We don't have to imagine what it'd be like for Newt Gingrich to be the on the Republican presidential ticket -- he already was once, if unofficially and against his will. In 1996, President Bill Clinton's reelection campaign worked hard to tie Bob Dole to Gingrich, as Dole complained for more than ten years after he lost. As the San Francisco Chronicle's Debra J. Saunders notes, Dole told Charlie Rose in 2005, "Every TV ad had the worst picture of Newt and the worst [photo] of me and said 'Dole-Gingrich.' And I thought that was my name for a long time. Every ad, you want these two guys to run the country? And Newt was not very popular. I mean, it was like an anchor around my neck." But that was the 1990s, and Gingrich, a lover of history, surely has studied the mistakes he's made. Because, as he emerges as the latest GOP presidential obsession, he's clearly studied the mistakes of the other Not Romneys who've flamed out before him.
What Newt Learned from Michele Bachmann
- Don't be anti-science: Gingrich knows he can't say he agrees with the majority of scientists who say global warming is real and win the Republican nomination. But he's smart enough not to flat-out say it isn't real, telling Bill O'Reilly Monday night that he's "open-minded" on climate change. Better to say you have some doubts about an idea that has a whole lot of evidence than throw yourself behind an idea that's been proven false, like when Bachmann said vaccines could cause mental retardation.
- Don't forget about the church crowd: Just because we've spent the last few years talking about the Tea Party and it's lack of interest in social issues doesn't mean the culture war went away. Gingrich has been working hard to win over evangelicals; CNN's Shawna Shepherd reports that Gingrich's first stop on his three-day trip through South Carolina was a town hall in a church with several local pastors where he talked about how God influenced his ideas. That event was closed to the media, but Gingrich hasn't hidden his appeals to evangelicals. In an October debate, he said religion mattered in evaluating a candidate, because "how can you have judgment if you don’t have faith and how can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?"
What Newt Learned from Rick Perry
- Don't be bad at debates: Obviously. Gingrich is already trash talking President Obama's debate skills.
- Don't be too mean: The top word associated with Perry in an Ohio focus group was "bully." Gingrich has worked hard to avoid criticizing his fellow Republicans on stage during debates, attacking the moderators instead. "I’m frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other," he said in September.
- No Dream Act: Gingrich was hailed as a brave man for not calling for all illegal immigrants to be deported immediately. Why wasn't his position as damaging as Perry's? Because Perry backed a Texas version of the Dream Act that gave in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. ABC News reports that Republican voters are actually split over whether to adopt an assimilation approach to immigration or a criminal one.
What Newt Learned from Herman Cain
- Deal with the woman situation: In fairness, Gingrich probably didn't learn this from Cain, but from his old foe Bill Clinton. Gingrich got out in front of his woman problem a long time ago. He discussed his three marriages with the Christian Broadcasting Network early in his campaign, and his website addresses his infidelity. "Newt has been honest and forthright about the fact that he has had moments in his life that he regrets, that he has had to seek reconciliation, and go to God for forgiveness," the site says.
- Know things about foreign policy: A lesson that shouldn't need mentioning, except that Cain tried to turn not knowing things into a campaign platform for a bit.
- Back a flat tax: Like Perry, Gingrich stole Cain's idea for a super-simple tax plan. The Washington Post's Suzy Khimm writes that Gingrich "one-ups" Perry by cutting the individual tax rate to 15 percent and the corporate rate to 12.5 percent. Gingrich pleases everyone by keeping a lot of popular deductions that help both the rich and the middle class, like those for charitable giving, mortgages, the child tax credit, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
If Gingrich manages to be more than an outlet for conservatives to express their hatred of Mitt Romney, The Hill's Justin Sink observes that his past could haunt him, as Obama's reelection campaign could spend about $500 million on attack ads. But Gingrich has been through that before. We'll see if he's learned his lesson.