By Tim Dunkin
This Republican primary season has been one of the most contention, and interesting, that I have seen in a while. As never before, we see that the heart and soul of the Republican Party really is at stake, as four different visions for the GOP, and the nation as a whole, compete to see who will represent the Party in the general election. I think the general consensus (which I share) is that none of the four candidates left – Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul – are who most conservatives and Republicans would like to have had for our choices. Nevertheless, at this point, unless you're subscribing to the extremely unlikely idea of a brokered convention with a white knight sweeping in to rescue us from all our woes, we are going to have to choose from one of the horses tied to the post, and run with him.
As I've intimated above, none of the present choices are ideal, from my perspective. Nevertheless, out of the four available, I have found myself increasingly drawn to one candidate – Newt Gingrich – and have stuck with him through thick and thin, because I believe he is the best choice from among those available. Further, as I've gained more information about him, and the other candidates, I've found that a lot of what is commonly "known" about Gingrich isn't really so. In fact, as a movement conservative – one who occupies that Reaganesque region where fiscal conservatism, social conservatism, and foreign policy realism conjoin – I've arrived at the conviction that Newt Gingrich, and only Newt Gingrich, has what it takes to reasonably represent true broad-based conservatism in the upcoming general election.
Looking at the other candidates first, I've previously stated why I don't support Ron Paul, so I won't belabor that point. As for Mitt Romney, I simply do not consider him to be a credible choice for anyone claiming to be in any wise conservative. There is practically no substantive difference between him and Barack Obama. As I observed in another venue a few days ago,
"You know, even two years ago, if somebody had told me that the Republican Party was this close to nominating a pro-abortion, pro-gay, tax-raising, anti-gun, pro-government run health care, anti-energy development, global warming believing, anti-religious freedom, pro-wage controls, Medicare-defrauding, Wall Street bailout supporting, left-wing judge nominating socialist, I would have laughed in their face."
Yet, the GOP seems to be on the cusp of doing exactly this – and likely dooming itself as a viable major Party from here on out.
And yes, I know that Romney supporters can try to argue that RomneyCare was slightly different than ObamaCare, or that it was only at the state level instead of the federal, but the fact remains that, just like Barack Obama, Mitt Romney's first instinct on the issue was to subject the free market and individual choice to government control, bringing a significant portion of the economy under state control. That will be his instinct on everything else, as well. No thanks.
So, the Republican Party needs to be saved from itself, and from the poor decision-making capacity of the GOP "elite" that is more concerned about going along to get along a la Gerald Ford, Bob Dole, and John McCain than it is about taking a stand for conservative principles and what is right for the country.
So, it falls to Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Concerning Santorum, I find him somewhat more acceptable, at least, than I do Mitt Romney. At least when Rick Santorum claims to be socially conservative, to oppose abortion and the radical homosexual agenda, I believe him.
The problem is that while he's solid on social issues, he's shaky on fiscal ones. The fact is, Rick Santorum was a big government "conservative" when he was in the Congress and the Senate. He often voted against bills that would have streamlined and eliminated government waste, especially when programs like AmTrak and the National Endowment for the Arts were at stake. He voted against food stamp and Medicare reform. He supported making Medicare Part B an entitlement program. He voted against tax repeals, including a decrease in gas taxes, and voted for imposing taxes on everything from tobacco to the internet, including one tax increase that went to fund an AmTrak "trust fund." He voted against striking the marriage penalty from the tax code. Many of his votes were very union-friendly and harmful to the taxpayers. Despite his current noise against ObamaCare, Santorum at one point supported allowing states to impose health care mandates that are even stricter than those imposed by ObamaCare. He voted to increase spending on the Department of Education, as well as other departments that involve big-government imposition into areas where the government has no business being. He voted for a billion dollar bailout of the steel industry. He has voted to allow legal aliens to collect social security and welfare benefits, which helped to get that whole ball rolling. And this listing is just a small portion of what I could write, but won't for the sake of space.
So when people say that Rick Santorum is a big-government conservative, it really is true.
Likewise, Santorum's record on other issues ranging from the 2nd amendment to campaign finance reform is not very good. Many of his votes on foreign policy and defense related issues show a dangerous naivete, especially in dealing with state sponsors of terrorism. Many of the judges he supported were quite unfortunate; for instance, Santorum voted for Sonya Sotomayor when she was nominated for a circuit judge position, helping to launch her career on the bench that has led to her being the detrimental and destructive influence on the Supreme Court that she now is, and will be for many years to come.
Ultimately, Rick Santorum's approach to the role of government can be summed up in his statement in 2008 where he was addressing exactly that topic,
"This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don't think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn't get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn't get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can't go it alone."
To the extent that genuine conservatives understand that individuals "can't go it alone," the solution is the volunteer society that De Tocqueville observed in America and which prevailed in America for so long, the one where individuals and families band together into voluntary societies and organizations, secular or religious, to get things done for themselves without relying on the government to do it for them. The fact that Rick Santorum seems to believe that the role of the volunteer society more properly belongs with the government ought to set off all kinds of warning bells in the minds of conservatives.
So, now that I've explained my problems with the other candidates, what do I have to say in favor of Newt Gingrich, who also has a number of flaws that have been brought up against him? Well, let's address some of these one by one.
Let's start with Newt's marital history, since this is one place where the more sanctimonious of the Santorum supporters always like to start. Yes, Newt has a less than stellar marital history. I think everybody, friend or foe, grants this. Of course, what a lot of people forget is that the backstory for a lot of it involved him being taken advantage of by an older woman when he was a teenager, and a second wife who actually approached him for the separation and divorce, rather than the other way around. Or in other words, most likely everything you think you know about "Newt's marital history" is wrong. He didn't ask his wife for a divorce when she was on her deathbed with cancer. He didn't ask for an "open marriage." And these remain the case, no matter how much you would like to believe otherwise.
The fact of the matter is that for the past twelve years, Gingrich has been just as happily and faithfully married as any of the other three candidates. He has said that he has repented of the sins he committed earlier with regard to his previous marriages. And, unlike many things that politicians claim to have changed about, the fact that Newt genuinely seems to have been faithfully and happily married for the last twelve years suggests that his repentance on this is authentic. Yes indeed, he was a hypocrite before, but he does not seem to be so now, and I see no reason to simply assume that he still is, as many of Santorum's supporters seem to do. In short, it's a dead and moot issue, and hanging onto it is more a sign of desperate sanctimony than genuine concern over morality.
Alright, so what about Newt, Nancy Pelosi, and the couch? As well, what about some of Newt's other strayings from the true path over the years, such as his earlier support for an individual mandate as a form of health care reform, or his support for Dede Scozzafava over Doug Hoffman in the 2009 special election for New York's 23rd congressional district, or his consulting work with Freddie Mac? He's said that he was wrong about manmade global warming and the individual mandate. Perhaps this is just flipflopping like we would expect from Mitt Romney, or perhaps it's a genuine change of heart made by a man who realized he was wrong on these issues. I'm inclined to believe the latter, because unlike Mitt Romney, Gingrich has a historical core of conservatism dating back to his entry into Congress in 1979. Gingrich has historical conservative substance that suggests his straying is just that – straying, rather than these failures being part of his core ideological makeup. At least with the issue of global warming, it's doubtful that he'd be pushing as hard for the expansion of fossil fuel exploration and use as he is in the present campaign if he really believed in manmade climate change.
So, he consulted for Freddie Mac? Well, not really. Freddie Mac was one client among many of a consulting firm that was founded by Gingrich. His firm, however, did not engage in "lobbying" for Freddie Mac, as some mainstream media sources have tried to say. Gingrich did not "help Freddie Mac avoid adverse pending legislation" in Congress. In fact, Newt was on the record as urging House Republicans to oppose the bailout of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
So, why did Gingrich support an abject RINO like Dede Scozzafava over a solid conservative like Doug Hoffman? That, indeed, was a case of extremely poor decision-making on Newt's part – something that he has readily admitted and recanted. He has said that he did so because he almost always supported the Party nominee over an independent candidate against a Democrat. I do not agree with this sort of blind party loyalty. But we should also note that even Doug Hoffman himself has told conservatives that they shouldn't hold it against Newt. However, to Santorum's supporters who want to continue to make an issue of it, I have two words – Arlen Specter.
Essentially, though, I agree that Newt Gingrich is not the perfect candidate or the perfect conservative. But he is better than the others.
Let's face it – when you get right down to brass tacks, Gingrich has more actual conservative accomplishments than the other three remaining Republicans combined.
It was under Newt's leadership in the House that Republicans pass serious and successful welfare reforms in the face of a hostile Democrat President. It was also on Gingrich's watch that the largest capital gains cuts tax in U.S. history was forced onto that same Democrat President, a law which also included many beneficial changes to our tax law with regards to investments and inheritances. Gingrich also led the Congress and cowed President Clinton into accepting a balanced federal budget using a budget plan that included both tax cuts to spur economic growth and spending cuts and the streamlining of government waste. So when people talk about the balanced budget during the Clinton years, it's Gingrich, and not Clinton, that we have to thank. Additionally, there were a host of much smaller and less dramatic reforms that the Gingrich-led GOP were able to see passed, even things as simple ,yet difficult to enact, as the accountability law that required congressmen to be bound by the same regulations and other laws that businesses have been forced to abide.
Concerning social issues, does Santorum have the advantage over Newt? Not really. Gingrich has a solidly pro-life voting record. It was under his leadership in the House that the first Partial Birth Abortion ban was passed – though this was unfortunately vetoed by President Clinton. Newt has repeatedly called for strict constructionist judges to be installed into the judiciary – so we can pretty much take it as a given that he wouldn't support the sort of radical, gay-agenda driving judges that Romney routinely nominated for the bench in Massachusetts. If we want to talk about a "pro-family" candidate, then you don't get much more truly pro-family than the sort of welfare reform that Newt supported and shepherded through Congress – the breakdown of the nuclear family, the cause of so much woe and distress in America, can be traced back in good part to the irresponsible welfare state created by "progressives" over the last fifty years that has undermined the stability and position of the family unit in our society. Gingrich made a valiant effort at bringing this to a halt. Simply put, Newt Gingrich is socially conservative, and hence, there's no pressing reason for social conservatives to find him less attractive on these issues than Santorum.
Newt has a proven track record of leadership. He led the Republican Party to victory in the 1994 election cycle with his Contract for America, gaining control of the House for the first time since 1954. As noted above, most of the conservative legislative reforms that Republicans pushed through under Gingrich's leadership were done over and against the opposition of an unwilling Democrat President. In the private sector, Newt has started a number of successful businesses that have proven to be quite profitable.
One thing that I think is important to note about Newt Gingrich is that he is the closest of all the remaining GOP candidates to the movement conservatism that began to take shape in the 1960s under the leadership of conservative intellectuals and activists like Russell Kirk and Richard Viguerie and which eventually culminated in the Reagan administration and Gingrich's own congressional leadership after the 1994 "Republican Revolution." Movement conservatism serves as a balancing force, uniting fiscal, social, and foreign policy conservatism into a rational whole, a worldview that doesn't simply focus on one or a few issues, but understands all the issues more comprehensively. While the self-proclaimed "fiscal" or "social" conservative might try to isolate a certain set of issues – those they claim as "their own" - into a distinct block, and then advance these as the "most important" (often to the point of becoming "single issue" voters), the movement conservative understands that all of these issues are inseparable, and that you can't deal in one area without it affecting others.
For instance, welfare spending is not simply a "fiscal" issue concerning costs or budgeting, but also has serious social impact on the stability of the family, on the increase in out-of-wedlock births, and other social ills which, in turn, feedback into the "fiscal" issues relating to who's going to pay for dealing with the effects of these ills. Abortion, as an issue, has both moral and fiscal impacts. The gay agenda, likewise, extends into both these realms and cannot be neatly partitioned off into one easily-ignorable areas, as much as "fiscal" conservatives might like for it to be. And so forth. The movement conservative understands that to advance the conservative agenda, you have to care about all aspects of conservatism and its directions, not just the particular parts that happen to interest or appeal to you.
Out of all the candidates remaining, Gingrich appears to be the only one who really "gets" this, and this is likely because he is the only one who has any real experience at dealing with practical policy questions from a leadership and policy formulation standpoint.
Newt is also the only candidate remaining who I really trust to actually fight for our principles. Mitt Romney won't, for the simple reason that he doesn't hold to our principles. I can easily see a nominated Mitt Romney telling voters that Obama's not really all that bad, and they don't really need to fear his reelection, a la John McCain in 2008. Rick Santorum just doesn't seem to have the fighting spirit in him like Newt does – Santorum does well enough when he needs to hit somebody on health care or abortion for a day or so, but his staying power seems to be quite lacking. And Ron Paul, well, if you want a candidate who will whine and criticize another candidate for being "anti-Muslim," I guess he's your man. Like I said before, "No thanks."
So, imperfect candidate that he is, Newt Gingrich has found his place as my choice for the Republican nomination. In him, at least, I feel I find a candidate I can vote for, rather than having to simply settle for being my vote "against" the other guy. Newt the movement conservative is the only one of the four who really "gets it" with respect to the issues and ideology surrounding this election. He's the only guy who will really take the fight to Obama, instead of simply reacting to the latest Democrat sound bite thrown his way. He's the only one of the four who has been articulating broad-based conservative principles on the stump (which is why, despite every wave of Romney-funded slash-and-burn attacks, he nevertheless seems to rebound as people actually get to hear what he has to say, rather than what Romney's ads say he says). He's the one who has been sticking to the core issues of this election like energy costs and spending and the debt.
So let me say it – Newt 2012.