something other than the clownish debacle it is and will remain. Perhaps most fanciful was this musing by Peggy Noonan on Meet the Press following Gingrich’s appearance:
One of the things, however, I was thinking as I watched him was, you know, to young people , to 18- and 20-year-old voters, it just occurred to me, he’s new. To all of us, he’s been around for a long time. He left the speakership in 1998 , we all covered it. To somebody who’s 18 or 22, this is a new figure. They may find him quite compelling.
For the moment, let’s entertain the notion that Gingrich can appeal to wide-eyed college students who have never heard of him before now. Even if he carried those voters by a wide margin, it would be unlikely to swing any primaries in his favor. In the 2008 primaries, voters 18-30 (many of whom do remember Gingrich’s turn as speaker) never made up more than 18% of the electorate in any state contest and usually hovered in the high single digits or low teens. Furthermore, most young people still vote Democratic, so the youth vote is even less important for Republicans. In fact, CNN’s poll considers it so inconsequential that one of their latest polls didn’t even break down favorability ratings for the 18-34 demographic (scroll to page 12). It’s theoretically possible that Gingrich could inspire hordes of campus conservatives to pound the pavement in Iowa until they lose limbs from frostbite, but a different Republican candidate seems to have the only army of young activists backing him.
Even if Gingrich could ride to the Republican nomination on the work of cadres of young conservatives, I suspect that as they learn more about him, they will find him even more repugnant than their elders do. From Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy in 1968 to Ron Paul forty years later, young voters–particularly those inclined to volunteer on campaigns–tend to respond to a candidate with a clear, moral message. They will find precious little clarity or morality in Gingrich, however.
As much as Gingrich will try to avoid his personal scandals, he has never given his rivals quarter in this regard and has no right to ask for it now. And, in some way, he almost seems proud of his hypocrisy. How else to explain his excuse that too much hard work and love of country led him to repeated infidelity? That a man so morally reprehensible can hold himself in such high regard only demonstrates to young voters that he is more suited to a mental ward than high office.