Newt’s Insider Appeal

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What strikes me most about the Iowa poll numbers Adam flagged earlier is this:

In seeking to draw a contrast with his competitors, especially Gingrich, Romney has repeatedly noted that the former Speaker was a “career politician,” while he spent most of his life in business. That message might be getting through, but the Post poll suggests it’s not having the desired effect. Seventy percent cited Gingrich’s political experience as a reason to support his candidacy, while just 11% said it gave them cause to oppose it.

I heard this same thing repeatedly from Newt’s followers when I was in Iowa a few weeks ago. “He knows the establishment,” a woman named Bev Kruger, who had just heard Newt speak an hour or so northwest of Des Moines, told me. “He’s the one person who’s had experience in this area.” (Washington, D.C., that is.) This sentiment was typical. It also flies in the face of recent political wisdom. For the past three or so years, if there was one thing we knew about the conservative base, it was that it hates Washington insiders and their back-scratching, log-rolling ways. That certainly was central to Herman Cain’s brief moment of glory.

Now comes Gingrich, thriving with the argument that only he knows the game well enough to change it. How many other candidates will lecture audiences about the “reactionary” Congressional Budget Office, and the way its economic assumptions stunt innovative policymaking? (Never mind how that same Washington savvy made Newt rich, an apparent case of the crony capitalism the Tea Party so despises.) It’s an effective case–reminiscent in some ways of Hillary Clinton’s argument in 2008 that only she had the know-how to advance the Democratic agenda through D.C.’s policy labyrinths. Obama shot down that argument, in part, by countering that Hillary and her cohort already had their chance to transform Washington–and failed. Mitt Romney needs to start making the same case.