The Next Harold Stassen?

It’s becoming apparent that the farewells to Newt Gingrich as a presidential candidate–somewhat forced, since he shows no signs of admitting defeat–will be more entertaining than coverage of his campaign. Here’s a gem from The Economist’s Democracy in America blog (forgive the length, but it’s worth it):

Last summer, Mr Gingrich fundamentally transformed the nature of modern political campaigning. How did he do that? By asking for money over the internet. You might think that’s nothing new; plenty of small businesses prefer low-overhead online sales to brick-and-mortar shops, particularly if, like Mr Gingrich, they already have a brand. And you might remember that a certain senator from Illinois proved pretty adroit at capturing online donations and using social media to organise campaign volunteers. But those people were not fundamental, radical change-agents like Mr Gingrich. You might also suspect that he moved his campaign online because it was cheaper. His campaign was $1m in debt, and his staff had resigned en masse, frustrated that Mr Gingrich and his wife Callista seemed to prefer plush cruises through southern Europe to actually campaigning for the presidency. If so, you might be a member of the elite, bent on cynically wrecking the campaign of the most brilliant leader American has never had. To Mr Gingrich, getting online donations was nothing short of earth-shattering. As Politico reported, Mr Gingrich “boasted that he was inventing a revolutionary new model of campaigning” by asking for money online. “I told somebody at one point, ‘This is like watching Walton or Kroc develop Walmart and McDonald’s.'” The real problem was not that he was a profoundly unserious and undisciplined candidate; the problem, as he was only too happy to explain, was that, “Because I am much like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, I’m such an unconventional political figure that you really need to design a unique campaign that fits the way I operate and what I’m trying to do.”

As the Economist blogger subsequently noted, Newt’s refusal to leave the race and his demand for a candidate debate at the convention itself may reflect his belief that Republicans should generously be offered one more opportunity to absorb his brilliance and reconsider one last chance to nominate a new Reagan or Thatcher. Or maybe he just enjoys hearing himself talk so much that he can’t help but share. It wouldn’t surprise me if he became the new Harold Stassen, just perpetually campaigning for president until dotage overtakes him, oblivious to the growing mockery. After all, greatness is its own justification.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.