Foxes and Hedgehogs on the Campaign Trail

I'm not sure how conservatives are talking amongst themselves about the rise of Newt Gingrich, but among liberals, the dominant reaction is amazement. Newt may not be as purely radical as someone like Michele Bachmann, but he is so tremendously unlikeable that it's almost impossible to see him winning a presidential election, no matter how much national conditions like the economy favor his party. Even apart from how personally repellent he is, always ready with a self-important comment and an arrogant sneer, he offers what you might call a target-rich environment for attacks. Let's say you try criticizing him for the fact that he cheated on and then dumped two wives, trading them in for younger women. That doesn't work? How about his high-flying lifestyle, with six-figure credit lines at Tiffany's, private jets, and limousines ("The tab for private chauffeurs, primarily to ferry Gingrich and his wife, reached $200,000 to $300,000 per year", says the Washington Post)? That doesn't turn people against him? Then how about the way he traded his status as a Washington insider to make millions? That doesn't do it? Then how about the fact that he's flip-flopped on so many issues he makes Mitt Romney look like a model of principled consistency?

But if there's one problem with this embarrassment of opposition research riches, it's that it's almost too much for voters to handle. It could be difficult to keep straight just why you're supposed to dislike Newt. On the other hand, when it comes to the still more likely Republican nominee, the story is simple and straightforward, as we can see in this ad just out from the DNC:

They're just scratching the surface here, so you can bet there will be many more like it. While the Obama campaign will certainly hit Romney in other ways, they've already made clear what the central story line of their attacks on Romney will be.

As Isaiah Berlin wrote a half-century ago, the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Successful presidential campaigns are almost always about one big thing. If Newt Gingrich should somehow end up being the Republican nominee, Democrats will have to decide just what it is about him Americans ought to loathe.

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