I respectfully dissent from National Review’s Wednesday-evening editorial, which derided Newt Gingrich as not merely flawed but unfit for consideration as the GOP presidential nominee. The Editors further gave the back of the hand to the bids of two other prominent conservatives, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann — a judgment that is simply inexplicable in light of the frivolousness of its reasoning and of the Editors’ embrace of Jon Huntsman, a moderate former Obama-administration official, as a serious contender.
The editorial surprised me, as it did many readers. I am now advised that the timing was driven by the editorial’s inclusion in the last edition of the magazine to be published this year, which went to press on Wednesday. The Editors believe, unwisely in my view, that before the first caucuses and primaries begin in early January, it is important to make known their insights — not merely views about the relative merits of the candidates but conclusions that some candidates are no longer worthy of having their merits considered. Like many other voters, I haven’t settled on a candidate. What I want at this very early stage is information about the candidates so I can consider them, not a presumptuous and premature pronouncement that good conservatives do not even rate consideration.
Regarding former Speaker Gingrich, I have no objection to the cataloguing of any candidate’s failings, and Newt has certainly made his share of mistakes. But there ought to be balance — balance between a candidate’s failings and his strengths, balance between the treatment of that candidate and of his rivals. The editorial fails on both scores.
Gingrich’s virtues are shortchanged — his great accomplishment in balancing the federal budget is not even mentioned, an odd omission in an election that is primarily about astronomical spending. His downsides are exaggerated in two unbecoming ways.
Let me preface the first by conceding that I am as concerned as anyone by the former Speaker’s walks on the wild side — though I think they are outweighed by his unique gifts. Like other conservatives, I was disappointed this week by his dig at Governor Romney’s success at Bain Capital — we can’t both fight to restore economic liberty and talk like Occupy Wall Street agitators when someone practices it. I accept Gingrich’s explanation that the remarks were a bad attempt at cutting humor — in reaction to withering taunts from the Romney campaign — and are not a reflection of his views. But he has to know that such outbursts exemplify his famed impulsiveness, giving his detractors a chance to say, “I told you so.”
Nevertheless, if the Editors were enterprising enough, they could just as easily write a similar editorial, with the same tone of alarm, about, say, Governor Romney or Governor Huntsman. Their heresies, too, are notorious — and their explanations no more satisfying. I am not suggesting that such editorials be written — particularly with respect to Romney who, like Gingrich, would make a superb president. I am just saying that it could be done. For the Editors to single out Gingrich for this kind of raking — particularly when his accomplishments in government dwarf anything his rivals have managed to achieve — fails the test of judgment conservatives expect from National Review. The transcendent mission of our founder calls for explicating principled conservative arguments about the great issues of the day, not “winnowing” intra-GOP primaries. I appreciate, as Jonah Goldberg recounts, that the magazine has made endorsements in some prominent contests throughout its history. In this instance, however, we are talking about clearing a seven-person field — eliminating strong conservatives, preserving spots for two moderates (and one solid conservative who is a very long long-shot) — before a single vote has been cast.