After spending months at the bottom of the polls, former House Leader Newt Gingrich has recently surged atop the Republican primary race. A flurry of new polls put Gingrich ahead of Mitt Romney. The first Republican primary in Iowa is only weeks away. As much as the Republican faithful are hesitant to embrace Romney as their standard-bearer, Gingrich’s controversial past and his business dealings could give conservative activists pause before they decide to throw their support behind a candidate who might not be as strong in the general election as the former governor of Massachusetts will be against President Barack Obama.
The Gingrich campaign was mired in controversy after his official launch in May. In his first major interview on Meet the Press, he sharply criticized Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) budget plan for wanting to turn the widely popular Medicare program into a voucher system. His criticisms ignited a stir among conservatives; he tried to make amends by apologizing. Soon after, a new controversy erupted regarding large sums of money that Gingrich and his wife spent at Tiffany’s to buy jewelry. At a time when a great number of Americans are struggling economically, critics blasted Gingrich for his lavish spending on “bling.” Those twin controversies took the wind out of his campaign. To make matters worse, many campaign staff abruptly resigned. Thus, the press wrote the obituary of the campaign and most people stopped paying attention to what he had to say.
For months afterwards, conservatives had embraced a succession of candidates with Texas Governor Rick Perry and pizza tycoon Herman Cain taking turns at leading the GOP presidential pack. Both candidates, though, sank after heavy scrutiny on their policy and private lives. Having no other credible conservative candidates left, conservatives are flocking to Gingrich. It remains to be seen whether Gingrich would maintain that support after the media vet him like they did the other candidates.
Gingrich has been on the political scene for a long time. His past indiscretions are known by many. The familiarity to some of his flaws could help inoculate the former Speaker as the press starts examining his personal life. But his business ventures are a different story. According to the Washington Post, his many businesses and non-profits brought “about $150 million over the past decade.” The focus on his many business networks by the media in the days and weeks ahead would most likely reveal embarrassing information.
The ways in which Gingrich accumulated his vast wealth after leaving the speakership would not be the only potential minefield ahead for his campaign. Although Mitt Romney is known for being the flip flopper-in-chief, Gingrich has taken and switched many positions that his newfound supporters might not be aware of. Many years ago, he publicly stated his belief that humans have contributed to climate change. He even went so far as to make an ad with Nancy Pelosi where they both encourage the government to formulate policies that would help thwart global warming. Furthermore, as late as 2005, he was a supporter of the individual mandate, which is a centerpiece of what conservatives derisively called Obamacare. Conservatives strongly oppose both the Health Care Act and any legislation that would help curb climate change. They believe that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. When it comes to climate change, they do not believe that human activities play any role. In order to appeal to these voters, Gingrich has completely repudiated his earlier stances on those two major issues.
Although conservatives have been reluctant to embrace Romney as their own, Gingrich’s personal indiscretions, the way that he accumulated his wealth, along with his recent support of policies that are anathema to conservative activists could make him an unacceptable alternative for many in the party. Even more importantly, the principal goal of Republican voters is to defeat Obama; therefore, they might not be willing to pick a nominee that will be weighed down by personal baggage, which could increase the odds of President Obama's getting reelected.
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