Good Position for Newt

December 8, 2011 8:15 a.m.

I’m listening to a discussion right now on TV about whether Newt Gingrich should (or can continue not to) respond to Mitt Romney as Romney unloads a fusillade of attacks on the new frontrunner.

Eventually, undoubtedly, he’ll have to, if Romney keeps it up. But at least for the moment, keeping quiet, taking the high (non-Newt) road is perfect for him. In part, virtually everything about Newt that’s bad (and the list is almost endless) is known. I’m not including whatever new might be found. But Mitt seems to be going after the old stuff. This is different from a relatively unknown candidate who’s being defined. GOP primary voters know Newt Gingrich. And they’re still buying. So while it’s not great, Newt’s vulnerability isn’t the same as a lot of candidates.The even bigger deal though is that this pose is so deeply out of character for Newt and out of the characteristics that are among Newt’s worst — indiscipline, impetuousness and the characteristic snarl. That was on display nowhere better than in his recent dust-up with Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi made a snarky remark about one of Gingrich’s undeniable vulnerabilities (the 1990s ethics investigations) and Gingrich triples the ante by saying he’ll have her brought up on ethics charges.

Set aside the rights and wrongs and who said what, that’s vintage Gingrich: hit Newt with a nerf bat and he pulls out a bazooka. Like I said, vintage Newt. And in real ways that’s what’s got him back into this race. But it’s also his biggest weakness — especially looking forward to a potential general election. So holding this current pose goes to great lengths for him, at the level of meta-message, telling people he really is a new Newt.

To be clear, I haven’t seen anything that makes me think Newt’s any different than he was 15 years ago. Quite the contrary. But then again, I’m not the audience.

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