Henry Clay Syndrome

There’s been a lot of focus on Newt Gingrich since the Herman Cain implosion.  Most of the commotion that’s been created surrounding Gingrich has been that he’s a good attack dog, perhaps he’s the proper vehicle for Republicans to channel their anger and hatred for the President.  Certainly Mr. Gingrich has been using what we call “dog whistle politics,” that is pushing certain buttons that are meant to call out issues that most people aren’t necessarily cognizant of, but most people can figure out when push comes to shove.  The most blatant of which, to me at least, was Gingrich’s jab saying the President could use a teleprompter at one of their three hour marathon debates, which shows just how little Gingrich actually knows about Presidential politics and just as much as he thinks he knows.  Bush couldn’t do anything without a teleprompter, we all know this, but Gingrich likes to pretend that this President is an idiot, just like the little mold he’s created for the President seems to imply, that he’s some sort of Kenyan warlord bent on imposing Sharia law on everyone, but that he’s incapable of doing so without the aid of something as simple as a teleprompter.  The very idea of this line of attack would be laughable if it weren’t so blatantly absurd.

What a lot of Republican voters aren’t taking into account right now is what I call “Henry Clay syndrome.”  You’ve got a guy in Mitt Romney that can deliver around 40% of the electorate for you, but what you’ve got to ask yourself is: is that enough?  Henry Clay ran for President four times.  He lost each time.  When he didn’t run for President, the Whig party candidate won twice.  Clay was upset both times because he felt like that time was a time in which the Whigs would win the White House regardless of the nominee and he felt like they were blatantly keeping him from achieving his dream of becoming President.  For the most part, Clay was probably right.  He could have been elected in place of William Henry Harrison and in place of Zachary Taylor whereas in the elections that he lost it was almost entirely an uphill battle because of the issues, the communication strategies, and the demographics of mainstream American politics.  It’s easy to look at Clay as a tragic figure, someone who probably deserved to be President, but just ran for the office at all the wrong times.  Now look at this in contemporary terms with your Henry Clay figure being Mitt Romney.  Romney can get you a little bit of the vote, but is he capable of putting you over the top?  I doubt it.  The question then becomes: do you put at the top of your ticket a William Henry Harrison or Zachary Taylor figure?  Someone along the lines of Newt Gingrich?  That’s the rub right now in Republican politics.

The argument against Newt is pretty simple: he’s a hypocrite and he’s a high-risk, high-reward politician.  We know about his character issues, but what about the upside that Republicans are looking at right now to put him at the top of the polls?  A lot of people don’t seem to understand that the things that make him popular in the Republican party aren’t things that will translate into a successful Presidential candidate after the convention.  Newt isn’t going to attract independents.  In fact, if anything, he’ll drive them away in droves.  Republicans need to build the “big tent” again to borrow from the 2004 campaign a little.  When George W. Bush won, he did so with the aid, primarily of Hispanics and Jews.  He won a coalition of voters.  There will be no coalition of voters with Newt Gingrich, there will be those who like him and those who don’t, everyone else will either vote incumbent or stay on the sidelines.  The reasoning for this is pretty clear, people aren’t willing to take a chance on someone as unpredictable as Newt Gingrich, heck the guy doesn’t even have a real campaign apparatus, if he did he’d be much further in front of Mitt Romney than he is.

What all of this is going to boil down to for Republicans is can you stick with mainstream America long enough to give yourselves a shot or would you rather be obnoxious and make your point that you hate the President so vitriolically that you’re willing to nominate the biggest dick in the world as your nominee?  Naturally, as a liberal Democrat, I hope it’s the latter because that would make for a pretty easy campaign, but you’ve just got to wonder what the core voters in the Republican party are thinking right now.  Do they really hate black people so much that they’re willing to vote for Newt Gingrich?  In the south, the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes,’ but in the rest of the nation?  I don’t know.  I think New Hampshire is going to be a good early indicator.  Florida isn’t going to matter as much as it traditionally does and all of a sudden it will boil down to states with open primary systems to bail out the GOP.  States with late primaries will all of a sudden be tasked with saving the party from itself.  States like California, Ohio, Illinois, and border states like Missouri, Pennsylvania, Kentucky could wind up deciding who the Republican nominee will be.

For the most part, I don’t see how the elder statesmen in the Republican party could allow Newt Gingrich to be their nominee for the same reason that the elder statesmen in the Whig party didn’t let Henry Clay be their nominee when it really counted.  Sure he could make a statement, but could he win an election?  That’s debatable.  People don’t want a debatable nominee, they want a clear choice and the only clear and tangible choice that Republicans have this time around is Mitt Romney, who like it or not, is the only person in the Republican party running for President who has an actual shot at winning the White House.

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