As Newt Gingrich has catapulted ahead of the rest of the GOP field, he’s now experiencing the early phase of what will be a relentless, weeks-long assault by the other candidates, former House colleagues, and what some conservatives scornfully call “the establishment.”
It’s reasonable to assume that the sheer number and velocity of the charges will take their toll on Gingrich. But part of me wonders.
To explain why, it might be worth recalling an episode from the original “Star Trek” series, “The Immunity Syndrome,” in which the Enterprise encounters an enormous, single-cell amoeba. The crew eventually realizes that the amoeba is surrounded by a zone of darkness that is a negative energy force in which everything works in reverse. Using phasers wouldn’t hurt the creature; it would actually strengthen it. “That thing would probably like phasers,” Captain Kirk speculates. “It eats power.” (The creature is eventually destroyed by using an anti-matter charge.)
In some respects, that seems to be happening right now with the former Speaker. Much of the conservative intelligentsia is unloading on Gingrich. In my judgment, many of their concerns are warranted. On several occasions I’ve expressed my own deep worries and disagreements with Gingrich, even as I readily admit that he possesses some impressive political skills and has some impressive accomplishments on his resume. But it appears as if these criticisms are, at least for some GOP voters, taken as evidence that Gingrich is the right man for this moment. One senses that for some significant number of conservatives, Gingrich’s past mistakes are history, forgiven if not forgotten. He is, the argument goes, a new Newt – a convert to Catholicism, happily married, well-grounded, at peace with himself and the world around him.
I’m skeptical. Gingrich continues to be, at least in some important respects, chronically undisciplined and erratic. I rather doubt he has been able to overcome the patterns of a lifetime. But many Republican voters may believe the worst of Gingrich is gone and the best of Gingrich remains. The attacks on Gingrich may only serve to make him stronger, as if the criticisms of him testify to his virtues. He becomes more–not less–attractive.
I don’t pretend to understand why this is the case. It seems to me if many of those who served by your side, or under your leadership, are frightened by the prospect of your nomination, that is worth taking into account. Yet an awful lot of grass-roots voters may interpret things a lot differently than I do.
It’s early yet – but right now, at this juncture, the bullets seem to be bouncing off Gingrich’s chest. If this continues, Mitt Romney better hope he can find a canister of anti-matter.