Who’s afraid of ‘loose cannons’?
Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich may be unguarded, but at least we know what he really stands for.
With Herman Cain out of the Republican presidential race, the spotlight has shifted to Newt Gingrich. A former speaker of the House of Representatives, Gingrich has been rising in the polls lately and is now threatening former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s chances of winning. He is also a threat to the Republican Party and world peace. Apparently.
Both prominent Republican and Democrat critics have done their best to discredit Gingrich as he inched towards the frontrunner position. In the past few days, his name has repeatedly been followed by the words ‘loose cannon’. He is widely described as unpredictable, erratic and inconsistent.
Fellow Republicans are warning that nominating Gingrich would be like handing over the 2012 election to the Democrats. Notorious conservative radio host Michael Savage even offered Gingrich $1million to drop out of the primary race. And while liberals have also promulgated the loose-cannon narrative, some are at the same time hoping that Gingrich will be nominated, as they say he will be an easy target for Obama.
The insistent description of Gingrich as a loose cannon comes across as a rather desperate tactic by everyone concerned. It’s as if the Republican contenders think that their best chance of winning the presidential candidacy is by describing one of their opponents, Gingrich, as an existential threat. And it’s as if the Democrats think Obama’s best bet for winning in 2012 is if Republicans nominate an outrageous candidate with little chance of being taken seriously in the long run. This may all be true, of course, but hammering home a message that ‘that guy’s insane’ is hardly a positive way of running a campaign or of convincing voters of your own worth.
So where does this description of Gingrich as a loose cannon spring from? Well, a round-up of Gingrich’s doom-mongering pronouncements showed up his rather hysterical and apocalyptic outlook - an outlook which led him once to describe climate change as ‘a major threat to political stability, international security and economic prosperity’. Gingrich also has a history of marital infidelity (while baying for Bill Clinton’s impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky affair), and he faced ethics charges during his time as speaker. Moreover, he was paid $1.6million in consultancy fees by Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant that was later bailed out by taxpayers.
And, of course, Gingrich’s appearance on the Jewish Channel last week, where he said Palestinians are an ‘invented people’, added to his ‘volatile’ image. The comment caused great offence and outrage among Palestinians, but, still, Gingrich defended it at Saturday’s live, televised debate in Iowa.
Gingrich was described by other candidates as having lobbed a political bomb into a sensitive geopolitical hotspot. ‘If I’m president of the United States’, Romney promised, ‘I will exercise sobriety, care, stability and make sure that in a setting like this that anything I say can affect a place with rockets going in, with people dying.’ Romney promised that if he were to make a statement of that nature, he’d first get it cleared by Israel: ‘I get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say, would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do? Let’s work together because we’re partners.’
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In other words, for some opponents at least, it’s how Gingrich says something that’s the main problem, along with the fact that he doesn’t have a proper vetting process for his public statements. They are saying that, if Republican voters go for Gingrich, it will backfire on the party as a whole because he will continue to upset sensibilities and create media stirs.
But with Gingrich, it’s not his appearance that’s the problem, but the substance of what he says. After all, during Saturday’s debate (seen as particularly significant considering the caucus schedule will kick off in Iowa on 3 January), Gingrich displayed arguably his greatest assets: showmanship and a knack for sharp retorts. For instance, when Romney portrayed Gingrich as a career politician, he snapped that Romney could have been one, too, had he not lost to Ted Kennedy in a 1994 Senate race.
Gingrich has also repeatedly challenged Obama to hours-long, unmoderated debates and said he’ll even let the president use a teleprompter. But it is, of course, questionable whether Gingrich’s boxer-like tactics in relation to public appearances can cover up his many flaws, like his political inconsistencies, moral double-standards, scare tactics and gung-ho attitude.
Regardless, being a loose cannon should not be seen as such a problem in the world of politics. On the contrary, it would be refreshing if more political candidates were less concerned with having carefully crafted images and with watching their words. At least then the public would be in a better position to judge a candidate’s genuine character and opinions.
Nathalie Rothschild is an international correspondent for spiked. Visit her personal website here. Follow her on Twitter @n_rothschild.