Yes, the main loser I have in mind is Bob Dole – aptly (and cruelly) described long ago by Newt Gingrich as “the tax collector for the welfare state.” And, yes, yes, you remember it right: Dole was the fellow who was always trying to raise taxes back in the days of the Reagan administration. But keep in mind: Dole is not alone in his preferences. John McCain has in this contest endorsed the same candidate.
Dole was, if you remember, the Republican standard-bearer in 1996, and he ran a lackluster campaign worthy of comparison with the two campaigns of Thomas E. Dewey, the election campaign of Gerald Ford, the re-election campaign of George H. W. Bush, and the campaign of John McCain. His aim was to be Democrat-lite; he came across as the living dead; and, like these other fellows, he lost.
A while ago, Dole endorsed Mitt Romney, the proud father of the model for Obamacare. Yesterday, he re-emerged to lay into Newt Gingrich, and it is clear that he blames the Speaker of the House for his loss in 1996:
In my run for the presidency in 1996 the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad. He was very unpopular and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it also cost House seats that year. Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty bucket in his hand — that was a symbol of some sort for him — and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it, and I’m not certain he knew either.
The Democrats are spending millions of dollars running negative ads against Romney as they are hoping that Gingrich will be the nominee which could result in a landslide victory for Obama and a crushing defeat for Republicans from the courthouse to the White House. Democrats are not running ads against Gingrich which is further proof they want to derail Governor Romney.
When a guy like Dole loses, you see, it is always someone else’s fault.
There is, of course, a case to be made against Newt Gingrich – and Dole makes it with considerable force:
Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway.
Gingrich served as Speaker from 1995 to 1999 and had trouble within his own party. By 1997 a number of House Republican members wanted to throw him out as Speaker. But he hung on until after the 1998 elections when Newt could read the writing on the wall. His mounting ethics problems caused him to resign in early 1999. I know whereof I speak as I helped establish a line of credit of $150,000 to help Newt pay off the fine for his ethics violations. In the end, he paid the fine with money from other sources.
Gingrich had a new idea every minute and most of them were off the wall. He loved picking a fight with President Clinton because he knew this would get the attention of the press. This and a myriad of other specifics like shutting down the government helped to topple Gingrich in 1998.
Dole’s attack on Gingrich is self-serving. It is intended to provide an excuse for his own fecklessness as a candidate. But this does not necessarily mean that it is wrong. I am hard-pressed to deny what Dole says in these paragraphs. I have spoken with a former House member who was close to Gingrich, and he confirmed the outlines of this tale. “You never knew what he was going to do,” he told me, laughing and shaking his head.
None of this, however, means that Dole’s final statement is reassuring:
In my opinion if we want to avoid a sweeping victory by Obama in November, Republicans should nominate Governor Romney as our standard bearer. He could win because he has the requisite experience in the public and private sectors. He would be a president in whom we could have confidence and he would make us proud.
Here you need to read that statement twice to get the gist. Dole does not say (or think) that Romney will win. He is in his enthusiasm as tepid as tepid can be. He says (and perhaps thinks) that with a lot of luck the proud father of Romneycare might just eke out a victory. After all, he implies, one never knows.
What Dole is willing to assert with some measure of confidence is that Romney will avert “a sweeping victory by Obama in November.” Dole has identified the former Governor as a good loser – who will not do all that much harm to the Republicans running for the Senate or House.
If I thought that Dole was wrong in this last assessment, I would announce my preference for Gingrich. But let’s face it, folks, the criticism he directs at Gingrich and that which I and others have directed at Romney are equally sound.
Mitt Romney is now and has from the start been the only serious candidate in the Republican race, and he is not a man that any sane conservative could be excited about supporting. His record is that of a managerial progressive; he has been elected to office only once in his life; and his conduct in office ruled out his seeking re-election. He is neither a conservative nor a likely winner.
This makes Romney the ideal Republican nominee. He is a losers’ loser – the sort of fellow who will warm the cockles of a loser’s heart. His victory in the party sweepstakes will confirm once again the hegemony within the Republican Party of the managerial progressives, and his loss in the general election will reaffirm within the nation democracy’s soft despotic drift. That is the disposition of things that best suits the Thomas E. Deweys, the Gerald Fords, the George Bushes, the Bob Doles and the John McCains of the world. It was not within the capacity of these men to imagine that one might be able to roll back the administrative entitlements state.
I wrote these words last night before the debate, then stored the draft, thinking that it would be more timely after the event. I would amend it now in one particular. In the previous debates, Mitt Romney came on like a CEO speaking to the board of a company he heads. The tone was managerial; the aim was to demonstrate a mastery of the details and genuine expertise. When speaking to their company's employees, CEOs tend to do the same thing. I was on the receiving end of a fair amount of this sort of rhetoric when I taught at the University of Tulsa. Each new President had an initiative, and in explaining it he droned on and on. It never got anyone excited in the slightest.
Nor did Romney as a candidate. He seemed competent but boring, and he was utterly uninspiring. Forget anger. He lacked fire. It was as if he was putting himself to sleep as he reeled off the spiel that he had memorized in anticipation of addressing the question put to him. He was bloodless, lifeless, and lacked luster. Almost never did he touch anyone's heart. Like your run-of-the-mill CEO (or college President), he left you wondering whether he even had a heart.
Newt Gingrich may not be presidential timber. He is almost certainly a loose canon. But he did Mitt Romney no end of good by bloodying him and defeating him handily in South Carolina. For, last night, for the first time Mitt Romney showed fire. Thanks, no doubt, in part to Michele Bachman's debate coach, thanks in part to desperation, he demonstrated a capacity to get his act in order that we did not know that he possessed. Anger is not prequisite. Spiritedness is. No candidate who fails to take the fight to his rivals can succeed in politics. Romney's record is that of a loser. We have repeatedly witnessed what it is that he lacks. Last night, however, he showed that he may be reluctant to do so but he really can learn from his mistakes.
I hope that Rick Santorum surges and beats Romney in Florida. It will, I think, take at least one more thrashing for the man to learn his lesson. If he does not relapse, however, if he abandons CEO-speak once and for all, if he learns from Gingrich how to frame issues and address them forcefully and succinctly, if he masters the art of speaking directly from the heart to ordinary human beings not in the manner of a business-school professor but as a profoundly concerned fellow citizen, he might actually win -- and in articulating the requisite arguments, he will find himself inexorably drifting further and further to the right. You could see it happening last night.