We have a young, progressive President in the White House, a guy named Newt trying to shake up Washington, and a moderate republican running for US Senate in Massachusetts. Is this 1994?
No, it’s 2011. This time around the President is Barack Obama, Gingrich is running for next year’s republican presidential nomination, and the moderate republican is not a first time candidate named Mitt Romney but incumbent Senator Scott Brown.
In his race to try to unseat the late Senator Ted Kennedy, Romney – the transplanted son of a former Michigan Governor – ran as a pro-choice moderate who said Massachusetts needed new representation in Washington. He lost big to Kennedy, which is the reason – as Gingrich pointed out in the most recent GOP debate – Romney did not become a career politician. In 2002, Romney was elected Governor, serving only one term before leaving to run for president last time, losing to Senator John McCain.
Gingrich, in case anyone has forgotten – or is too young to remember – became speaker of the first republican house since Eisenhower was in the White House. Just two years into President Clinton’s first term, he led the republicans into battle, promising a contract for America. He was a contentious speaker for four years, until he was ultimately fired by his colleagues right in the middle of Clinton’s impeachment trial. Partisanship at its finest.
Now Gingrich thinks that America has forgotten his time in the speaker’s chair and Romney thinks we can’t recall the politically moderate statements he made over two statewide campaigns.
Amazingly, this is the field the republicans have left. Romney has been considered the front runner for the nomination since conceding to McCain. I still believe he has the best shot at the nomination. The GOP, for the better part of the last 30 years, gives the crown to the runner-up from the last time around. No swimsuit competition required (thankfully).
Gingrich, only recently considered a contender, has risen in the polls following the rises and falls of Texas Governor Rick Perry, Representative Michelle Bachmann, and Godfather’s Pizza CEO/serial philanderer Herman Cain. Now, he is not only leading the national polls among republicans, but is ahead of the pack in the early primary states of Iowa, South Carolina and Florida (Romney, as a former neighboring governor, is leading in New Hampshire – for now). If Gingrich wins a majority of those, he will have the momentum going into battleground states.
Is Gingrich challenger de jour to Romney or is he the only viable conservative choice to take down the moderate and often timid Romney? After the rise of the tea party in the last few years, Republicans want someone who will espouse conservative values – and mean them. Gingrich has taken hold among many on the far right. Maybe it is because he is outspoken – to the point of being a little rough around the edges.
Unlike Romney, who has been on both sides of every issue from abortion to gun control to climate change, Gingrich has stuck by his political convictions to a fault. The most extreme example of his rigidness was when he forced a government shutdown twice over a six week period in 1995 and 1996.
If he prevails and wins the nomination next year, maybe he can show his attitude has shifted. But then again, history rarely repeats itself. Or does it?