Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Will the real anti-establishment candidate please stand up?


Newt Gingrich is now claiming to be the “anti-establishment candidate.”  That’s right, folks. The former Speaker of the House of Representatives, a 20 year veteran of Congress, is claiming to be “anti-establishment.”

What a joke.

On Meet the Press on Sunday, Newt amped up his establishment rhetoric, saying “the Establishment is right to be worried about a Gingrich nomination, because a Gingrich nomination means that we’re going to change things, we’re going to make the Establishment very uncomfortable.”

I hate the establishment vs. anti-establishment argument. In most situations, it’s complete nonsense, used only by those who are trailing in the polls, as noted by my colleague Jim Hoeft in the Daily Press last week.  But for some, it seems to resonate.  Despite the apparent potency of the argument for some Republican voters, at least in this situation, it’s a hollow theme.

It makes perfect sense that Newt would adopt the establishment vs. anti-establishment rhetoric – it fits completely into his playbook. That book, which is by now dogeared and cliched, has the candidate speak in semi-memorable soundbites that sound smart as you hear them but don’t stand up to more than a few seconds of serious scrutiny.  This strategy was pointed out by the pure establishment, notorious RINO and flaming liberal Ann Coulter on Fox News this weekend.

Regardless of whether you think the establishment vs. anti-establishment argument is a good one – it isn’t, but folks are entitled to their opinions – Newt is the farthest from being an outsider of anybody left up on that stage. Does anybody honestly think Newt is the man to muck the stables of DC?

There’s really only one candidate in the race left who can honestly claim to be anti-establishment, and it’s not Ron Paul. It’s Mitt Romney. The man served one term as governor of Massachusetts, never held elective office before and has not held elective office since. He’s been out of office since 2007. He’s never served one day in Washington. He was never in the Republican leadership, never ran the Republican Governors Association or had any high ranking positions in the RNC.

Ron Paul has spent 24 years in Washington – longer than anybody else on the stage, including Gingrich. While his ideas may put him outside the mainstream, that doesn’t make him anti-establishment. It just makes him really bad at legislating.

Rick Santorum is a former two term Senator and two term Congressman, with 16 years of experience in Washington under his belt. In the Senate he was Republican Conference chairman, the number 3 leadership position, behind leader and whip.

Newt is not the anti-establishment candidate. He defines establishment. He was Speaker. He ran the NRCC. He was in the leadership for much of his career. Nobody was more inside Washington than he was. He had 20 years to clean this town up, including 4 as arguably the second most powerful person in DC and he failed miserably. In fact, if anything, he made things worse, by destroying the collegial atmosphere that had characterized Washington politics outside the glare of the TV cameras and reporters notebooks for most of the previous two centuries. He made politics in Washington an “us vs. them” phenomenon and was the true originator of the “permanent campaign” mentality (frequently attributed to Karl Rove). He has caused lasting damage to the fabric of our politics. He argues that he wants to change Washington, but he already has – making it far worse than it ever was before. But that “change Washington” theme won him the Speakership and helped propel us to a majority in the House of Representatives.So it makes sense, then, that he’d try the same routine again. It’s never failed him in the past.

But it has failed America.

For those out there who like the establishment vs. anti-establishment argument, Mitt Romney, not Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich, should be your candidate.

Washington needs reform, especially after the damage the Obama Administration has caused. And much of that reform has to be in restoring competence to government, rebuilding trust between the parties, and a renewed focus on true bipartisanship – not the Democrats get what they want while Republicans get hosed style bipartisanship that has become the new definition of the word. That will take a fresh persepective and the only fresh perspective left on that stage is coming from Mitt Romney.

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