August 19, 2005

Newt in Iowa and Liberalism 3.x

I just heard Newt on CSPAN giving a speech that sounded to me like a dry run of his Presidential campaign. He was asked, on a scale of 0 to 10, what the odds are that he'll run for President. He responded that it was somewhere between 1 and 10, which got a laugh. But... it's not zero! To my practiced political ear he seems closer to 10 than 1. For all practical purposes he's running for President now, and the only issue is whether he'll withdraw at some point before November, 2008.

He expressed his thoughts on a number of critical topics, from health care to the "Long War Against Irreconcilable Islam." To me, this sounds like the much awaited Liberalism 3.x. In this view Iraq is just a "campaign," although a clearly important one to us and to the Jihad. I'd also say that if Iowans are getting the idea that we're losing in Iraq that's understandable if their source of information is Mainstream Media. But the odds that Mainstream Media has it right this time are demonstrably zero. (See Michael Yon's thoughts on the inept way media covers the war.) That doesn't mean we're winning "The Long War," though. In fact, I don't think we are. We're essentially attempting to fight Totalitarianism 3.x with the institutions and attitudes typical of Liberalism 2.x. But our military is rapidly making the transition to Liberalism 3.x, and if Newt gets his say the rest of the country may soon follow. I'd vote for him. I thought his presentation was excellent, and I think he has an answer for those discouraged about Iraq, immigration, the economy, etc..

A Newt candidacy also counters what Democrats feel are their main strengths. He's a conservative intellectual, which flies directly in the fact of the standard characterization of Republican candidates. Also, if his recent appearances have helped Hillary harden her foreign policy and defense credentials they've probably helped Newt soften his image even more. He now occupies a policy area that's not really fixed in the liberal-conservative domain. He has new formulae that resolve the primary socio-economic problems that Democrats feel are their proprietary market share. He has the Clintons' wonkishness, but unlike Clinton (either one) he also has a coherent vision and is serious about realizing it.

A friend of mine who is a farmer in Iowa and teaches at a small college there (Luther) has been observing Newt's appearances in the state over the summer, and has some thoughts. I'll post his comments as is, but hasten to add that they aren't my insights or opinions. If credit and/or blame are due, give it to him not me. So without further ado here's what "The Wise Agrarian" has to say about Newt in Iowa:

Newt Gingrich has been in Iowa almost two weeks now, and furthermore, it is State Fair time. Yikes! That means he wants to run for President. I have been to one of his events, and have been following his little Iowa trip closely, making notes of the positions he mentions. In general, he's making inroads with Republicans and Independents, and is seen as doing "OK" but it varies quite a bit by issue. I thought maybe you might be interested in one observer's (me!) quick and dirty laundry list of how Newt's positions are playing to the Iowa audience

Playing well to Iowans:

1. Better control of, or close the borders
2. We're in a "50-70 year war against the irreconcilable wing of Islam"
3. Immigrants to speak English and adopt American culture
4. More science and math education
5. Music idols and sports stars as Dopers and Losers
6. Must reverse Court rulings that remove God from public life
7. His generally positive attitude about future and "we can fix problems"
8. He comes off as a thinker, and in command of many complicated issues

Playing poorly with Iowans:

1. "Real change requires real change" --- Just needs to ditch the line
2. Extraordinary danger of terrorism and dirty bombs daily -- seems a bit overblown out here
3. Any privatization or tinkering with Social Security (definitely still a Third Rail of Politics out here)
4. Any mention of the war in Iraq (other than "we support the troops") -- I don't think he knows what to say about this, sometimes he has appeared stumped when trying to offer realistic policy options without offending Pres. Bush's people. Even half of Iowa Republicans think we should phase out our involvement sooner rather than later, so he's in a tough spot on this one. Among all Iowa voters, only 35% support Bush's handling of the war. This is kind of a Republican's Achilles Heel in Iowa, I think. [Note: My thoughts on the possible meaning of this "disapproval." Not everyone thinks the President is too aggressive. Some think he's not aggressive enough.]
5. Criticizing Bill Clinton; many see this as kind of irrelevant to todays problems, though the radio talk show clowns keep criticizing him and many people like that. But from what Newt has said the past couple days, it looks like he has stopped mentioning Clinton at all, it didn't get him any traction.
6. CAFTA, he has stopped mentioning this after finding out that it was very unpopular with average people, other than with the big corporate-dominated commodity lobbying groups in DC
7. He has also stopped mentioning anything about gay marriage, it is a losing issue for him in Iowa either way

I can't tell:

1. Competitive threat from China and India, military threat from China
2. Lower taxes ( Iowans are not clamoring for lower taxes, since this year, our state government, 3 state universities, and many local governments all went broke, with some very real, visible, local consequences, so the tax-cutting issue is pretty dormant or quiescent now)
3. Farm subsidies; he is having a little difficult time because farm subsidies are immensely popular here, particularly with large corporate producers who are mostly Republican, yet Newt's own economics thinking seems to be anti-subsidy, so he is moving around on this and hasn't landed on a position that I can detect
4. Reduce regulations on business (it doesn't seem to whip 'em up like it did in the '80s and '90s)

It is clear to me that these guys use Iowa as a sounding board to see how things work oratorically and politically. It has been interesting to watch Newt, who is most certainly a sharp fellow, craft his statements out here.

Any thoughts? Keep watching Iowa...

After some consideration, he goes on to clarify:

I am just trying to call them as I see them. The President has not been in Iowa in over a year, and his popularity is running in the 35% to 45% range, depending on the issue. So in part, the key economic and foreign policy issues of Pres. Bush are not real hot for either Bush or Newt right now. I think Newt is figuring that out.

But an interesting flip side is that ALL of the culture-wars kinds of things Newt pushes, which are almost all in line with Pres. Bush (illegal immigrants an exception) are playing very well here.

Another way to look at it is, Newt is pretty smart and focused; he's not terribly worried about votes of Bush Republicans; he figures he'll get them (I know they could defect, but they usually don't in Iowa). He's trying to craft positions that will get the next 10% -15% on top of those Bush Republicans.


My intuition says that he'll get a lot of resistance from the Idiotarian Left and slightly less from Reactionary Conservatives. (It's really the Left who has become reactionary at this point, which is swinging the door wide open for a "progressive" Republican who thinks outside the box.) He ought to be able to overcome the resistance, especially within his own party, by connecting directly with the electorate, a skill has has been developing since leaving congress and one that will catch the Democrats off guard. But even if a Presidential campaign is ultimately unsuccessful he'll still infuse the policy debate with some much needed new ideas and energy.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia)

By Demosophist at 02:37 PM | Comments |