The higher Newt Gingrich flies, the more flak he gets. Some of it comes with the turf of being the GOP front-runner, but in Gingrich’s case, it’s also true that his past is gaining on him.
His history of self-aggrandizement, influence peddling and the hypocrisy of carrying on an affair while leading the charge against President Clinton for the same thing constitute the heart of the case about why he can’t be the Republican Party's nominee.
The case makes sense, yet there is a catch: Republican voters aren’t buying the narrative in the same way many pundits and pols are. Gingrich is on a tear, running up double-digit leads over Mitt Romney in key primary states and gaining on him in New Hampshire, which is a must-win for Romney.
I have an idea about all this, and Clinton’s popularity after Monica offers the best evidence in support.
It’s not just that voters, if they like a pol’s positions and style, are willing to tune out a laundry list of personal indiscretions. It’s that some clearly like a Bad Boy.
All other things being equal, Bad Boys are seen as more interesting, fun and sexy. They’re more human than a scandal-free candidate who lacks buzz. It’s the paradoxical appeal of danger.
Newt, the former speaker of the House, certainly qualifies as a Bad Boy, while the worst thing Romney has ever done is flip-flop.
That’s why I doubt that Romney’s newest ad showcasing himself as the ideal husband and father will stop Newt’s surge.
“I’m a man of steadiness and constancy,” the former Massachusetts governor says in the TV spot that includes pictures of his wife and five sons. “I’ve been married to the same woman for 42 years. I’ve been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for 25 years.”
Perfect — and boring!
Romney’s other track, of using surrogates to level blistering attacks on Gingrich, probably won’t help much either because the baggage is widely known. Romney ally and former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri, who served with Gingrich in the House, said Newt is “not a reliable and trustworthy leader.”
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu accused Gingrich of betraying core conservative principles by attacking GOP plans to reform Medicare.
All true, and already baked into the cake. A Quinnipiac poll showed that only 9 percent say Newt “has a strong moral character,” and that came before the surge.
A member of the Romney team told me it will keep unloading on Gingrich, mostly through leaking stories to the press, so it will seem to have more legitimacy. The deluge will happen before Christmas, because the Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 3.
Eventually it could have an impact. The accumulation of negativity in a campaign usually lowers support for the target, and with this essentially a two-man race, Romney should benefit.
But here’s another idea, one that fights fire with fire: The Romney campaign should spread dirt on its own man.
Aides could start a whispering campaign that he has a hot temper or is addicted to junk food. They could say he dresses like a slob on weekends — and refuses to comb his hair!
If they’re really desperate, they could spread a rumor that he has wandering eyes for pretty young things and likes to flirt. But then the aides better stand back, or voters will stampede them as they flock to meet the hot new Bad Boy.
Michael Goodwin is a Fox News analyst and New York Post columnist. To continue reading this column, click here.