As you might recall, back in February I wrote about why I thought McCain would lose in November. While that contention is still a matter of debate, there's no doubt that, win or lose, McCain has meant a great deal of apprehension for conservative Republicans, and caused a lot of soul-searching about the future of the party and the conservative movement.
In assuming McCain's eventual defeat, I turned to what history suggested the Republican party needed to do to rebuild itself. I followed what I thought was the most likely parallel, that of Goldwater's 1964 defeat, the GOP's 1966 recovery, and Nixon's 1968 triumph. A key component of that strategy involved
"one thing above all: a leader. Someone to speak for the party in the media, to energize the base and rally the troops, to campaign for Republicans nationwide and hold the administration’s feet to the fire."
I humbly suggested at the end of that piece that if the example of history were to be followed, one name presented itself as the logical answer: Newt Gingrich. (Read the entire piece to find how I arrived at that conclusion.)
Therefore, it was no surprise to me to see in this week's headline "GOP Leaders Warn Of Election Disaster" that the most prominent Republican mentioned was indeed Gingrich. He remains the one Republican who can command attention - and by that I don't mean merely that the media reports what he says. I mean that people actually pay attention to what he says.
Gingrich's warning to the GOP was in the form of this article in Human Events, in which he lays out the facts: Republicans losing special elections for longtime GOP-held seats, polls showing that Americans in overwhelming numbers believe the economy is headed in the wrong direction, and a botching of traditional Republican issues combined with a lack of new ideas and new direction from Republican leaders. Under these circumstances, Gingrich suggests, the GOP is headed for an election disaster in the House and Senate; he also points out that it is only McCain's personal popularity that currently keeps the White House from becoming a lost cause as well. Gingrich's conclusion, and it is a hard one with which one can argue, is that Republicans have but two choices: Real change or certain defeat.
In doing so Gingrich is following what I saw as some of the key components of a Republican recovery: support of the party's presidential candidate in the November election (as Nixon did with Goldwater in 1964), an agenda for the Republicans to follow in the midterm elections (the "Nine Acts of Real Change" that Gingrich offers in the Human Events article), and a call to action coupled with an optimistic note for the future. "Real change" requires an agent of that change, a leader to mobilize the troops behind a personal vision of the future. Every successful movement, whether social, political or military, succeeds or fails based on the presence and success of that leadership. Gingrich, I believe, is attempting to offer that leadership and will continue to do so through the post-November period and into the midterm elections, where the 2012 landscape will become far more clear.
A couple of caveats to consider: I never said that Gingrich was the only person who could pull the GOP together, merely that he was the most logical one. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the GOP will follow his suggestions - after all, there's a reason why they're known as the Stupid Party. Still, for a student of history, the drama is unfolding.
Friends, whether or not you realize it, the first shots of the 2012 election are being fired today; and as history suggested, it is Newt Gingrich who is firing them.