I will admit that I have had my frustrations with Peggy Noonan, particularly in 2008. That said, she has an uncanny ability sometimes to get to the root of something. Her column on Newt Gingrich comes as close as anything I have seen written to expressing my uneasiness with the man.
Ethically dubious? True. Intelligent and accomplished? True. Has he known breathtaking success and contributed to real reforms in government? Yes. Presided over disasters? Absolutely. Can he lead? Yes. Is he erratic and unreliable as a leader? Yes. Egomaniacal? True. Original and focused, harebrained and impulsive—all true.
Do you want evidence he’s a Burkean conservative? Start with welfare reform in 1996. A sober, standard Republican? Go to the balanced budgets of the Clinton era. Is he a tea partier? Sure, he speaks the slashing lingo with relish. Is he moderate? Yes, that can be proved. Michele Bachmann this week called him a “frugal socialist,” and there’s plenty of evidence of that, too.
All true. And this is the problem. All about navigating the winds of policy, the destination is an after thought. In other words, all policy, no principle. And I don’t believe for a second he has changed because his campaign has been a microcosm of his career. Stake out a position, back track, deny, change course, move on. I want a president as committed to some fundamental principles and Newt does not seem to have them.
And then there is the other thing about Newt. If Newt wins the nomination he has to beat Obama. And here Noonan describes my fear (a fear I don’t have much about Romney) and this part she really nails.
Those who know him fear—or hope—that he will be true to form in one respect: He will continue to lose to his No. 1 longtime foe, Newt Gingrich. He is a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, “Watch this!”
What they fear is that he will show just enough discipline over the next few months, just enough focus, to win the nomination. And then, in the fall of 2012, once party leaders have come around and the GOP is fully behind him, he will begin baying at the moon. He will start saying wild things and promising that he may bomb Iran but he may send a special SEAL team in at night to secretly dig Iran up, and fly it to Detroit, where we can keep it under guard, and Detroiters can all get jobs as guards, “solving two problems at once.” They’re afraid he’ll start saying, “John Paul was great, but most of that happened after I explained the Gospels to him,” and “Sure, Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize, but only after I explained how people can think fast, slow and at warp speed. He owes me everything.”
Newt in a NUTshell.