Once again, Newt Gingrich’s estimation of his own genius has exceeded reality.
The former House speaker dreams of seeking the presidency in 2008, and on the surface, the road map he drew up a while back makes some sense. For more than a year now, he’s been dropping an unrelenting stream of hints—almost always in a Fox News venue—that he’d be willing to make a late entry into the G.O.P. contest if, come this fall, the party faithful are disheartened by their choices. He’d like to enter the race as a reluctant but principled warrior, “drafted” into service by a desperate party like some modern day Cincinnatus.
His strategy is about half right. Certainly, he was correct to calculate that there’d be a vacuum on the G.O.P. side: A poll just two weeks ago found that “none of the above” leads Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and John McCain among Republican voters, a level of discontent that doesn’t figure to abate anytime soon.
But the second part of the Gingrich equation—in which those “none of the above” adherents decide, en masse, that the answer to their dilemma can be found in the person of a pudgy, condescending, thrice-married 64-year-old Georgian who is viewed favorably by just 27 percent of Americans—is profoundly delusional.
If there were an appetite among Republicans for Mr. Gingrich’s candidacy, it would be evident in the polls by now. He is universally known among the G.O.P. electorate, as are his frequent threats to run. And yet when he’s included in G.O.P. polls, he typically scores in single digits, with no hint of gathering momentum of any sort.
Contrast that with the meteoric rise of Mr. Thompson, who wasn’t even on the presidential radar a year ago. He dropped far fewer hints than Mr. Gingrich that he might want to run, and yet that was enough to set off a veritable Thompson frenzy this spring, with the Tennessean climbing first into double digits and then into the lead in some polls. Mr. Thompson and Mr. Gingrich both spotted the same vacuum, but only Mr. Thompson stirred measurable interest among the Republican base.
Of course, there are signs that the Thompson moment may be already be passing—staff defections, sub-par fund-raising, a delayed announcement schedule, lukewarm reviews of his few public speeches and stalled growth in polls. So far, he has not matched his fellow Republicans’ optimistic expectations.
And so the G.O.P. vacuum that Newt long ago prophesied persists—but his white knight self-fantasy is no less far-fetched than before.
Mr. Gingrich is popular enough with the Republican rank and file, with a favorable-to-unfavorable rating of 46 to 32 percent. For what that’s worth. A presidential nominee is the national face of a political party, the man (or woman) on whom candidates and party supporters across the country pin their hopes. And there is nothing in Mr. Gingrich’s personality or history to inspire confidence among Republicans that he’d fit that role at all.
Sure, Republicans recall with fondness the heady days of late 1994, when Mr. Gingrich and his band of conservative revolutionaries broke 40 years of Democratic Congressional rule—perhaps the party’s proudest accomplishment of the past few decades.