Why has former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suddenly surged in the polls from near oblivion to the top tier of Republican presidential hopefuls? Credit short memories in the ABM, the "Anybody But Mitt" movement.
The ABM faction of the Grand Old Party has road-tested so many alternatives to persistently high-scoring former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney that it appears they have forgotten all of the perfectly good reasons why they didn't go for Gingrich months ago.
After all, the man has baggage, personal and public, of the sort that conservatives would decry in Democrats. Twice divorced, Gingrich left his first wife following her treatment for cancer. He left his second wife for a staff member who is now his third wife, Callista. Social conservatives don't like that.
Gingrich also is viewed by many as ethically challenged, having been the only speaker of the House to have been disciplined for ethics violations.
Even right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter vigorously pounces on his electability. "In addition to having an affair in the middle of Clinton's impeachment; apologizing to Jesse Jackson on behalf of J.C. Watts -- one of two black Republicans then in Congress -- for having criticized 'poverty pimps,' and then inviting Jackson to a State of the Union address; cutting a global-warming commercial with Nancy Pelosi; appearing in public with the Rev. Al Sharpton to promote nonspecific education reform, and calling [Wisconsin Rep.] Paul Ryan's plan to save Social Security 'right-wing social engineering,' we found out that Gingrich was a recipient of Freddie Mac political money."
Yes, the money from Freddie Mac, which Gingrich claimed during a recent debate to have been for duties as a "historian," but later turned out to be as a consultant, is particularly damaging politically. Tea partyers view the home-lending government-sponsored Freddie Mac as Public Enemy No. 1 in the recent housing and economic crisis.
But for now, at least, many conservatives are willing to overlook those negatives. They want someone who not only can unseat President Obama but also promote "authentic" conservative principles.
Despite Gingrich's occasional joint appearances with liberals, he has unquestionably conservative credentials. His own "revolution" earned street cred among conservatives when he was credited with being the instigator of a partisan divide in Congress that resulted in a government shutdown in 1995. Unfortunately, that divide continues to persist in today's gridlock over budget issues.
Gingrich's resurrection came after the recent GOP presidential debates in which he showed the ferocity of a Rottweiler, not against his fellow Republicans but against an all-purpose whipping boy, the "mainstream media." The ABMs hope Gingrich is a guy who will spank Obama in debates. If nothing else, they long for the entertainment value.
When actual voting is held, I still agree with the conventional wisdom that Romney has the best chance to win the nomination. His moderate views frustrate the GOP right wing, but the party's more mainstream voters recognize he has the crossover appeal to win. Recent polls show him beating Obama among independents these days.
But I'm not writing off Gingrich or anyone else, considering how the conventional wisdom four years ago at this time was predicting victories for Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Real votes, not just polls, will determine how far Republicans have moved to the right and whether ABM anger has a future.