With explosions rocking Iranian nuclear facilities and the Islamist hold on Egypt tightening, the Euro under continued assault and U.S. GDP numbers marked down from the last quarter, the backdrop for the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary could hardly be more foreboding.
We have assumed though the entire year that the economy will dominate the election, and while it almost certainly will be a part of every debate and every day’s news cycle, the unbroken chain of ominous developments abroad should lend the proceedings in Iowa and New Hampshire a deep seriousness. The country simply cannot afford another four years of a feckless, absentee presidency built on Alinskyite economic absurdities at home and appeasement abroad.
Which is why when Jim Geraghty, National Review’s highly respected political reporter, expresses doubt about Newt’s past positions, or Mark Steyn does the same on my show or Rush’s, or Charles Krauthammer voices concern over Newt’s “deological heresies,” and the fact that over a long career Newt’s “had a lot of ideas, and some of them are rather heretical,” then you have three of the most influential conservative commentators in the country saying essentially the same, important thing which has to be part of the debate over the next month: Electability will be an issue fro Newt.
It will be an issue for the reasons I discussed with the former Speaker on Tuesday: The Chicago gang will relentlessly probe and exploit Newt’s long record of statements and actions, package them and present them as a fusillade of attacks from every direction. If Newt is the nominee, expect an ad concerning the $1.6 million or $1.8 million he received from Freddie Mac to air four times hourly on every station, to see grainy black-and-white photos of him opposite foreclosure signs, and the deepest voice you know predicting Madoff in the White House.
And that’s the gentle stuff.
“Are you tough enough, and can anyone survive that?” I asked Newt Tuesday, and he assured the audience that he had a strategy for doing just that, but two minutes earlier he had volunteered that “I had 83 ethics charges filed against me in the 1990s, none of which were accurate, but just in an effort to throw enough mud,” and I have since been thinking that each and every one of those charges will be exhumed and recovered, probably on a Superpac-sponsored blog with a daily update beginning 83 days before the November vote and supporting television and radio buys to boot.
Which is a long way of saying that the best thing that can happen to Newt right now is that the conservative media vet him and do so with great vigor, anticipating every charge and debating every past apostasy and failing. Newt’s personal story, marriage to Callista and his conversion are powerful walls against his past poor judgments in his life, but they serve not as all to answer Steyn’s charge that Newt “hops and skips like a giddy frog across lily pads across the pond, from one, little, itsy-bitsy novelty idea to another, not awfully well thought out.”
“And when I look at some of the things he’s managed to sign onto over the last fifteen years, I find that very worrying,” Steyn offered, before doubling down: “The idea of Newt as the Republican presidential candidate is, I have to say, extremely dismaying to me.”
I got email last night denouncing Mark Steyn, just as Geraghty got such mail yesterday and I get such email every day –most of it from the anti-Romney fringe who have been serially outraged at journalists covering the serial collapses of the previous anti-Romneys, correspondents who vastly overestimate the influence of the center-right chattering class. Romney’s base network of support –his rock-solid 25%– has been built over years and is holding together and Romney will thus either put the nomination away early or answer the bell for the next thirteen rounds after Iowa and New Hampshire. A extended, vitriolic Newt v. Mitt debate between the two camps will be great for talk radio and cable television, but exhausting, expensive and exhilarating for the Chicago gang.
Which has to be on the mind of ever senior GOP leader surveying the field right now. On yesterday’s show three GOP governors –John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Scott of Florida and Richard Bentley of Alabama– declined to endorse though it became obvious that Scott will do so before Florida votes at the end of January. Will Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Jim DeMint and all the other thus-far-uncommitted leaders of the conservative movement stand by without declaring for either Mitt or Newt as the most important election the country has faced since 1980 looms?
That is hard to imagine, so it is very hard to imagine that the biggest surprises of a very surprising preseason are finsihed.