Never at a loss for a historical analogy or insight, Newt Gingrich has reportedly described his stunning debacle in being deprived of a spot on the Virginia Republican primary ballot as a rerun of the catastrophe of Pearl Harbor. Though he’s undoubtedly mad about falling victim to Virginia’s onerous ballot qualification requirements, the former speaker isn’t necessarily comparing the state’s petition inspectors to the Japanese who treacherously attacked the U.S. fleet. Rather, he sees it as a case of a terrible defeat from which he will learn and rebound in the coming campaign as America did during the war in the Pacific. But unless he’s got the political equivalent of the aircraft carriers the Japanese failed to sink on December 7, 1941, this sort of talk is just more empty boasts from a campaign whose wheels may be about to come off again.
Gingrich’s organizational failure in Virginia is rightly seen as indicative of a key character flaw that has long dogged his career. He’s great at speeches and debates and promoting ideas, some of which conservatives like very much. But his campaign management style appears highly reminiscent of his largely incompetent leadership of the House of Representatives.
Virginia won’t by itself make or break Gingrich’s campaign. Nor is he the only one to fail to make the ballot there since only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have been able to collect enough valid signatures to get on the ballot. But with his poll numbers already heading south, Gingrich’s inability to organize a competent campaign in the state where he has lived for the past decade is a punch to the gut at a time when he needed some good news to revive confidence in his candidacy.
As for his “Pearl Harbor” comment, this may be one case where playing history professor may not help him as it has in the GOP’s televised debates. Iowans with a sense of the place of that tragedy’s place in U.S. history may think Gingrich’s comparing an event that took the lives of more than 2,000 American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen to a campaign screw up is both pretentious and in bad taste.