Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign is off to a worse start than Spiderman on Broadway.
Even before announcing his candidacy last Wednesday, Gingrich faced an uphill battle. Since Republicans forced him to step down as Speaker of the House in 1998, the architect of the GOP’s Contract with America has been working to bolster his conservative credentials and to soften his image. But he nevertheless found himself unable to reclaim the mainstream political support that he had in the ’90s. Gallup’s new poll of possible 2012 GOP contenders, for instance, shows him bringing up third place at 11 percent — just 3 points ahead of dark horse candidate Michele Bachman. Couple that with his healthcare slip-up on Meet the Press, and Gingrich might as well change his campaign slogan to “Who?”
There’s no doubt that he supports the individual health insurance mandate that 78 percent of Republicans oppose, according to Harris Interactive. In a 1993 Meet the Press appearance, he said, “I am for people, individuals — exactly like automobile insurance — individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance.” That sounds like support to me. Then in an interview on that same show last Sunday, he watched the clip I just quoted and reaffirmed his support for what he himself called “a variation on” Obamacare’s mandate.
But once he remembered that he’s running as a Republican, he started backtracking. On Monday, he posted a video to his website claiming to be “completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate.” And on Tuesday, he told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren: “I do not support a mandate. I do not support Obamacare.” He then went on to explain that he’d supported the individual mandate in 1993 — but just in opposition to the universal healthcare plan that the Clinton White House had been peddling to Congress.
Now The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein points out that some other prominent Republicans including George W. Bush and Mitch Daniels have backed variations on the individual mandate. But that was before it existed. There’s nothing wrong with having a stupid idea that never gets acted on. Basic Instinct 2 sounded good in theory. But once Congress rams through a law that two federal judges have found unconstitutional, Republicans are allowed to take exception to one of their own potential candidates defending it.
Gingrich exacerbated his problem with the GOP base when he blasted Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan on Sunday and told an Iowa crowd on Thursday that he’d be open to naturalizing at least some illegal immigrants. But his biggest obstacle isn’t his moderation or even his flip-flopping; it’s that he peaked at the same time as Alanis Morissette. That, in a race that some Republicans are touting as a chance for “real change” in Washington, is a major liability. His best shot at winning the GOP nomination right now is to hope that Romney sleeps with his housekeeper.
Dorian Davis is a former MTV HITS star turned Libertarian writer. He’s been published in Business Week, NY Daily News, XY & more. He’s an NYU graduate and National Journalism Center alum. He teaches journalism at Marymount Manhattan College.