Gingrich Running: Big Upside, Big Downside, Little In-Between

The big lizard is on the loose.

Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House Speaker and peripatetic idea man, announces Wednesday that he is running for president, via Twitter and Facebook. Even though he’s indelibly associated with the ‘90s, Gingrich has always been a futurist, so the use of social media is an appropriate twist. And it’s not like he needs to introduce himself to people with a giant heavily produced campaign launch.

This time he really means it. Gingrich has flirted with presidential runs before, but this time he really means it. He tweeted the news Monday that on Wednesday people should tune in to Fox News’ Sean Hannity Wednesday evening to hear him give his first interview as a presidential candidate.

No doubt Gingrich will reshape the GOP race. He’s a visionary and a huge fundraiser with an enviable list of more than 1.7 million donors and supporters, who has spent his 12 years out of office building a network of “Newt Inc.” think tanks and political action committees.

Can he win? As a candidate, Gingrich has strong pluses and minuses, not much in-between.

He led the Republican Revolution of 1994 that booted the Democrats out of their 40-year chokehold on the House of Representatives, and took over as speaker in 1995. Four years later, Gingrich was forced out by colleagues angry at several ethics scandals and GOP losses in the 1998 elections.

Before he left, he championed legislation that ended welfare as an open-ended federal entitlement, forged balanced budgets in cooperation with the Clinton administration and pushed for term limits, an idea that was not successful.

Gingrich has stratospheric name recognition, but polls so far also find fairly high negatives; he runs in the single digits on ballot tests featuring announced or potential GOP candidates.  (The Real Clear Politics average of recent surveys finds Gingrich placing fifth, with 7.7 percent support).

And yet a Gallup Poll released Tuesday showed Gingrich was known by 84 percent of Republican voters, and about 7 in 10 had a favorable or very favorable opinion of the former speaker.  Twenty five percent of Republicans had a negative view, which is not chump change; it’s higher than the negative ratings for all the other potential GOP candidates except reality TV star Donald Trump.

That could be a hurdle. Many social conservatives have been cool to the possibility of a Gingrich run, in part because of his record of serial infidelity. (Gingrich speaks of his belief in a forgiving God when the subject comes up.)

And if most Republicans approve of Gingrich, a recent Quinnipiac University poll showed high negative ratings among general-election voters. Forty-two percent said they’d “never” vote for Gingrich for president, compared with nearly 6 in 10 who said they would never pull a lever for Sarah Palin or Trump.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether Gingrich has passed his sell-by date. The 1990s were a long time ago, and, while voters would love to have the booming economy of that decade, Republicans may be looking for a fresh face.

But one thing is certain: Gingrich will be an intelligent and provocative candidate.

Although that, too, could be a problem, as Time’s Michael Scherer points out in an interesting piece that asks whether Gingrich’s tendency to be didactic might backfire.

In honor of Gingrich’s big step, here's “Big Lizard in My Backyard,” by The Dead Milkmen.