Business Times - 16 Dec 2011
Will Gingrich be the Obama of 2012?
By LEON HADAR
FOUR years ago, after a large number of candidates had entered the Democratic Party's presidential primaries, the conventional wisdom among the political professionals was that New York Senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton would win the race.
She had the political experience and skills, the name recognition and well-organised election campaign and fund-raising operations. Members of the party's establishment as well as many activists loved her. She was ready for Prime Time. She was unbeatable. The nomination was hers to lose; which she did.
After the field of Democratic presidential candidates narrowed to a duel between Senator Clinton and a young and relatively unknown Senator from Illinois, most political experts continued to underestimate the African-American with the exotic name of Barack Obama. They insisted that he didn't have the experience or the skills to enter into the most powerful national office, especially at a time when the United States was engaged in two major wars. There was no way that Americans would elect a black politician whose father was a Kenyan-Muslim as the next US president; but they did.
Now fast forward four years later, when a large number of candidates are vying for the Republican Party's presidential nomination. Once again, the political pros are convinced that another experienced and skilled politician, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney who has a team of successful consultants and fund raisers and the support of the party's bosses and is ready to do business on his first day in office, is going to win the race. The pundits may be wrong again. This time the politician who is closing in on the presumptive frontrunner is not young. Nor is the former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich a political unknown. In fact, most Americans recognise the name of the former Republican Congressman from Georgia who had led his party to a historic Congressional victory 20 years ago. He later presided over the impeachment proceedings against then Democratic president Bill Clinton.
But like Mr Obama four years ago, Mr Gingrich is doing well in the public opinion polls and has a good chance of winning the first Republican presidential contest that will take place Iowa early next year - and perhaps even of getting the nomination itself.
And what is driving Mr Gingrich's electoral momentum now - very much like that of Mr Obama in 2008 - is the anger of the activists who determine the outcome of the primaries and the voters in the general election who decide who will spend the next four years in the White House. The Democratic primary voters who had made Mr Obama a winner in Iowa were furious that America had been drawn into a bloody and senseless war in Iraq and were angry at Senator Clinton for voting in favour of the Congressional resolution that provided then Republican president George W Bush with the authority to invade Iraq.
Many Democratic activists perceived Senator Clinton to be a member of the party's oil establishment, while Senator Obama was lauded as an anti-war and progressive public figure who was going to bring 'change' to Washington.
The Clinton-Obama race remained close through the primary process, but with Mr Obama gaining a steady lead in pledged delegates.
This time, the Republican primary voters - who tend to adhere to the conservative agenda of the Tea Party and who could lead Mr Gingrich to victory in Iowa - are angry at President Obama and the Democrats for allegedly trying to bring the American economy under the control of the federal government and to impose his liberal-secular values on God-fearing Americans. And these Republicans regard former governor Romney as a Rino (Republican in Name Only) who is a closet liberal while they see Mr Gingrich - despite the fact that he has been a Washington lobbyist and was a serial adulterer - as an authentic anti-government conservative who would kick the 'socialist' Obama out of office.
Candidate Obama's image as a vigorous young reformer and a message of 'change' won him the support of voters - mad as hell at the way Washington had brought America to the edge of economic disaster in 2008 - and carried him into victory in a general election. Mr Gingrich may not have the political organisation that Mr Obama succeeded in building in 2008.
But it's not inconceivable that many of the same voters who concluded that nothing really changed in Washington may be angrier today than they had been in 2008, so angry that they would elect someone who they perceive to be a grumpy and mean old man as the next US president.
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