Jane Austen’s Republican Primary

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, in the GOP primary, no truths last long enough to actually merit universal acknowledgement.

The same might be said of the ascending front-runner Newt Gingrich. Conventional wisdom says he may indeed win the round of musical chairs that will determine the Romney alternative. Even Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight cautiously predicts that Gingrich will win Iowa, given his eight point lead in the polls with only one month to go. But this is not the moment to evaluate Gingrich as a candidate. With a redemption narrative to stoke his ego, and a horde of fair-weather cheerleaders boosting his confidence and adrenaline, this is Gingrich at his dazzling yet all-too-brief best. Like Willoughby or Wickham, he has begun to court voters with great ardor, stoking their passions with debate answers and soundbites just as cleverly coded as any sonnet. As an historian and egomaniac, he no doubt relishes a comparison that casts him as dashing hero to the party’s Marianne, appearing on horseback amidst a rainstorm to come to the rescue of the maidenly electorate.

Just as Miss Dashwood and Lydia Bennett learned the hard way, Gingrich is no gentleman. The two wives he divorced during their respective hospital stays and grave illnesses (cancer and multiple sclerosis, respectively) can attest that he is hardly a noble partner through thick and thin. The same selfishness, fickleness, and volatility were on display throughout his career as leader of the Republican party. Gingrich’s greatest selling point is his ability to weave a narrative, but the main character is always himself. Case in point: Gingrich compares the trajectory of his presidential campaign – which has yet to win any primary contests to date, or remain atop polls for more than three weeks – to those of legendary corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonalds.

Time after time, once the bouquets have died and the harpsichord falls silent, the real work begins and Newt suddenly drops away. In 1997, Republicans in Congress attempted to oust him as speaker. Longtime legislators like Tom Delay, Tom Coburn, and Dennis Hastert criticized him for being disorganized, hyperbolic, and ineffective. Apparently the disrespect runs deep enough for Coburn to go on record regarding the current front-runner and say he shouldn’t be the nominee. Even more recently, his candidacy was known for ill-timed cruises to Greece and endless headlines about Tiffanys credit lines and staff mutiny. 

Not the sign of a disciplined and inspiring leader who can do the day-to-day work necessary to win a primary, much less a general election, or (shudder) the United States. After the novelty that is driving his momentum and headlines dies down, he will still need money, staff, and a campaign organization. Recall that he’s had only six months to attempt to build any such infrastructure. If his recent New Hampshire filing, which the Wall Street Journal called “sloppy!” is any indication, his staff is comprised mainly of ten year olds (he really walks the walk about child labor laws.) But organization and discipline are not the hallmarks of our Austen rogues. They love you and leave you, until eventually you realize that dependable old Colonel Brandon – or Mitt Romney – is truly the sensible choice.

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