A lead in the polls is a fragile thing, as many presidential primary candidates have discovered. The public is easily diverted. Take Howard Dean, for example, who led in polls for the Democrat primary for the 2004 election, when John Kerry and John Edwards unexpectedly finished ahead of him in the Iowa Caucuses. He attended a post-caucus rally for his volunteers at the Val-Air Ballroom in West Des Moines, Iowa and delivered his concession speech, aimed at cheering up those in attendance when he uttered his famous scream. The video was picked up by the networks and comedians, and endlessly repeated just after winning the Iowa Caucuses. Making him appear very unpresidential, it effectively ended his candidacy.
There was a perfectly valid explanation that few people heard: Dean was suffering with the flu, which gave him a feverish and flushed appearance. Feeling warm, he took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves. (from wikipedia) Dean was shouting over the cheers of his enthusiastic audience, but the crowd noise was being filtered out by his unidirectional microphone, leaving only his full-throated exhortations audible to the television viewers. To those at home, he seemed to raise his voice out of sheer emotion.
Michael Dukakis was another candidate whose status was seriously damaged by a small thing. In 1988, he was the Democrat candidate for president, running against George H. W. Bush. Accused of being soft on defense, he staged a photo of himself, sitting atop an Abrams tank, wearing a tank commander’s helmet. This backfired, and the picture was used to mock him as silly and again, unpresidential. There were other damaging factors that were brought up to hurt Dukakis, but this may have been the most telling. Bush won in a landslide.
The issue that may sink Newt Gingrich’s candidacy is that he worked for Freddie Mac as a “consultant” over a six to eight year period after leaving the House, and while he was a private citizen. Michelle Bachmann, in the December 15 debate, accused him of “peddling influence” and hypocrisy, in that he helped the (evil) Freddie Mac management scam the American public by pushing subprime mortgages, but he now wants to bring them down. I’m paraphrasing Michelle’s comments. A TV attack ad by Mitt Romney accuses Newt of being a lobbyist, using the “If it walks like a duck . . .” saying.
Newt has attempted to explain his work with Freddy Mac. (Quoted from Sam Youngman, Reuters): “I just want to set the record straight,” Gingrich said. “We had a company. The company had three different offices. We were paid annually for six years, so the numbers you see are six years of work. Most of that money went to pay for overhead, for staff, for other things that didn’t go directly to me.”
Newt has explained his Freddy Mac involvement in a long interview with Greta van Susteren on Fox News. He provides a briefer explanation on his website at Newt’s answers. The complete Greta van Susteren interview can be accessed from there. Newt said his Gingrich Group had three offices and 30 employees, had many customers, and was paid by Freddy Mac for “strategic advice.” He said he never lobbied or used his influence.
Newt was interviewed by Mark Levin on his radio show, and gave him an even more cogent justification of his consulting activities with Freddy Mac. Mark Levin.
Michelle, Mitt, and many pundits from TV, blogs, and publications are piling on Newt, refusing to accept his explanations. Among these are Wall Street Journalists, many columnists, and Fox News contributors and journalists such as Charles Krauthammer and Ann Coulter. George Will is very negative to Newt, as is a frequent contributor to the Kansas City Star whom I happen to like a lot, E. Thomas McClanahan.
Newt has his defenders as well, but there aren’t many. Jonah Goldberg, Andrew C. McCarthy, and Rush Limbaugh are almost alone. McCarthy has a long and well-reasoned defense at McCarthy’s defense. Goldberg’s article “A Gingrich presidency? GOP says ‘inconceivable’” appeared in the Kansas City Star: Gingrich inconceivable.
Rush Limbaugh suggested a day or two ago that establishment conservatives don’t want to nominate a “true conservative” and that explains the assault on Newt. I concur.
I happen to believe and accept Newt’s explanations of his Freddy Mac activities, but this issue might bring him down. I hope not. I believe he is the best candidate.