If It Feels Dangerous, Go There: The Newt Gingrich Method


When the updated Battlestar Galactica ended a few years ago, I recall watching a behind-the-scenes special of some sort in which series creator Ron Moore said that he didn't ask his writers to plan too far ahead with any of the show's long-running storylines. Instead, the priority he gave them was, "if it feels dangerous, go there." It was a writing strategy that prized risk and shocking revelation over long-term narrative planning. And I think it does a nice job of capturing Newt Gingrich's approach to public life.

Gingrich is, among other things, a serial doomsayer. He's constantly warning that the fate of nation (and whoever else is listening) is at stake, and there may ne no way to survive without installing Gingrich at the helm. But as often as not, his warnings sound as if he just stopped at the buzzword buffet and stacked his plate with everything he could find.

My favorite? In March, he mentioned his two grandchildren, then described the dire future they might face: "I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." A secular country! Dominated by radical Islamists! It would be funny if I hadn't seen this week's poll numbers. (OK, maybe it's funny anyway.)

But with Gingrich rising rapidly in key states like Florida and Ohio, I also wonder if a considerable segment of the Republican base—the segment looking for an alternative presidential nominee to Mitt Romney—isn't also pursuing a similar sort of if-it-feels-dangerous path when it comes to picking a presidential nominee. Here's a report from today's Boston Globe on The Rise of the Gingrich:

He has surged to the top of the polls, having been crowned the latest Tea Party favorite by the movement's rank and file. 

Newt Gingrich's appeal is not universal among Tea Party conservatives, but for now he is their anointed warrior, boosted by his string of fiery debate performances filled with irreverent quips. 

As Gingrich courts the group that will be so crucial to his success in Iowa and beyond, Gallup's latest poll of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents has him winning 47 percent of voters nationally who say they support the Tea Party movement. (More than half of Republicans consider themselves Tea Party supporters.) A month ago, Gingrich garnered 18 percent of Tea Party support, behind Herman Cain and Mitt Romney.

"Obviously, he's really kind of taken over among that group," said Jeff Jones, the Gallup Poll's managing editor. "They've been casting about, looking for someone who is a better fit for them than Romney is. It looks like everyone's had their chance and basically squandered it, so that leaves Gingrich."

Considering the rise of the Tea Party and the GOP's current priority list, dominated as it is by domestic policy issues and a focus on reducing federal spending, it's perfectly clear why many in the party's base might be uncomfortable with handing the nomination to Romney. But as I've argued before, it's much less clear why they'd unify around Gingrich as their one and only not-Mitt. 

Given Gingrich's record of following hype over substance, his cartoonishly inflated sense of his own importance, and his penchant for self-destruction (is Gingrich so obsessed with disaster because he's always on the brink of it himself?), he's a risky choice at best. Which may also be his draw; after all, risk is exciting, at least for a while. I sympathize. I liked Battlestar Galactica for the first several seasons; it had a lot of exciting ideas and seemed unusually willing to challenge TV-drama conventions. But in the end, the writers couldn't pull all their dangerous ideas together into a coherent whole, and it collapsed. 

Here's Steve Chapman on why it would be a mistake to support Gingrich over Romney