Estrich: Keep it up, Newt

He has some nutty ideas, and Dems hope his fight with Romney never ends

By Susan Estrich, Columbian syndicated columnist

Published:

 

Ask any honest Democrat, and they’ll tell you what I’m about to tell you: We’re rooting for Newt.

The death penalty for marijuana?

Replacing janitors with school kids?

Mining the moon for minerals?

Go, Newt.

It’s not that the former Speaker doesn’t have the smarts. Quite the contrary. He may be too smart for his own good -- at least his own good in politics. His mind races with ideas. His mouth moves even faster.

I’ve done television with Newt and speeches with Newt, and it’s a blast. He’s funny and gracious. He’s always interesting. He knows facts that would make Sarah Palin’s head swim. He understands history. He’s pointed and provocative.

It’s just that a substantial number of his ideas are, well, different. Nutty. Like the minerals on the moon.

That is fine if you’re a professor or a professional speaker. Not fine if you are a politician.

The great columnist Walter Shapiro said in a recent interview that every time he goes to hear Newt speak, he comes away with 15 ideas for a column; whereas, every time he hears Mitt Romney, he forgets the 15 ideas he had coming in. Newt makes great copy.

If I were a Republican activist -- sick and tired of the smooth and calculating moderate-turned-conservative-turning-moderate-about-to-be-turning-conservative-again Romney -- I’d be walking the precincts for Newt. And I’d be having almost as good a time as I did back in 1980, when I ran phone banks for Ted Kennedy in our fight against Jimmy Carter. The Republicans back then were hoping the fight would never end, and in many respects, it didn’t.

And that is exactly what we Democrats are rooting for with Newt.

The upper hand

Do I really think the Republicans are going to nominate Newt for president? Nah. Too good to be true. Even now, the spotlight is beginning to shine pretty harshly. Eventually, the grownups in the establishment who think nominating Newt is a gift to the Democrats will probably get the upper hand -- but hopefully later rather than sooner.

Newt is not about to go gently into the night. Newt lives on debates, regardless of his own war chest. He has friends with super-PACs carrying his water. His supporters, many of them, are true believers.

The fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama went the distance. Even if they are, today, loyal partners, I have no doubt there was no love lost when it ended.

But it was never blood war on the ground. The people on both sides were old friends who went back to being friends when it was over. It was liberals against liberals.

Newt-Romney, however, is already nastier than Hillary-Obama ever was (with all of one bad ad, the red phone). Fine by me. What Hillary-Obama proves is that it’s not the length of the fight but the bitterness and animosity on the ground that hurts. Like in 1980. Go, Newt.

There were, and probably still are, two schools of thought about 1980. The Kennedy side believed the only hope of defeating Reagan was to defeat Carter first. The Carter side felt that Reagan won because Carter was so defeated by the process. My guess is there is a similar debate on the Republican side right now.

But the bottom line is that Reagan did win, which is why all of us who are rooting for Obama are rooting for Newt to go the distance in his attacks on Romney. If he does, win or lose, we win.