Lazarus is going to Disney World.
Newt Gingrich’s back-from-the-grave performance in South Carolina now propels him, revived and renewed, to Florida. There the kinetic Republican presidential race will no doubt serve up further jolts, twists, turns and dips worthy of the Magic Kingdom.
The former House speaker soared in December, ordained himself the front-runner, and was taken down by the negative attack ads produced by Mitt Romney’s super PAC in Iowa. He finished an ignoble fifth in the New Hampshire primary and fourth in the Iowa caucuses. But after Saturday night’s win, Gingrich will head to Florida, and the comforts of another Southern electorate, as Romney’s chief challenger for the Republican nomination.
It seems a stunning turnaround, but we should not be surprised at Gingrich’s ability to bounce back from adversity, said Rich Galen, a former top Gingrich aide. “One of the things that Newt has always preached … is that the principal reason that people with a good idea fail is that they give up on it too soon,” Galen said. His South Carolina comeback “is absolutely in keeping with Newt’s history.”
That is one way of looking at it. Another perspective is that Gingrich’s opponents may now have him just where they want him. The former speaker doesn’t handle prosperity as well as he tackles adversity. He sees success as destiny, soars too high. The mouth roars, and Lazarus becomes Icarus.
“That is the other side,” said Galen.
Gingrich will still be playing on Southern turf in Florida and in his native Georgia on Super Tuesday. Media attention won’t be a problem, and neither will a lack of money. “We will be sufficiently funded,” said Rick Tyler of the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future PAC.
Gingrich’s biggest problem, going forward, may be his organization – or lack of it. He runs a campaign that, when compared to Romney’s operation, is shockingly thin. Romney’s your man for looking down the road, analyzing obstacles and needs, and deploying assets. Gingrich is something of a one-man band, bounding joyfully from idea to idea, like a child opening gifts on Christmas morning. It can be both inspiring to voters and, to political professionals, profoundly irritating.
It speaks volumes that Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is on the Virginia ballot and Gingrich’s campaign failed to submit a sufficient number of signatures in time. “There are structural problems with the Gingrich campaign, and one of them is that there is no Gingrich campaign. The Gingrich campaign is Newt Gingrich,” Galen said.
But who is to say? It may be enough.
“A man with a message beats a manager with money,” said Tyler.
Gingrich raised enough cash from deep-pocketed pals to compete with Romney, ad for ad, in South Carolina. And he outshone the former Massachusetts governor in two debates.
“Maybe,” which is how Romney answered a pointed question about releasing his income tax returns, is not what Americans like to hear from potential presidents.
Contrast that wobbly answer with Gingrich’s response to an eleventh-hour knifing from his (second) ex-wife. When asked about the episode in the CNN debate, he went on the attack, boxed moderator John King’s ears, and turned the episode around into an attack on the liberal media that was well-received by the Republican debate audience.
There are few American politicians today who have Gingrich’s talent to reach voters on a visceral level. He can be close to uncanny at detecting and manipulating grievances in an audience.
In the stage lights of the debates, Romney could not manufacture the compelling signature moment of the South Carolina campaign. Gingrich could, and did.
Yes, he is grandiose, as rival Rick Santorum told him on stage. “Newt’s a friend. I love him. But at times, you’ve just got, you know, sort of that, you know, worrisome moment that something’s going to pop,” the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania said.
Gingrich’s reply was classic Newt. “It’s a very simple question. How big a scale of change do we want in Washington?” he began.
“I participated in the ’80s in an enormous project of economic growth and, with President Reagan’s leadership, the American people created 16 million jobs. With President Reagan’s leadership, the Soviet Union disappeared … I came back — I spent 16 years on a grandiose project called creating a Republican majority in the House — 16 years … We then went on to cut taxes for the first time in 16 years, the largest capital gains tax cut in American history. In the four years I was speaker, the American people created 11 million new jobs. We balanced the budget for four consecutive years.
“You’re right. I think grandiose thoughts,” Gingrich said. “This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things. And we need leadership prepared to take on big projects.”