Is Newt Trouble for Mitt?

There’s been a running debate in our reader emails today over whether Newt Gingrich is more than just your latest also-ran presidential candidate making their high-octane suborbital flight on the polling charts. TPM Reader EA made the point earlier that Newt is quite a different thing from Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain, who by any measure other than the 2012 presidential cycle are basically jokes. So too with Rick Perry. Yes, he’s run a state for a decade. But he’s never been all that popular even in Texas. And as we’ve seen, he wasn’t ready for the national spotlight. Whatever you think of him, Newt Gingrich has been on the national political stage for almost 35 years. And he held, albeit briefly, one of the highest offices in the land.So does it make a difference. And is it a different order of challenge for Mitt?

I was listening to Hardball today and one of the pundits (I think John Harris — I was listening, not watching) said that to make a credible play for the nomination Newt would have to build a transformation narrative in which voters could plausibly contrast the steadier, more seasoned Newt of today with the more erratic, undisciplined and mercurial (pick your euphemism) Newt of yesterday.

True. The only problem is that the Newt of today is so remarkably like the Newt of yesterday. Ingenious, vain, erratic, fatally indisciplined, inhabiting a world in which it’s always Newt and the common sense masses against the comically moronic minority of his enemies (usually post-socialist Liberal Elites) who somehow are managing to lord it over everyone else. In other words, Newt Gingrich.

But as EA points out, these conservatives audiences are eating that up. And why shouldn’t they? Despite being a fiercely polarizing and unpopular figure on the national stage Gingrich has almost always been a crowd pleaser among conservatives. And he should be able to keep delivering this performance basically forever. He won’t forget which country Libya is. And he won’t fall asleep during a debate.

The big problem for Newt is that Republican power brokers will not let him within 30 miles of the Republican nomination. A win is just too close. Why throw that away on someone as toxic, erratic and unpopular as Newt? Newt is a creature of the conservative Id, churning with resentment and provocation. Someone like Mitt can learn the buzzwords. But it’s Newt’s world. He half created it. Mitt may have to live there with him for the next several months. But politically Gingrich has never able to live outside of that world. In the end, he won’t beat Mitt because he can’t beat Obama.