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Newt For President?

With just 581 days left until the 2012 Presidential election, the political world is buzzing with speculation about which GOP candidate will challenge President Obama. Among the not-yet-running candidates is former Republican speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who brought the GOP back to power in Congress for the first time in 40 years during the 1990s with his “Contract with America.”

Gingrich is notorious for incurring over 80 ethics violation charges as speaker of the House and leading the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, all while having multiple affairs himself. These problems constitute what the media is calling Gingrich’s “personal and political baggage” that may keep him from the White House. Although Gingrich is praised as an intellectual powerhouse and expert policymaker, his infidelity during his first two marriages is frequently cited by his opponents as a lack of self-control. Further, it casts a negative light on his image as a “family values” conservative.

While Gingrich stepped down from public office in 1998 due to terrible approval ratings, he has re-entered the public stage by becoming a contributor to Fox News. Although Gallup polls have shown that his approval ratings are higher among Fox viewers, the rest of the population may still have the unpopular Newt Gingrich of the Clinton administration on their minds. If he decides to pursue the nomination for the party which espouses family values, I believe that his personal and political missteps stand in the way of a successful candidacy.

The former speaker is unlikely to win the Republican nomination because his personal mistakes strike an unwelcome chord of hypocrisy and immorality with the conservative Republican base. If conservatives take issue with his serial infidelity, the major obstacle will be the Republican primaries in early 2012. Since the primary election is restricted to the conservative Republican base, Gingrich’s yet-to-be-declared candidacy will likely end there if Republican voters deem that he does not embody the “family values” of the Republican Party. This would especially become a problem if he encounters an ideal conservative like Mike Huckabee.

Even if he wins the nomination in the 2012 primaries, the rest of the population may still view him as unfavorably as they did when he left office 14 years ago. A Gingrich presidency is unlikely in almost all cases because he will face significant problems in both in the primaries and the general election.

Gingrich’s personal life is just one issue inhibiting a successful presidential run. Even with the inherent Republican support that comes from winning a nomination, Gingrich must mindfully avoid the path taken in 2008 by John McCain. Instead, he should focus his attention on rebuilding his tarnished image in the eyes of moderates. Success in the election is impossible without courting this base.

While John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate was a successful move in winning him support with the previously ambivalent conservative base, doing so probably cost him votes from moderates and right-leaning independents. If Gingrich happens to end up in McCain’s position, he should focus on garnering the support of moderates dissatisfied with the Obama administration while simultaneously working to rebuild his image.

Despite these maneuvers that could possibly result in a successful presidential run, the odds do not look good for the former speaker. To take the White House, Gingrich will need to get the support of the large group of moderates that McCain failed to win over in 2008. Luckily for whomever the GOP selects, many moderates who voted Democrat in 2008 are dissatisfied with Obama’s presidency thus far and will likely be looking elsewhere.

In terms of winning the independent vote, however, Gingrich’s strongly conservative policy positions put him in a perhaps more difficult position than pre-Palin, who was perceived as a “maverick” and moderate Republican. Gingrich has a lot of work to do if he is going to win over moderates and independents.

However slim the odds may seem, the first step for Gingrich will be to figure out his chances in the Republican primaries where, with the Republican base watching, his personal mistakes will be a huge issue and may cost him the nomination. Even if he manages to scrape by, his lack of “family values” will cease to be a national issue. Instead, the issue will become whether the American people are ready to forgive Gingrich for all of his missteps.

Tyler Hunt is a third-year political science major. He can be reached at thhunt@uci.ed