Newt Gingrich is finally doing it. He's no longer talking about running for president -- he's actually become a candidate for the job. The former House speaker made it official Wednesday on Facebook, on Twitter, and through an interview with Fox's Sean Hannity.
This concludes several years of overt deliberation on Gingrich's part. He gave us a glimmer of interest in 2007, and, since early 2009, has frequently entertained speculation about giving it real shot in 2012.
The question has always been: Is he serious about this?
That's still a legitimate question, as Gingrich wouldn't be the first politician to run for office just to get attention. He has built a financial empire that trades on his stock as a figure of political fascination, although whether Gingrich is capable of running without thinking he can win is an open question.
Gingrich enters the race as a mid-level candidate. Even given his high name recognition, he has yet to poll in the top tier of the prospective GOP 2012 field, with the likes of Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and, depending on the week, Donald Trump. But his numbers are competitive: He placed fifth in a recent CNN poll at 10 percent, behind Huckabee (16 percent), Trump (14 percent), Romney (13 percent), and Palin (11 percent). Gingrich handily defeated some intriguing 2012 names, like Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (5 percent) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (4 percent).
But Gingrich has two things working in his favor: money, and an uncanny ability to throw bombs that satisfy President Obama's critics and anger the left.
In 2010, Gingrich raised over $13.7 million, which was $3 million more than the combined fundraising total of Mitt Romney ($4.68 million), Sarah Palin ($3.55 million), and Tim Pawlenty ($2.09 million) last year.
That sounds like an ungodly sum of cash, but looks can be deceiving. Gingrich wasn't bound by the same restrictions as his competitors: He raised this money through his main political group, American Solutions, a 527 group that's allowed to take corporate money and uncapped individual donations. Meanwhile, Romney, Palin, Pawlenty, and other 2012 contenders have raised money through political action committees, which can't take corporate or union money and can only receive $5,000 per individual donor.
Gingrich can't use all that money to run for president, and it's unclear whether American Solutions has already spent it. The organization will not coordinate with Gingrich or his campaign during the 2012 election cycle, but 527 groups have been known to insert themselves into presidential campaigns without directly advocating for a particular candidate.
Gingrich has been able to raise tons of money unfettered. Now that he's a presidential candidate, things will be more difficult. He can't take money from corporations, and individual donations for the GOP primary will be capped at $2,500.
It's possible that Gingrich won't stand out as a fundraiser. But it's also possible that, given all the contacts he's made and all the travel, speeches, and general political activity he's conducted through American Solutions over the years, his donor base will prove sizable and significant as compared to that of any of his 2012 rivals.
The former speaker will have significant appeal to some of the angriest voters in the Republican base, because there's one thing he can do really, really well: throw verbal bombs.
If Republican voters are looking for a fierce critic of the Obama administration, one who's not afraid to call the president a "socialist," one who seems comfortable insinuating that Obama's worldview was shaped by the political culture of Kenya, where his father was born, then they need look no further than The Newt.
After Obama was inaugurated, Gingrich wrote a book and delivered stump speeches about the "secular socialist machine" with which Obama and Democrats were running the country. That's not the type of message that will win votes from moderate independents and disaffected Obama voters; it's the type of message that will rile up tea party types filled with anger at the president, who might want, more than anything, a voice to express that anger and win an argument on its behalf. In that department, Gingrich is probably second only to Sarah Palin.
Gingrich's tendency to criticize Obama sometimes works to his detriment, as it did when he criticized Obama for inaction on Libya and then, after Obama authorized missile strikes, criticized him for intervening.
Gingrich brings intelligence and political calculation to bear on this race. He's comfortable with a broad array of policy topics, and he incorporates history into his speeches, which the Glenn Beck crowd will like.
If you want to get an idea of how aggressively Gingrich can criticize liberals, take a look at a few examples I compiled in March:
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