Watch and See: Gingrich Will Dial Up Rhetorical Zeal

Jonathan Chait of New York magazine writes:

It is not that Republicans won’’t vote for Romney. It’’s that Romney does not capture their fundamental attitude toward Obama. He can adopt the positions of the base, but he can’’t seem to ape their feeling of fear and outrage toward the current president. Gingrich may lack money and organization, but he has a real opportunity, and Romney surely knows it.

There’s something to this analysis, both in terms of Gingrich’s chances to win the nomination (which are quite real) and what his appeal is (and what Romney’s appeal is not).

A slice of the conservative movement — the number is impossible to quantify– associates conservatism with a certain style almost as much as they associate it with a certain governing philosophy. That may be why some prominent conservative voices were critical of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels when he was considering a run for the presidency. Based on his history and governing achievements, one would think that Daniels would have been widely admired and even beloved. But in some circles he was suspect because (it was said) he wouldn’t take the fight to the other side with enough passion. He warned conservatives not to consider political opponents as enemies. And he spoke about appealing to moderates and independents, which for some placed him in a suspect category. One gets the impression that for some on the right, rhetorical zeal can cover a multitude of other sins — and rhetorical restraint is a sign of weakness and the lack of core convictions. Which brings us to Newt Gingrich.

The one thing we know is that Gingrich is capable of rhetorical zeal. In fact, his language can easily drift into territory that is extreme and incendiary. For example, he implicitly blamed liberalism for the slaughter of children at Columbine and the actions of Susan Smith, a South Carolina mother who drowned her children. He asked, “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” He still defends his characterization of Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal as an example of “right-wing social engineering” even as he describes the Congressional Budget Office as a “reactionary socialist institution.” And of course Gingrich’s comments are often laced with the word “corrupt” and “corruption.”

My hunch is that in the next few weeks Gingrich will dial up, not dial down, his rhetoric, as a means to shield him against charges he has embraced positions considered too liberal for the Republican Party. He will go places Mitt Romney simply won’t.

Gingrich is a man who possesses undeniable political talents. In my judgment, he’s a much more impressive figure without the apocalyptic rhetoric. But it tells you something about Gingrich that it’s hard to imagine him without it.