Home/Rod Dreher/Who gave us Newt Gingrich?

Who gave us Newt Gingrich?

Whose fault is Newt Gingrich’s rise? Noah Millman suggests that it has to do with the vacuum created by Romney’s lack of alpha male cred:

If Romney wants to win this, he has to win it. Himself. By making the case for himself. This isn’t about having a “vision” for the future of America or of the GOP – what on earth is Gingrich’s vision? And it certainly isn’t about comparing resumes – and, in the end, that’s all talk about “electability” is. It’s about him. Presidential politics in America has gotten absurdly personal, but that’s just a fact of political life. Romney needs to convince first the Republican electorate, then the general electorate, that they would follow him.

Mark Steyn follows this line of thought, and seems to doubt that with Mitt, there is any there there. Romney has the best campaign money can buy, but doesn’t seem to grasp that a credible presidential candidacy has to be about something more than the sum of its consultants and position papers:

Mitt’s strategy for 2012 as for 2008 was to sit on his lead and run out the clock: Four years ago, that strategy died in New Hampshire; this time round it died one state later. Congratulations! Years ago, I was chit-chatting with Arthur Laurents, the writer of West Side Story and The Way We Were and much else, about some show that was in trouble on the road that he’d been called in to “fix.” “The trouble with a bad show,” he sighed, “is that you can make it better but you can never make it good.” The Romney candidacy is better than it was four years ago, but it’s not clear that it’s good. Mitt needs to get good real fast: A real speech, real plan, real responses, and real fire in the belly. Does he have it in him?

Steyn’s column is titled, “The Man Who Gave Us Newt” — stating that Romney’s awfulness drove voters into Newt’s arms. Conor Friedersdorf argues that Newt may be a creature of the Republican establishment, but not in the way you think. Newt may be the official GOP establishment’s nightmare, but he is exactly the kind of figure that the real GOP establishment valorizes. Excerpt:

People bear responsibility for the media they consume. Voters ultimately own the politicians they elevate. But if you’re wondering to which “thought leaders” his rise can be attributed, best to ask, “Whose approach to politics produces, as its logical conclusion, a candidacy like Gingrich 2012?” Surveying the centrality of attacks on the mainstream media, the casting of President Obama as a radical other, and the trick where you shrewdly repeat a racially provocative line, get accused of racism, and cast yourself as an aggrieved victim for political advantage, Gingrich ’12 is modeled after the successful tactics of movement conservatism’s demagogues. Is there any candidate in memory whose persona so closely resembles an egomaniacal talk-radio host? The rank-and-file in South Carolina accept a would-be president behaving that way because they’re used to their “thought leaders” talking like that. They aren’t in on the reality that a lot of what they hear on talk radio resembles performance art; they don’t presume that the rhetoric and arguments employed daily on Fox News are often contrived or disingenuous.

Along these lines, I would urge you to read, or re-read, John Derbyshire’s excellent 2009 TAC essay about how talk radio has harmed the conservative movement. Excerpt:

It does so by routinely descending into the ad hominem—Feminazis instead of feminism—and catering to reflex rather than thought. Where once conservatism had been about individualism, talk radio now rallies the mob. “Revolt against the masses?” asked Jeffrey Hart. “Limbaugh is the masses.”

In place of the permanent things, we get Happy Meal conservatism: cheap, childish, familiar. Gone are the internal tensions, the thought-provoking paradoxes, the ideological uneasiness that marked the early Right. But however much this dumbing down has damaged the conservative brand, it appeals to millions of Americans. McDonald’s profits rose 80 percent last year.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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