Since my last post on this topic was an infuriated rant about media double-standards regarding Herman Cain (who?), I'm overdue in returning to the topic.
A lot has happened. The aforementioned Cain completely imploded, exhibiting a frightening lack of self-awareness regarding the skeletons in his closet, not to mention a frightening ignorance of foreign affairs. I'm of the opinion that Cain really did carry on an inappropriate relationship with at least somebody. That's simply because he did not deny it. Saying, "I am at peace with God and my wife" is hardly a stirring denial. A man with that in his history has to have a pretty high self-regard to think he could collect money from donors and run for President and get away with it. For a conservative man to do so is simply delusional. Even John Edwards didn't get away with it, in the end, and he was always a left-wing media darling.
The race is Newt vs. Mitt. Not a lot to inspire confidence, frankly. But you run with the field you've got, not the field you wish you'd've got.
So, my thoughts.
Romney is a milquetoast. I have a hard time respecting a man whose political convictions were forged, seemingly, after age 50. And a guy whose position on abortion changes depending on the mood of the electorate he's trying to court. I also don't trust guys with hair like that. Okay, that's pretty shallow, I know, but two words for you: John Edwards. There's something phony about candidates who look like Ken dolls. Phony hair signals a phony candidate. Now, in his favor is that, at least right now, the political winds are blowing conservative. Thanks largely to Paul Ryan (and unintended help from Barack Obama) the country knows we need to rein in Federal spending and reform the entitlement system. This may mean that, at least in the near term, Romney might be counted on to provide conservative leadership.
His religion will be a problem. I know this will infuriate the Hugh Hewitts of the world, but Mormons are not generally well-regarded in America, and they never have been, from the days of Smith and Young onward. Regardless of polls that seem to indicate otherwise, people do take his Mormonism in account. They lie to pollsters simply because the greatest heresy in America is open bigotry. Now, Hewitt is exactly right that the US Constitution forbids religious tests for holding office. However, all that means is that, if elected, he cannot be denied office because of his religion. It says nothing whatsoever about whether VOTERS can take his religion into account. They can, and they will. And that means that, contrary to popular belief, I do not believe Romney has a leg up on "electability." Quite the contrary.
As I've indicated before on this blog, Mormonism is simply not Christianity and, as a Christian theologian, it is particularly offensive to me how the LDS church seeks affirmation and respectability by attempting to align itself with historic, orthodox Christianity. Mormonism is a uniquely American brand of ancient pagan Gnosticism. Would it keep me from voting for him? No. The choice will be thus: a godless pagan who publicly advocates for conservative, limited, Constitutional government vs. a godless pagan who publicly advocates for unimpeded, centralized government. The religion side of the ledger will remain the same, but the political worldview will change. I'll take it, if I can get it.
Now, Newt Gingrich. I remember the 90s well. I remember how the media destroyed Newt, calling him the "Gingrinch" who stole Christmas and all that. I never thought I would be writing something even remotely serious about Newt and the Presidency. The man seems to have 9 political lives. I'll give him that. My concerns with Newt are probably not the typical evangelical discomfort. The general contours of his personal baggage is well-known. Three marriages, etc. My view is that I really don't know anything about his previous marriages, what went on, how they dissolved. I also know there is quite a bit of misinformation about it floating around (e.g., delivering divorce papers to his wife while she was on her deathbed). Enough to make me somewhat skeptical. I do not believe that the requirements for political office are necessarily the same as the requirements, say, for being a leader in the Church. So I'm going to leave the personal baggage an open question for now.
What are my concerns with Newt? Simply this: he has the same "tragic flaw" as the current occupant of the Oval Office. An incredibly high self-regard, an ineradicable belief that he is a world-historical figure destined for greatness. Put another way: I worry about replacing the current guy with the Messiah complex with another guy with a Messiah complex. Newt has in his favor, of course, that his intellect is vastly superior. But Greek tragedies were written for a reason. People with the tragic flaw of hubris do not succeed in the end. It is possible that someone somewhere may buck that trend, but I'm a bit incredulous that that person is Newt Gingrich.
Not only does Newt have his intellect as an advantage, but he is an excellent communicator, having made a rather lavish living giving speeches. I think he could galvanize a strong conservative wave next year if he can remain disciplined. That is a very big "if." And, finally, his greatest electoral strength is that the last person in American history to actually cut Federal spending and produce a balanced budget is... Newt Gingrich. Yes, he's often erratic and undisciplined, but the 1994 congress gives him conservative bona fides possessed by no other candidate, and it's not even close.
So, my takeaway? Not a lot to be inspired about here. Both Newt and Mitt have big problems. In one way Mitt seems like the "safer" candidate because of Newt's penchant for going off the reservation. That is why the likes of Ramesh Ponnuru and Mona Charen are hammering Newt and advocating for Mitt. But I think they're short-sighted on that. I truly believe that the "safer bet" with Mitt is a mirage and that, when it comes time for a general election, Mitt Romney is considerably less electable than Newt Gingrich. That is contrary to conventional wisdom, I realize. But consider: twice Mitt Romney has run for president. Twice he cannot get more than 25% of Republicans to support him. Three times now a challenger has arisen and immediately garnered the support of the conservative electorate. Republicans are searching for anybody BUT Mitt.
I predict that Newt will be the nominee (as he so modestly proclaimed himself last week- see what I mean about hubris?). This will be a scary thing, a white-knuckle ride hoping he can maintain some messaging discipline, hoping that he's not the same-old Newt, hoping he really has matured and humbled over the years, hoping his conversion to Christianity has knocked him down a few pegs, and hoping that underneath all the world-historical bluster he really is a guy with truly conservative impulses.
I know that we cannot afford (literally) another term for Barack H. Obama.