Did Newt Gingrich choose short-term buzz over a long-term ‘brand’?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Yesterday’s “Meet the Press” interview — in which former Speaker Newt Gingrich defended Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan and criticized Paul Ryan’s Medicare overhaul — reinforced the challenges Gingrich must overcome if he is to win the GOP nomination.

In a different world, Gingrich might have carved out a niche as a serious and consistent conservative (the two are not mutually exclusive). He was perhaps uniquely suited among his rivals to be simultaneously respected by intellectuals and media elites — and also admired by grassroots and tea party conservatives.

But instead of enjoying the best of both worlds — or even settling on one world — Gingrich too often chose the worst of both worlds by offending conservatives with his inconsistent policies, and then repelling media elites with his sometimes harsh and reckless rhetoric.

Sometimes a brilliant champion of free market conservative ideas, Gingrich undermined his conservative credentials by doing things such as appearing in global warming TV ads with Nancy Pelosi, endorsing liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava in a high -profile special election, and (most recently) by backing RomneyCare and opposing Paul Ryan’s gutsy plan to address entitlement reform.

Speaking of which, it is hard to rationalize why Gingrich would have backed RomneyCare and opposed Ryan’s Medicare reform — considering he is currently trying to win the GOP nomination. Yet it was consistent with his pattern of inconsistency. The only theory that makes sense is that Gingrich likes attention and realizes there are two easy ways to garner it: 1). by taking a surprising “man bites dog” stance, or 2). by ratcheting up the red-meat.

Given the choice between the long-term work of reinforcing and cultivating a serious and consistent conservative brand — or the short-term goal of getting attention — Gingrich always seemed to opt for for the short-term benefit of immediate attention. This may be a good strategy for pundits like, say, Dick Morris — but it is a lousy strategy for a candidate.

Gingrich, it seems, is a man without a base. The grassroots conservatives who might have supported him otherwise, have been turned off due to his inconsistencies — and the mainstream media and conservative intellectuals who might have grudgingly admired him for his intellect have been repelled by his red meat rhetoric.

Ironically, Gingrich preaches against this very sort of short-term thinking. He has been known to use an analogy of the “field mice and the antelope” to explain the need to focus long-term things (and to ignore the small stuff).

As Gingrich tells it, a lion is capable of killing field mice and eating it. But the energy expended would cause it to slowly starve to death. As such, lions, Gingrich advises, must ignore field mice and focus on killing antelope in order to survive.

It’s harder to kill an antelope, but it’s smarter.

Sadly, when it comes to short-term publicity versus long-term branding, Gingrich has chosen to spend too much of his time chasing field mice…

Matt K. Lewis