The case for Newt
Whether his recent rise in the polls will last, Newt Gingrich has already shifted Campaign 2012 for the better. The feisty former speaker of the House has reminded us through his debate performances that knowledge is an important part of a president’s work.
That a president must know something seems obvious. But our nation’s opinion writers (myself included) have often ranked knowledge behind a candidate’s character, electability or even, simply, novelty. And in the past voters have often done the same.
Gingrich doesn’t project electability or character in the sense we usually mean. “Character” is what you want your daughter to marry. You don’t want your daughter to marry Newt. Nor does he have the purity of inexperience. Gingrich isn’t like Palin or Herman Cain. He’s an insider’s insider, with all the dirt and baggage that connotes.
But Gingrich does project a terrifying authority of policy knowledge. Voters have been warming to him because he’s right — about the budget, about Social Security reform, about plenty of other substantive themes.
Where Newt has really shined in the debates is his ability to know more about the issues than the people asking the questions. Voters like that in a candidate. The media, not so much.In a recent debate in Texas, Gingrich and Cain each showed some fluency in talking about Medicare. But when Cain was asked whether he preferred a defined-benefit plan or premium supports for Medicare, he smiled and passed the ball. Gingrich clarified what a defined benefit was — a mandate for government to pay for health care — and then highlighted the kind of triage that happens when government gets involved in the medical system.