But Newt Gingrich’s recent rise in the polls is being sustained, in part, by a right-wing version of exactly the impulse that led Democrats to nominate Kerry: a desperate desire to somehow beat Barack Obama at his own game, and to explode what conservatives consider the great fantasy of the 2008 campaign — the conceit that Obama possessed an unmatched brilliance and an unprecedented eloquence.But nominating someone just so the debates would show up Obama is not what the GOP needs to be doing.
More important for the Republican Party’s purposes, it isn’t 2008 anymore, and conservatives don’t actually need to explode the fantasy of Obama’s eloquence and omnicompetence. The harsh reality of governing has already done that for them. Nobody awaits the president’s speeches with panting anticipation these days, or expects him to slay his opponents with the power of his intellect. Obamamania peaked with the inauguration, and it’s been ebbing ever since.And Gingrich is not a figure whose history as a leader inspires reassurance and trust. If you want an insight to why so few of his House colleagues are supporting him this time around, read this look at his party leadership in 1998.
Newt Gingrich might debate circles around Obama. He might implode spectacularly, making a hot mess of himself while the president keeps his famous cool. But either way, setting up a grand rhetorical showdown seems unlikely to supply a disillusioned country with what it’s looking for from Republicans in 2012.
Conservatives may want catharsis, but the rest of the public seems to mainly want reassurance. They already know Barack Obama isn’t the messiah he was once cracked up to be. What they don’t know is whether they can trust anyone else to do better.