The media can’t wrap their heads around Newt Gingrich. His recent rise to the top of the polls contradicts everything they profess to know about the political world. He has taken just enough unorthodox positions to make conservatives squirm. His reputation from the ’90s makes it unlikely that independents will see him as a centrist candidate. He is far from being the new kid on the block for whom the anti-politician, anti-Washington demographic yearns.
Yet Newt continues to surge.
Those in the media who are baffled by the rise of Newt Gingrich are overlooking one of the most valuable qualities a candidate can have — the ability to change the way people think. This is a forgotten quality in modern politics, due in large part to the 24-hour news industry and the plethora of “political science” experts who call this industry home. Politics today is a game. The spectrum of public opinion is thought to be a fixed quantity, and a candidate wins when he or she can combine the support of the right demographics to capture just enough of that spectrum.
Newt Gingrich does not fit this mold, and this is why the media is so befuddled by his success. Most candidates, in keeping with conventional wisdom, campaign by trying to convince people that they agree with them. This strategy manifests itself either in the ceaseless repetition of simple catch phrases that the base likes to hear or in the over-cautiousness that will not offend any key demographic.
Newt’s strength is that he can convince people to agree with him. GOP voters are turning to him because they are tired of nominating candidates who simply pander to the electorate. They want a candidate who can teach, inspire and lead, and Newt fills that role by aggressively presenting specific ideas and a broader philosophy that they can get behind. While other candidates have been campaigning as salesmen for themselves, Newt has been campaigning as a salesman for conservatism. He treats the spectrum of public opinion not like a fixed quantity, but like a fluid variable that can be influenced.
Newt’s explanation of his now-infamous criticism of Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan actually gives insight into his view of politics. He says that he “is opposed to any political party imposing dramatic change against the consent of the governed.” Though many conservatives understandably questioned Newt’s substantive position on this issue, his explanation hints at a higher form of politics that is often forgotten among “political science” pundits. That is that the most important element in the make-up of government is the philosophy of the citizenry, and that true leaders are those who can impact that philosophy.
Real, lasting political change is made from the bottom up. Liberals perennially disregard this principle: they prefer judicial fiats to the legislative process and federal mandates to state and local government. But fully reversing the shift that has taken place during the Obama years will require more than policy changes. Indeed, it will require a rebirth of traditional American philosophy in the minds of the American people. Too many Americans believe that the federal government is well-suited to accomplish the same tasks as the private sector, that wealth is a zero-sum game and that our economic woes are simply the product of an unequal distribution of wealth. Newt Gingrich is succeeding because he is showing his ability to convince the American people otherwise.