When all is said and done, which one is is, for lack of a better word, preferable?
People have talked for months, perhaps years, about Mitt Romney’s inconsistencies, about how they feel uncertain as to what position Romney would hold on a particular issue. The story is getting old and tired, but allow me to summarize: for Romneycare, then against the very similar Obamacare; pro-choice, then anti-abortion; pro-gay marriage, then favoring a constitutional definition of marriage.
There are other criticisms of Romney out there: too cautious, too plastic, too “moderate.”
But somehow I remain about as confident in Mitt Romney’s predictability as in Newt Gingrich’s, which is to say not as confident as I’d like but more than confident enough to support him in the general election.
Mr. Gingrich is a good speaker and debater, if prone to occasionally engaging his mouth before his brain. (To be sure, he seems quite focused on rhetorical self-discipline of late.) He’s a tremendous self-promoter; yes, all politicians must be, but Mr. Gingrich is particularly adept.
And he certainly plays a conservative on TV.
But Mr. Gingrich has had at least as many and at least as large changes on policy views as Mitt Romney has.
He was for an individual health care mandate before being against it (while blaming his view on the Heritage Foundation, which does indeed have some responsibility here). He was for some version of cap and trade before he was against it. (Cap and trade would be even more damaging to our nation than Obamacare is.) He was, apparently for profit, for Freddie Mac before he was against it. And I still don’t really understand his positions on U.S. involvement in Libya.
Despite all this, and despite not being able to entirely disagree with Jon Stewart’s assertion that Newt has a certain “dickishness,” I can’t say that I prefer Romney to Gingrich by enough to commit to him. I can say that the argument that Gingrich is somehow the true conservative while Romney is the faux-conservative rings hollow.
One of the most common questions you’ll hear these days in political discussions among Republicans is whether they’re more focused on electability or on principle. (I’m focused on the former, whereas I was focused on the latter in 2008.) The common wisdom throughout this cycle has been that electability is Romney’s strong suit and Gingrich’s Achilles’ heel.
However, even this question is now a head-scratcher. In a CBS News poll released Tuesday, “31 percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers said Gingrich had the best chance among the current GOP field to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012. Twenty-nine percent said Romney had the best chance.” Given that Iowa’s likely caucus-goers are much more conservative than the general population, one must somewhat discount their view on who is most electable in terms of its being representative of the broader electorate.
A pair of recent national polls by Rasmussen Reports shows Gingrich ahead of President Obama by two points, but Obama ahead of Romney by two points. It was the first poll by a major polling company during this entire cycle that showed Gingrich beating Obama, and it was the worst showing for Romney versus Obama in several weeks (among the polls included in the RealClearPolitics average).
However, a poll taken of voters in the very important state of Florida during the same time frame by the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling showed Romney one point behind Obama, but Gingrich six points behind.
Dick Morris has taken on the issue, to suggest that if your focus is conservatism, you probably are for Newt, whereas if your focus is on the economy and jobs, you probably are for Mitt, saying of Romney that “this guy really understands jobs… He would probably be the best president we ever had when it comes to the economy.” He also notes that a conservative Congress would keep Romney in line if he were to drift leftward.
But “Gingrich on the other hand is a reliable social conservative and a very creative one.” Morris says that while Newt can get too creative for his own good, Gingrich would be “the most intelligent president we’ve had since John Kennedy.”
Morris’s point is that the choice of candidate “really depends less on the candidates than on you. Is your chief priority in this thing turning the economy around and bringing us back to a really good, healthy long-term posture of economic growth? Or is your priority undoing the left-wing radical social-engineering agenda of the Obama presidency?”
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