Endless Republican Debate: The 'President Gingrich' Edition

Newt is back and climbing the Republican polls with a bullet. At Saturday's debate in Iowa, it's time to start imagining him as president.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

In the spate of press about the Gingrich resurgence, the former House Speaker has taken to comparing himself to two unlikely Democratic forerunners: Bill Clinton, his '90s nemesis, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The Clinton comparison is about the comeback itself. His staff bailed earlier in the year, when it looked like Newt's chances at the GOP nomination were doomed. Now he's been forced to act as his own strategist, Peter J. Boyer writes in Newsweek. "Just like Bill Clinton," Gingrich notes.

It is, Boyer points out, a funny comparison coming from the guy who tried to drive Clinton out of office via impeachment. (Did you want to know even more about Gingrich in those heady days, and especially his parsing of the charge of hypocrisy, since he was having an affair at the same time he was tormenting Clinton over Monica Lewinsky? Read Boyer's comprehensive look-back at those incidents, and at Gingrich's revived campaign.)

For New York, John Heilmann reviews the Iowa caucus field, advising about the likelihood of a Rick Perry "hail mary," a potentially surprising showing for Ron Paul, and a nagging storyline for Mitt Romney: that of his Mormon religion out among the Iowan evangelicals. Mike Huckabee cleaned up among evangelicals last time around.

This time around, however, the support of the Christian right has been split among a handful of runners: Bachmann, Perry, Rick Santorum, and now Newt Gingrich, who according to those numbers from Time and CNN has 31 percent of the self-identified born-again voters behind him, essentially in line with his overall total.

All along, it’s been widely assumed that a fractured Evangelical vote would be good news for Romney, and that may still hold true. But with Gingrich, a famously thrice-married Catholic convert, doing perfectly well with the Christian right and Romney doing notably poorly—carrying just 13 percent of that bloc, half the level of his support with the Republican electorate writ large—it raises the troubling specter that Romney’s Mormonism is inhibiting him severely in Iowa, just as some of his advisers have long feared. And that in turn suggests the possibility that if the Christian right does split itself largely among two candidates, say Gingrich and Perry, Romney could wind up finishing an absolutely disastrous fourth.

So it is that Romney surrogates are launching increasingly pointed attacks on Gingrich. Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu made him sound a little like Richard Nixon during a talk radio appearance, as reported by The New York Times.

“Tom Coburn, Susan Molinari, Mickey Edwards — all these folks that were part of his inner circle, who watched him on a daily basis, said, ‘Enough is enough, this man is not stable,’” Mr. Sununu said.

Mr. Sununu had participated in a conference call with reporters on Thursday during which he also attacked Mr. Gingrich, but his comments on the radio show — in which he acknowledged, “Obviously we’ve got a hot and heavy political campaign in front of us” — marked a descent into a more aggressive, and perhaps more ugly, phase of the campaign.

"Desperation and panic," the Gingrich camp responded. They have gotten under the Mitt Machine's skin. Perhaps they'll try to prod him into showing a little anger in tonight's debate.

Politico thinks the barbs will be going the other way, as Romney and all the rest of the field tries to curb Gingrich's rise and make needed progress of their own with Iowa caucus goers, less than one month before they gather to choose a winner.

"Newt Gingrich," Reid J. Epstein writes, "prepare to be the piñata."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.