Newt’s not running

Dateline: 03 October 2007

So, Newt Gingrich is not running for President. This is no particular surprise, and this columnist did not expect that he would. The recent speculation in the media – and the announcement that he would not run – were both designed to maximize coverage for his American Solutions policy conference.

Does it matter that he is not running? And will he throw his support behind any of the candidates?

In one sense the fact that he is not running is a shame. He has the most fertile mind in American politics. His campaign would have shifted the political debate, and mostly in positive directions. The question is, with the media obsessing on politics rather than on policy – on the results of opinion polls and questions of who is up and who is down – will Gingrich, as a non-candidate, be able to influence the debate? Common Sense certainly hopes so. And, had he run, there is a risk that his ideas would all have been weighed against opinion polls. His ideas might have been dismissed as long as he trailed other candidates in popularity. (And he would have trailed other candidates. His political skills do not match his policy skills).

One other implication of the announcement is that the list of candidates on the Republican side is now closed. Newt had the name recognition and the network of contacts to enter at this stage. The one other non-candidate with both of these assets – Jeb Bush – has been very clear that he is not running. No-one else can enter at this stage and affect the race. On the Democrat side, Al Gore still has a window in which to decide.

Will Gingrich back one of the existing candidates?

He has made positive noises about Mitt Romney in the past and more recently about Fred Thompson. The recent speculation about a possible Gingrich candidacy was based on the suggestion that Thompson had not performed as well as some conservatives had hoped – either in polls or in fund-raising. The Thompson camp raised impossibly high expectations around his fund-raising, which was a clear tactical error. His best performance in polling so far has been a statistical dead-heat with Rudy Giuliani. If this is a floor on which he can build, then he is in a strong position. But after months of speculation and waiting, there is a chance that the polling around his announcement will turn out to be his peak performance.

Common Sense believes that Gingrich will not formally endorse someone until after the Iowa caucuses. Probably he will hold off until his endorsement could prove decisive or until someone offers him something he can’t refuse. The offer may not be a position – it might simply be some key part of his policy agenda.

When it comes, Gingrich’s endorsement could matter. Romney and Giuliani might both find it difficult to win support among conservatives, especially in the south. Gingrich carries a lot of weight with these groups. If either of these becomes the candidate, Gingrich could matter to them in reassuring a very doubtful, but essential, part of the Republican coalition.

There is another sense in which Gingrich could matter more to Giuliani or Romney than he could to Thompson or McCain. When the head of the ticket is from outside Washington he needs someone who understands Capitol Hill on the team, perhaps as running mate. FDR – a governor – chose a Speaker as his running mate, and won 42 out of 48 states.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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