Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, the two leaders in the Republican presidential race, have large differences in terms of their campaigns, character and backgrounds. What do these differences say about the type of president either would become if elected?
“I know Newt Gingrich. And Newt Gingrich is a friend of mine. But, he and I are not clones, I promise,” Romney pointed out at the Dec. 10 debate in Iowa.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, grew up in a wealthy family, but his father, who wanted to instill the value of hard work in his children, required him to do chores. Romney maintained that sense of thrift even as he became a successful businessman.
Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, grew up in a family of modest means. He became wealthy later in life through his expertise and connections, but has a reputation for spending heavily on unnecessary luxuries.
Romney has a well-funded, professional campaign that exemplifies his preference for order and discipline.
Gingrich's chaotic campaign has seen staffers leave and return. Its ad-hoc methods reflect Gingrich's eccentric style.
Both Gingrich and Romney are seeking to diminish their perceived weaknesses. Gingrich tries to emphasize that he is stable, while Romney emphasizes his empathy with working families.
Gingrich was the mastermind behind the historic Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Even if he loses the current race, he has already earned a place in the history books as one of the most important leaders in the conservative movement of the last half-century.
Yet, his erratic leadership style frustrated members of his own party so much that there was an attempted coup just two years after Gingrich became speaker of the House. The leader of that coup, Lindsay Graham, now a U.S. senator, believes Gingrich has changed.
“If you could bring out the best of Newt Gingrich and encapsulate that, you could have a transformative president. He seems to be more settled now,” Graham told reporters on Dec. 6.
Gingrich has emphasized his age and that he is now a grandfather.
“I've had to go to God for forgiveness. I've had to seek reconciliation. But I'm also a 68-year-old grandfather. And I think people have to measure who I am now and whether I'm a person they can trust,” Gingrich said at the Saturday debate in Iowa.
Romney, meanwhile, has emphasized his upbringing.
“I didn't grow up poor. And if somebody is looking for someone who's grown up with that background, I'm not the person. But I grew up with a dad who'd been poor, and my dad wanted to make sure I understood the lessons of hard work. And my mom and dad wanted to make sure that I understood the principles that made America the greatest nation on earth. And so they made sure we had jobs as we were growing up. They made sure we didn't spend money foolishly. And they made sure that I had a care and concern for other people,” Romney said at the same debate.
Romney has also recently spoken more about his time as a missionary in France. While admitting that France is “no third-world country,” he lived on only $110, about $600 in today's dollars, per month. Romney described his modest living conditions during that period when he lived with no toilet, shower or bathtub.
Gingrich’s and Romney's campaigning styles would likely each translate to governing styles similar to two recent presidents, should they find themselves in that office.
Gingrich would be like Bill Clinton. The Clinton White House was informal; staff could wear jeans. Much like a college dorm, Clinton would sometimes have “all-nighters,” complete with pizza delivery, when a big project was “due.”
Romney would be more like George W. Bush. Unlike the Clinton White House, staff never wore jeans in the “W” White House. Orderliness and punctuality became the norm.
Trying to figure out how each candidate would govern is a “difficult one to answer,” admitted Richard Conley, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, in a Wednesday interview with The Christian Post. Conley specializes in the study of the American presidency and has written and edited books and journal articles on the topic.
Gingrich's experience as a congressperson and speaker of the House should not be discounted, argues Conley. “Gingrich has certainly been in the trenches.” Plus, Gingrich deserves some credit for getting the welfare reform bill passed in 1996.
Conley is concerned, however, that some Republicans who served under Gingrich have described him as “a terrible manager.”
Also, leading the House requires a different set of skills than the president, Conley pointed out, because the House is governed by the majority party, but presidents must build coalitions with other party members. “You're going to have to reach out to the other side,” and “there is some question about [Gingrich's] ability to do that.”
Conley agreed that Gingrich could be similar to Clinton in his management style, especially Clinton's first term.
“Clinton would go into these policy meetings and they would get into these great academic debates, but nothing would get resolved. He and [Vice President Al] Gore both have this academic strain to them where they like to talk about these big issues and so forth. It's the mark of a highly intelligent individual, but the problem is, when it comes to policy-making that doesn't get it done.”
Romney, on the other hand, would be “more inclined to have a tight run organization” similar to George W. Bush.
“Romney has something Newt does not, which is executive experience. He's had to make decisions to balance the state budget. He's got a set of skills, between the private sector and being governor, which probably put him in a place where he would be a fairly decent manager.”
Another one of Romney's potential strengths, Conley points out, is also what is causing him difficulty with some Republican primary voters. As the governor of a liberal state, Massachusetts, Romney has more experience building coalitions with members of the opposite party.
Conley also qualifies his answers, however, by noting that “there's no real job that prepares you to be president,” including governor or speaker of the House.