Merry Christmas, Newt

I was still in bed this morning when I heard the words come out of David Gregory’s mouth on “Meet the Press” (by the way, I don’t condone waking up to the sound of Gregory’s voice — I’ll be trying to shake that for the rest of the day). Half-asleep, I thought I had surely misheard him. Then he repeated it: Newt Gingrich won the endorsement of New Hampshire’s most influential (and conservative) newspaper, the Manchester Union Leader.

This is a big moment for the former speaker. The Union Leader’s is one of the few endorsements in a presidential cycle that’s worth its weight in gold and it solidifies him as Romney’s main rival heading into primary season.

Two things in the endorsement stick out. The first is the rationale for Newt, which was virtually transcribed from Rob’s description of his family’s views on this week’s episode of the main podcast:

America is at a crucial crossroads. It is not going to be enough to merely replace Barack Obama next year. We are in critical need of the innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing.

He did so with the Contract with America. He did it in bringing in the first Republican House in 40 years and by forging balanced budgets and even a surplus despite the political challenge of dealing with a Democratic President. A lot of candidates say they’re going to improve Washington. Newt Gingrich has actually done that, and in this race he offers the best shot of doing it again.

The other revealing excerpt is the thinly-veiled shot at Romney. This is particularly relevant because this is the kind of sentiment that a lot of political wise men thought would be exhausted before the voting started:

Readers of the Union Leader and Sunday News know that we don’t back candidates based on popularity polls or big-shot backers. We look for conservatives of courage and conviction who are independent-minded, grounded in their core beliefs about this nation and its people, and best equipped for the job.

We don’t have to agree with them on every issue. We would rather back someone with whom we may sometimes disagree than one who tells us what he thinks we want to hear.

Newt Gingrich is by no means the perfect candidate. But Republican primary voters too often make the mistake of preferring an unattainable ideal to the best candidate who is actually running.

Buckle your seat belts, folks. The road to the White House is about to get very bumpy for all involved.