In the Footsteps of Lincoln

In the wake of the Romney-Perry bloodletting in Las Vegas… in which Texas Governor Rick Perry savagely and inappropriately attacked former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney… it is time to assess the winners and losers, those on the way up and those on the way out.

Taking the candidates in alphabetical order, it is clear that, while Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann received a major boost from her showing in the Iowa straw poll, she has not been able to capitalize on that victory.  In an October 12, 2011 Rasmussen poll of likely voters she finds herself in 6th place with 5% of those polled.  She has peaked and it is not likely that she’ll be able to reverse the trend.  Retired businessman Herman Cain is fast gaining traction, in spite of the attacks on his 9-9-9 tax reform plan.  He appears to be unfazed by the attacks and receives high marks for having at least put forth a plan and for standing behind it.  In the October 12 Rasmussen poll, Cain held a share of the frontrunner status with 29%.  Cain’s popularity is clearly on the rise and he has arrived at a point where he can now be considered a potential nominee.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, after getting off to a slow start, is beginning to find his stride and has moved into 3rd place with 10%.  He is clearly a man with a firm grasp on who and what he is, and if he could only get his fellow conservatives and Republicans to stop saying, “Yeah, Newt is far and away the smartest man in the race… but he has a lot of baggage,” he is the one man who could quickly run away from the field.

Moderate former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman finds himself at 2% in the Rasmussen poll.  He has peaked far too early and has no chance of winning the GOP nomination.

Congressman Ron Paul may be right about the Federal Reserve and a number of other issues, but his rants tend to make people’s eyes glaze over and his high-pitched whiney voice grates on his listeners like fingernails being scraped across a blackboard.  He is currently at 5%, fifth place, in the latest Rasmussen poll and is likely to stay at that level until the day he drops out of the race, but only  because his young followers are quite fanatical about him.  Paul may gain a point or he may stay at 5%.  What is certain is that he cannot win the Republican nomination.

No candidate has ever entered a presidential primary contest with greater prospects for success than Texas Governor Rick Perry.  In a recent column titled “Rooster Cogburn for President,” Perry was my Rooster Cogburn.  Unfortunately, his handlers appear to have no feel whatsoever for his unique strengths and weaknesses.  In each of the GOP debates, to date, they have ignored his strengths and highlighted his weaknesses.  He could not have been more ineffective if he had hired his worst enemies to advise him and prepare him.  He is currently in fourth place, at 9% in the Rasmussen poll, but his store of goodwill is now so thoroughly poisoned that he will never be able to recover.  He has little or no chance of winning the Republican nomination.

Along with Huntsman, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the other moderate in the race.  And although conventional wisdom has it that Romney will ultimately win the Republican nomination, that conclusion ignores the depth of mistrust that moderates such as Bush (41) and Bush (43) have created among conservatives.  The conservative attitude is: fool me once, maybe fool me twice, but you’ll never fool me a third time.  Romney is tied with Cain at 29% in the Rasmussen poll.  However, having wrapped his arms firmly around the global warming issue, nothing short of a miracle or a brokered convention will win him the Republican nomination.

And finally, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is currently tied for last with just 2% in the Rasmussen poll.  Santorum seems not to understand that the issues in this campaign are jobs, the economy, and saving the nation from Obama… nothing more.  Instead, he continues to wear his religion and his pro-life stance on his shoulder and he always seems to appear as if he’s a bit too tightly wound.  He has no chance of winning the Republican nomination.

What it all boils down to is a race between two sons of Georgia, Cain and Gingrich, with the Romney people in position to decide the winner of that contest.

But what was most intriguing about the Las Vegas debate, other than the fact that it likely sealed the fate of at least five of the eight candidates, was a challenge that Gingrich threw at the feet of Barack Obama.  Newt said, “As the nominee, I will challenge Obama to meet the Lincoln-Douglas standard of seven three-hour debates.  No moderator, only a timekeeper.”

Newt has apparently been considering that challenge for many years.  It was reminiscent of a February 28, 2007 Cooper Union dialogue between Gingrich and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo… next to Obama, the Democratic Party’s most gifted orator.  Moderated by the late Tim Russert, of NBC, the dialogue took place on the very same stage from which Abraham Lincoln spoke on February 27, 1860.  Historians say that it was Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech that won him the Republican nomination and catapulted him into the presidency.

In that Gingrich-Cuomo dialogue, Gingrich delivered a straight-from-the-shoulder, statesmanlike speech about our poisonous political atmosphere and the inability of government to solve even the most tractable problems of the day.  Delivered extemporaneously, his remarks were every bit as critical of the Bush Administration as they were of Democrats.

Cuomo, on the other hand, read from a thick sheaf of papers.  He spent much of his time at the podium defending the Clinton-Gore Administration, mentioning at least twice that Bill Clinton left the Bush Administration a $5.4 trillion surplus… not mentioning, of course, the economic impact of 9/11or the cost of the War on Terror.

Although he was mildly critical of Democrats for always avoiding a discussion of the really hard questions – because it might “keep them from getting elected” – when he turned to questions of policy he sounded more like a typical Democratic politician running through a collection of DNC talking points than a respected elder statesman delivering a thoughtful message in support of his party’s White House aspirations.

Gingrich challenged every candidate, in both parties, to commit themselves… prior to the 2008  nominating process… that if they become the nominee of their party they would agree to nine ninety-minute dialogues – one a week, for nine weeks, between Labor Day and the election.  He said, “Nothing will take more poison out of the system than requiring the candidates to be in the same room, with partisans from both sides, because you cannot biologically be as vicious and as nasty as the current system if you’re face to face.  And if you can be, then you’re pathological and you’re disqualified.”

On the subject of illegal immigration, he suggested that we adopt a system of ID cards, much like credit cards, which would allow a potential employer to quickly determine who is a legal resident and who is not.  But, he insisted, that program should not be a government program; it should be farmed out to American Express, Visa, and MasterCard… organizations that have actual experience with combating fraud.

Discussing the current state of the bureaucracy and comparing it to the efficiency of the private sector, he said, “We have somewhere between 11 and 13 million illegal immigrants in the United States.  The current government says we can’t find them.  I suggest that we should just mail them all a package.  UPS and FedEx would find them.”

Russert concluded the dialogue by recalling a conversation between Barry Goldwater and John F. Kennedy in 1963, months before Kennedy was assassinated.  In that conversation, Goldwater is said to have told Kennedy that it was likely that he would be the 1964 Republican nominee for president.  That being the case, he proposed that the two of them fly together to every major city in America, where they would then engage in a free-wheeling, unstructured, face-to-face exchange… the classic confrontation between conservatism and liberalism.

Judging from the reaction of the Cooper Union audience, Newt gave an exemplary performance.  As a historian and a lover of history, the drama of standing in the exact same spot where Lincoln stood 147 years and one day earlier – just before becoming a candidate for the presidency – was certainly not lost on Gingrich.

Seeing Newt standing there… in the footsteps of Lincoln… I couldn’t help but feel that I had just witnessed the first major event on Gingrich’s road to the White House.  Of course, we had no way of knowing at the time that a totally inexperienced young black man with a glib tongue and a talent for reading from a teleprompter would defeat the formidable Clinton political machine and go on to capture the White House.

Sarah Palin has suggested that, if Newt is the GOP nominee and Obama takes up the challenge, Newt would “clobber” him in debate.  Yes he would.  And what a joy it would be to see Obama methodically dissected before a nationwide TV audience, totally lost without his speechwriters and his teleprompter to tell him what to say.   If Obama’s enormous ego eventually brings him to accept the Gingrich challenge, we are sure to see history repeat itself.

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