Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich won the endorsement of the largest newspaper in New Hampshire – the nation's first primary state – on Sunday, but can he really win the Republican Party’s nomination?
America is “in critical need of the innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing,” the New Hampshire Union Leader's editorial board wrote.
While some have wondered if the former Speaker of the House is just the “flavor of the month” in the Republican field, the endorsement by New Hampshire's only statewide newspaper lends conservative credentials to the candidacy. Many conservatives have been looking for an alternative to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Other candidates – Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain – have risen in the polls only to decline once Republican voters, upon closer inspection, found them wanting.
The question for Gingrich, then, is whether he can stay the course. One of the main criticisms of Mitt Romney is that he has shifted his positions on issues for political expediency. Some voters worry that they do not know enough about Romney's core convictions.
A challenge for Gingrich then, is that he also has shifted his position on many issues, such as climate change, an individual mandate for healthcare, and TARP. He has previously expressed concern about the dangers of man-made global warming and favored a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions. Today, he says he is not sure if global warming is man-made and opposes cap-and-trade. Similarly, he had previously supported a healthcare mandate and TARP, but, today is opposed to those policies.
The issue which has caused consternation among some conservatives recently, however, is an issue which Gingrich has been consistent on – immigration. During a debate last Tuesday, Gingrich explained his support for a way to provide legal status to some immigrants who have entered the country without proper documentation. He supported the “red card solution,” which would provide legal status to some immigrants under certain conditions.
“I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy that destroys families that have been here a quarter century,” Gingrich said.
Other candidates accused Gingrich of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants, a position opposed by many in the Republican Party. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann told supporters that Gingrich was “the most liberal GOP candidate on the issue of immigration reform.”
Gingrich explained, at a campaign event in Naples, Fla., on Friday, that he is not in favor of a path to citizenship, but a “path to legality for those people whose ties are so deeply into America that it would truly be tragic to try and rip their family apart.”
Many have wondered why Gingrich would point out his controversial position at the time that he has been rising in the polls. Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, thinks Gingrich is looking towards the long-term well-being of the Republican Party, rather than the nomination, with his position on immigration.
“He went out of his way, I would almost say, to propose this, I think, showing that he does not want to run as the presidential nominee of a party that looks ridiculous, honestly, on the immigration issue,” Kristol said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Kristol also pointed out that Romney supported a path to citizenship four years ago. “Is Mitt Romney's position really that we're going to send back 11 or 12 million people who are in this country illegally? Including the one million or two million or however many there might be who have been here for 20 or 25 years, whose kids are citizens? I don't believe Romney believes that for a minute.”
Liberal pundit Cokie Roberts agreed on ABC's “This Week” Sunday that the Republican Party cannot continue to take a hardline stance on immigration and win elections. “The truth is that's a losing proposition, in the long run, for Republicans. You cannot have a majority party made up of white males. They're only 25 percent of the population, white males over 30, that does not a majority make.”
Roberts believes Gingrich's biggest challenge will be his own lack of discipline. “He is smart as they come. The greatest strategist you've ever seen. He's so interesting, but he's undisciplined. And it's very difficult to sustain a presidential campaign if you're that undisciplined. Now Clinton did it, but it's not an easy thing to do.”
Jeff Zeleny, political correspondent for The New York Times, believes that Gingrich's biggest hurdle is his lack of a campaign organization to mobilize voters. “At the end of the day, you have to get people to come to the Iowa caucuses,” Zeleny said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Zeleny also said that the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsement helps Gingrich because it gives him credibility. “I think it's great for Newt Gingrich. It separates him from the rest of the field. It looks like it is narrowing into a Romney/Gingrich fight.”
For all his drawbacks, the New Hampshire Union Leader editorial board seemed most impressed with Gingrich's record of accomplishments as a longtime leader of the conservative movement and Speaker of the House, and his willingness to embrace new ideas and take controversial positions.
“Romney is a very 'play-it-safe' candidate,” Andrew Cline, editorial page editor for The New Hampshire Union Leader, said in a Sunday interview on CNN's “State of the Union.”
“Imagine what that would be like as president, someone who plays it safe? I don't think we're in a situation right now as a country that that's necessarily the right kind of president at the moment.”