By Lanny Davis - 06/15/11 11:05 PM EDT
It was the summer before the presidential year to come, more than seven months before the New Hampshire primary. All of the Republican presidential candidate’s top campaign staff had quit; he was virtually out of money. All the pundit class declared him politically dead, mocking his campaign.
“It is about as close to terminal as you can get without actually dying,” Republican strategist Alex Vogel said about the candidate’s chance to win the Republican nomination.
Now, the same pundit class that was certain of the demise of Arizona Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign in July of 2007 is just as certain about the death of the Newt Gingrich campaign after the mass resignation last week of his senior campaign staff.
In fact, I think Gingrich has just as good, if not better, a chance as John McCain to make a similar comeback, for several reasons.
But for starters, let me make one thing perfectly clear, as Richard Nixon used to famously say: I strongly disagree with Newt Gingrich on most issues; he is far too conservative, and I would never vote for him.
OK, Newt. You can relax: This complimentary column won’t truly kill your chances for the Republican nomination.
I see three reasons why it’s premature to count Newt out.
First, he has demonstrated political and substantive leadership capabilities superior to all his rivals.
Lest we forget, after Gingrich in 1995 led the Republican “revolution” and takeover of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years, he was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
Time explained: “Leaders make things possible. Exceptional leaders make them inevitable. Newt Gingrich belongs in the category of the exceptional.”
Second, even his critics must admit that Gingrich is a man of brilliant intellect with ideas brimming. Sure, some of them are over-the-top. That goes with the territory of such a creative intellect. Check out his presidential campaign website and you will see hundreds of links to ideas, position papers, op-eds, books, etc.
This man’s mind is a running idea machine — I imagine, even when he sleeps.
Third, since Gingrich was recently mocked by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd for wanting to be with his wife on a Greek cruise in early June rather than in D.C. raising money, that must mean he is doing something right. It was that decision to go on the cruise that was described, anonymously of course, by the “senior campaign staff” as one of the main reasons for resigning.
Question: Is it really hard to understand why a rational presidential candidate would prefer to be on a cruise with his wife, with time to write and think, than raising money to pay for this kind of campaign staff?
Third, despite his unfortunate history as the ultimate polarizer who hypocritically led the illegitimate partisan effort to impeach Bill Clinton (the bad Newt), in fact, Gingrich has also demonstrated an ability to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats and liberals on real solutions to real problems (the good Newt).
“Part of what I think Newt and I are doing, and it’s a little bit of a shock, or a Rorschach, if you will, we are trying to get people to really think differently, because we have come to some of the same conclusions on independent paths,” a certain senator said.
The senator? Then-New York junior Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D), speaking in May 2005.
The subject? Healthcare — a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sen. Clinton and Newt Gingrich, as well as dozens of liberal Democratic and conservative Republican members of Congress, that would support expanded sharing of data and health information technology to reduce healthcare costs and save lives.
A man who is thus able, sometimes, to rise above partisanship has important appeal to independent voters, who are often the key to winning the New Hampshire primary.
Just ask McCain.
Such a man cannot be counted out yet to be elected president. And for sure, such a man cannot be counted out to win the Republican nomination.
Ask Republican strategist Alex Vogel.
Davis, the principal in the Washington law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which also specializes in legal crisis management, served as President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996-98 and as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. He is the author of the book Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America.