Sunday, January 22, 2012

Newt Gingrich Takes Small Lead -- and Takes Credit for Clinton Era

Amid the hullabaloo of Newt Gingrich’s strong victory in South Carolina resides the quiet reality of the actual delegate tally of the final four candidates. To wit:

Newt Gingrich: 32
Mitt Romney: 20
Ron Paul: 9
Rick Santorum: 4

The numbers reflect Jon Huntsman’s support of Mr. Romney (2 delegates), and Rick Perry’s endorsement of Mr. Gingrich (3 delegates).

In short, Mr. Gingrich controls fewer than 50 percent of the allotted delegates and has a solid though not overwhelming lead over his closest competitor. The winner-take-all state of Florida looms (a whopping 50 delegates), a state where we must pick Mr. Romney as the likely winner. Vote-by-mail has been underway for weeks, during which time Mr. Romney has led substantially in the polls. More to the point, Mr. Gingrich has a way of handling victory badly, turning into – how to put it delicately? – a horse’s ass.

Witness his level of pomposity in his victory speech Saturday night. In a short few minutes he managed to take credit for the collapse of the Soviet empire, challenge Barack Obama to seven 3-hour debates, a la the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 (of which there were – yes! – seven in number, proving Mr. Gingrich’s credentials is a consummate historian, or at least an internet-savvy 68-year-old capable of accessing Wikipedia), and, most pompously, taking credit for the numerous successes of the Clinton era.

Yes, the Clinton era. Mr. Gingrich is apparently unaware that eras in American politics are named for the sitting presidents of the time, not for members of Congress, members of cabinet, postal workers or dog-catchers. We refer to the Reagan era, not the Tip O’Neill era. We refer to the Roosevelt era, not, in no particular order, the William B. Bankhead, Henry T. Rainey or Joseph Wellington Byrns eras. (We can use Wikipedia, too.) And we don’t refer to the Clinton era as the Tom Foley era (the first Speaker) the Newt Gingrich era (the second Speaker) or the Denny Hastert era (the third Speaker during the Clinton years).

It is a delight to actually see the Republicans step back in time to when the country was on the right track – prior to the devastation of the Bush Junior era – but of course they are trying and will continue to try to take credit for the numerous Democratic successes of the Clinton era. Good luck to them with that.

Newt Gingrich in victory is always unappealing. Mitt Romney in defeat, we suspect, will make a comeback that will seal Florida for him, propelling him into a substantial lead in delegate count. At which point – well, Newt Gingrich in defeat is always scrappy, interesting, and dangerous. Several more months of drama lie ahead.

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