Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is the current front-runner for the republican presidential nomination. This news doesn’t particularly interest me – it seemed inevitable that Gingrich would have his turn at the top of the polls, just as it seems every individual with their hat in the ring this year will get a turn. But I think some significant differences set apart Gingrich from his competitors’ time at the top of the polls.
It isn’t Gingrich’s status as the current “not-Mitt Romney” candidate that interests me, but rather how he has navigated his campaign thus far. Gingrich faces or has faced the same problems as his fellow candidates on the campaign trail: His record isn’t close to unblemished.
The difference, and why I believe he has longer staying power than other candidates like Texas Gov. Rick Perry or businessman Herman Cain, is timing. Gingrich’s scandals and mishaps came before he was frontrunner – he got them out of the way in time for his climb to the top of the polls and at this point in the campaign it seems voters are worn out and willing to look past the faults in Gingrich that had caused them to turn on other candidates.
Gingrich faced the same sort of scandal that torpedoed Cain’s campaign – infidelity. He has acknowledged “past indiscretions,” most notably an affair with a former congressional aide whom he later married. His past is just as marred as Cain’s but Gingrich had his “scandal” come out even before he was officially running for the nomination.
Gingrich has also solved the problem that plagued Perry. While Perry’s demise came when he had to answer questions during a debate, Gingrich slyly avoids that predicament all together. I’ve watched most of the GOP debates so far and it’s pretty clear to me Gingrich has no intention of directly answering any question posed to him. He goes through the same routine every time: He mocks the question and media in general, comments that the moderators only want the candidates to attack each other and that he won’t stoop to that level, and then gives a vague response stemming from his time as speaker.
What’s even more interesting is the comparison between Romney and Gingrich. A lot of people call Romney on his “flip-flopping” and there’s no denying he’s gone back and forth on issues. But Gingrich, who currently has a 21-percentage-point lead on Romney, has also done his fair share of flip-flopping. Congressman Ron Paul released a television ad on Nov. 30 that highlights some of Gingrich’s past ambivalence but it doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact.
The biggest issue Gingrich is going to have to overcome is his past relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the financial enterprises placed into conservatorship at the onset of the recession in 2008. He hasn’t come totally clean on the topic and a lot of questions remain.
Voters seem to have forgiven the other issues that could plague his campaign for now, which is why I think he’ll stay at the top of the polls longer than Perry or Cain. I don’t, however, think it’ll stay like that forever. If he somehow wins the nomination (I’m still a strong believer it will go to Romney, Gingrich’s past troubles will almost certainly resurface in a general election. For now Gingrich has time on his side – we’ll see how long it lasts.