Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich promises he’ll let us know officially early this fall whether he’ll be a GOP presidential candidate this election. But there’s no need to wait for the official announcement. He’s in. Almost all of the signs say so.
There are four in particular that his entry appears to be a near certainty.
1) HE’S VIRTUALLY SAID SO Gingrich has been all over the place regarding his plans for candidacy, but when Diane Sawyer asked him about it on Good Morning America in May, he was pretty blunt. “[I]t is a great possibility,” he said. Besides, his organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future (a Gingrich-esque name if there ever was one), has been the perfect front for him to get organized in all 50 states while pretending never to be a candidate.
2) IT’S NOW OR NEVER Gingrich is 64 — in his prime as a presidential candidate. Next election he’ll be pushing 70 and might face the impossibility of unseating a GOP incumbent, or at least a slew of candidates (such as, say, Mitt Romney) who may end up using 2008 as a healthy practice run for 2012.
3) THE STANDARD HE’S SET FOR GETTING INTO THE RACE IS EASILY MET According to columnist Robert Novak, Gingrich has said he’ll get into the race if Fred Thompson’s candidacy doesn’t take off. Of course, it’s Newt who’s going to do the deciding as to Thompson’s success, but there are early signs that the Thompson effort may already be faltering. Sure, he’s done well in the polls — though not well enough to unseat the current front-runner, Rudy Giuliani. And the early buzz on Thompson is that he’s no Law and Order’s Arthur Branch on the campaign trail.
Moreover, Gingrich is counting on the fact that, once voters learn more about Thompson’s extensive record as a lobbyist, and about his campaign staff — which is full of GOP veterans, including former Dick Cheney advisor Mary Matalin — he’ll look a lot less like the breath of fresh Tennessee air that he appears to be now.
4) GINGRICH SEES A STRATEGIC OPENING IN THE GOP RACE — AND HE’S RIGHT Gingrich realizes that the long campaign and frequent debates that have diminished everyone in the field. More important, although George W. Bush is almost as despised within the Republican Party as he is among Democrats, none of the GOP candidates has positioned himself as the “anti-Bush” on a host of issues, including immigration or even the war. There is, Gingrich knows, an opening for a candidate who promises to change the direction of conservatism — someone willing to run against the Bush legacy and paint the current president as a big-government, know-nothing apostate who turned his back on true GOP ideals.
Could it work? Perhaps. The dismal fundraising record of the GOP candidates so far compared with their Democratic rivals indicates that there’s widespread disenchantment with the Republican field. Thompson may be able to fill some of that gap, but Gingrich is likely counting on his anti-establishment strength among the grassroots and talk-radio faithful to overcome any Thompson advantage.
Here, then, is how a Gingrich entry — and the latest news about second-quarter fundraising — affects the current GOP-nomination front-runners.