Cool Hand Newt?
by Paul A. Gigot, Editorial Page Editor
The Wall Street Journal
Political Diary Online
Monday, 12 December 11
Newt Gingrich is at his scrappy best as the underdog or minority leader. He tends to get into trouble when he's riding high and begins to let his sense of personal historical destiny get the better of his judgment. Now that he's leading in the GOP presidential polls, the big question is whether he can control his tendency toward condescension and vainglory.
His first test came in Saturday night's ABC-TV debate, and he held up well. Under attack from nearly all sides, he kept his sense of humor, sheathed his snarl, and cheerfully rebutted the accusations. His sharpest reply noted that the only reason Mitt Romney isn't a career politician is because he'd lost a Senate race to Ted Kennedy in 1994. But the gibe was softened with a matter-of-fact delivery and a can-you-believe-this smile. The closest he came to a sneer came in a reply to the "Newt Romney" barbs of Michele Bachmann, whose practiced sound bites must be hard to take given her general lack of depth. But Mr. Gingrich never stepped over the line that would make him look mean.
The former House Speaker was especially good in admitting his marital mistakes and saying he'd had to seek "forgiveness" and "reconciliation." He also made the best of the hash he had made earlier in the week by calling the Palestinians an "invented" people. That earlier remark showed Mr. Gingrich still likes to be the candidate-provocateur, and his campaign had to backtrack on Saturday and say he didn't mean that the Palestinians had no right to a state. By the debate, Mr. Gingrich put the issue in its proper context, which is the continuing Palestinian use of terror against Israel.
Can Mr. Gingrich maintain his message and personality discipline? His advisers say he's mellowed with age and since his conversion to Catholicism and that he has a new calm about him. Others say he can't help himself -- and that he is, in the analogy offered by one Republican, "the Hindenburg," a hydrogen airship that will blow up sooner or later. The nomination may hang on who's right.