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Newt Gingrich and “The Lament for Icarus”

In his interview with ABC’s Jake Tapper, Newt Gingrich declared, “I’m going to be the nominee. It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.”

Actually, it’s not that hard.

It’s certainly possible that Gingrich will be the Republican nominee, and he’s certainly stronger than any of the other challengers to Mitt Romney. Unlike the others, Gingrich has the ability to weave a compelling case for his presidency. He can be quite interesting to listen to. And the enthusiasm for Gingrich is undoubtedly growing, at least right now. Still, no votes have been cast. Gingrich himself has, at least until this week, gone untargeted by any Republican candidates. His ground operation is still weak. He is a man whose life has been characterized by enormous indiscipline. And there’s a reason that Gingrich, during his tenure as Speaker of the House, ranked among the most unpopular politicians in America.

Whatever his other (considerable) gifts may be, Newt Gingrich has the ability to rub people–lots of people–the wrong way.

I understand the former House Speaker views himself as a world-historical figure, having recently declared himself to be “much like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher” (an “unconventional political figure that you really need to design a unique campaign” for). But that comparison, too, strikes me as a bit premature.

The mistake often made in politics is that people get caught up in a moment in time; they assume the current state of affairs is (more or less) the way things will be, that the current trajectory will continue and current enthusiasm will remain undimmed. Maybe, or maybe not. But remember: just a few weeks ago Gingrich was still in the middle of the pack. In politics in general, and in presidential primaries in particular, the currents can change swiftly and suddenly, and sometimes brutally. Politicians who seem unbeatable one day might be brought to their knees the next day. To quote Donald Rumsfeld in another context, “Stuff happens.”

A lot of stuff is going to happen between now and the end of the primary season. In the meantime, Gingrich might want to reacquaint himself with this [] painting by Herbert James Draper. It’s titled, “The Lament for Icarus.”



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