As Alana pointed out, according to Public Policy Polling, Newt Gingrich is now at the top of the GOP field. And for understandable reasons: he’s performed quite well in the debates, he’s generally excellent during television interviews, he’s targeted the press in almost every debate, and he hasn’t gotten into any spitting matches with the other candidates. He has, in fact, gone out of his way to praise the other candidates. He’s “Uncle Newt,” to quote Fox’s Brit Hume. As the other candidates dissolve or self-destruct and as Mitt Romney continues to face a ceiling on support among conservative voters, Gingrich was bound to rise.
But here’s the thing to keep in mind: other candidates rose, too, before the white hot presidential spotlight turned on them and, to one degree or another, burnt them up. So far in this campaign, Gingrich has avoided that kind of scrutiny, precisely because until now he hasn’t been considered a front runner. Now that he is, he will increasingly become a target. We’ll see it with the press first – and then, if necessary, we’ll see it from the other candidates.
Gingrich has one thing going for him: Unlike Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann, he is used to playing on a big stage. He’s been a national figure for many years. And he knows, at least to some degree, what to expect.
The danger for Gingrich is that he’s something of a target-rich environment, from his personal life (including cheating on two previous wives), to his commercial with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi raising concerns about climate change, to his past support for the Medicare prescription drug plan and an individual mandate in health care, to the $300,000 he received from embattled government mortgage agency Freddie Mac, to much more.
Some of the coverage will be tough and fair; some of it will be tough and unfair. But tough it will be.
Most of the other challengers to Mitt Romney have fallen like bowling pins. Gingrich possesses some far greater skills than they do – but arguably he has some greater flaws as well.
It’ll be fascinating to see how he does as he becomes the focal point of attention, which will – if his rise in the poll continues — be more intense than anything he’s ever experienced (and he’s experienced a lot). For well or ill, it’s the nature of our nominating beast.