Just a few weeks ago, Newt Gingrich's campaign for the Republican nomination was teetering on the brink.
Back in June, Gingrich's campaign staff resigned in the wake of several blunders ranging from his wife’s line of credit at Tiffany’s to his roles as a paid lobbyist and consultant.
However, Gingrich has surged to the lead in recent polls in Iowa and South Carolina and is now a close second to Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. The former speaker of the House has benefitted from Herman Cain's waffling on foreign policy issues and his mismanagement of allegations of sexual misconduct as well as a recent accusation he had a long-time affair. Gingrich also has made some gains following Rick Perry’s horrible debate performances and Michelle Bachmann’s public stumbling.
During a recent campaign trip to South Carolina, Gingrich told reporters he expects to maintain his status as a front runner because he is more of a substantive candidate — unlike Cain, Perry or Bachmann.
“I think in my case, because I rose based on substance, it's a different phenomena. It took longer; it was slower. And I think people are more deeply committed,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich's rise to the top of the Republican field might be more than just a temporary surge. The former speaker, who holds a doctorate in European history from Tulane University, has a command of the issues and does extremely well in televised debates. Republican voters want someone who can go match up with President Barack Obama in presidential debates and a serious candidate who can speak with some authority on policy initiatives. Moreover, as a seasoned politician, Gingrich has not insulated himself from the media and is comfortable fielding questions from reporters.
Besides, Gingrich's skeletons came out of the closet years ago. Yes, much of Gingrich's Republican competition has collapsed, and his knowledge and strong debating performances are responsible for his turnaround. However, Republicans also are willing to forgive the thrice-married, Catholic convert for his indiscretions, which include ethics investigations while serving as speaker and numerous adulterous affairs.
Gingrich's rise certainly has frustrated Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor and venture capitalist is seen by some Republicans as a flip-flopper who cannot be trusted to promote a conservative agenda. Obama's health reform plan was modeled to a great extent on Romney's 2006 Massachusetts health measure. Rush Limbaugh has even accused Romney of not being conservative.
Romney has countered such criticism by claiming Gingrich simply lacks the ability to defeat Obama, especially on the economy. While Romney might be the most competitive against Obama in a general election match-up, he must first gain the support of conservatives in the Republican nomination.
Can Gingrich go the distance against Romney or is he another flavor of the week?
Chris Dolan is an assistant professor of political science at Lebanon Valley College and the author of “Striking First,” “In War We Trust” and “The Presidency and Economic Policy.”