Another Fake Presidential Candidate Rises to the Top

If everything works out, the Buddy Roemer boomlet should be perfectly timed to sweep him to victory in the Iowa caucus and make him the Republican nominee for president. OK, I'm kidding (and in case you were wondering, Buddy Roemer is a former Louisiana governor and congressman who is running for president, but for some reason, he's considered "fringe" and ignored while a half-dozen equally clownish candidates are allowed to participate in the debates). But watching the Newt Gingrich surge—he's now leading the Republican field in some polls—you could almost believe that every candidate, including Roemer, will eventually get their day atop the field. I haven't gone back and checked (my personal awareness only dates back to 1988), but has there ever been a presidential primary race that has cycled through this many front-runners? We've had Romney, Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and now Gingrich atop at least some poll at some time or another. I think our old friend Sarah Palin (remember her?) may have led at one point, too.

Just as remarkable as the volatility is the fact that only two of these candidates, Romney and Perry, are remotely plausible nominees. No one who knows a thing about politics actually believed that Donald Trump could mount a serious campaign, or that Michele Bachmann could, or that Herman Cain could. And clear-eyed Republicans view the idea of Gingrich as the GOP nominee with horror. There's a reason Gingrich is so unpopular. He's personally unlikeable, a self-important blowhard whose default mode is sneering contempt for everyone around him. He's reckless and unpredictable. He's got a private history of despicable behavior, cheating on two wives and then dumping them for younger models. His record of flip-flops puts Mitt Romney's to shame. Even if the economy fails to accelerate before next November, there is simply no way Newt Gingrich could beat Barack Obama.

So what's behind his current surge? Little more than a process of elimination. Once Herman Cain turned out to be not such a great idea, they had to turn somewhere, and their remaining non-Romney, highly conservative choices basically come down to Newt and Rick Santorum. But there's still no evidence that Gingrich is mounting anything resembling an actual campaign. So he'll peter out before long.

Which, I'm guessing, is just fine with him. Since he left Congress in the mid-90s, Gingrich has managed to create an empire of personality unmatched among formerly influential politicians, a veritable GloboNewtCorp. He's got multiple "nonprofit" organizations whose goal appears to be little more than promoting Newt. He publishes books written "with" ghostwriters, he makes documentary films, he gets invited on the Sunday shows to give his opinions. He convinces groups to give him large amounts of money for basically nothing—like the way Freddie Mac paid him at least $1.6 million to have a couple of chats with top executives and give a speech (Newt hilariously claims that he was offering his services as "a historian").

GloboNewtCorp will be greatly enhanced by this presidential race. As will Herman Cain's motivational-speaking business, as will Michele Bachmann's position as a leader of the unhinged right. It turns out that running for president is a shrewd business move, so long as you aren't actually trying to become president.