Beltway Insider Secret Decoder Ring Needed

Help! I’ve read yesterday’s fascinating Politico story about how Republicans who hate Newt are keeping their mouths shut for now twice, and I still can’t figure out how to understand it. The article goes through a long list of Republicans who were in or around Congress in the 1990s and have a history of disliking Newt, and makes the case that they’re all (sort of) keeping their powder dry just now.

Should we be accepting the surface meaning: that Dick Armey, Tom Coburn, and all the others who worked with him as Speaker and consequently know that he should be nowhere near the presidency have decided, for unclear reasons, not to say so right now?

Or is the true meaning the opposite — is this like the candidate who starts every stump speech by proudly proclaiming himself a positive campaigner and swearing never once to mention his opponent’s divorces, flip-flops, ethical violations, and other embarrassing episodes?

If it’s the first, then the article is saying that Gingrich might actually be able to persuade a lot of people who don’t like him with good reason to at least accept his candidacy, if not support him. If the latter, then it’s an early warning reminder to everyone that you can expect a lot of Newt dirt to be spread far and wide, and by solid conservative Republicans, if his boomlet continues.

I mean, the whole point of Politico is that it’s supposed to be firmly in-the-know, which suggests that we should always look for what’s actually being said, rather than just take it at face value. But this one? I’m stumped. Which, of course, suggests the limits of this kind of inside-baseball signaling; you have to be very careful about making sure that everyone knows all the signs, or else you’re going to get all sorts of misreadings.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.