January 23rd, 2012
06:38 PM ET

Letters to the President #1099: 'Gingrich breaks for the rails'

Reporter's Note: Newt Gingrich startled a good many political analysts by rising from the dead to win the South Carolina GOP primary decisively. I’m sure President Obama was watching; just as I am sure he reads my daily letter to the White House without fail.

Dear Mr. President,

Do you know what Newt Gingrich won this weekend in South Carolina that counts much more than any delegates he picked up? He won the intangible. He won an impression. He won a sense among Republican voters, who previously thought he simply could not win, that maybe…just maybe…he can.

And that is everything.

I’m not saying that he will get the nomination. There are plenty of ways of doing the math which suggest that Mitt Romney is still the man to beat. But Gingrich has now cleared the highest initial hurdle. Voters have started imagining a Gingrich victory in the nomination process, and a later victory in the presidential race. It is a new idea for many; still hazy, fragile, and it could disappear in a puff. If he blurts out some disastrous comment, or some new embarrassment from his deep past rips to the surface, his momentum could…as we’ve seen with others…be gone.

Still, at the moment, he sits in the saddle of a thoroughbred which was sitting in the stable a few days ago, but is now burning around the track.

You know what it is like to make it to that point, because that is precisely what happened to you. Remember how for so long in 2007-08 you had fans out there who would say things like, “I really like what he has to say, but frankly I don’t think he can win. Hillary Clinton can win. He can’t.” And when you finally cracked through that idea, the avalanche began. The support, the money, and the endorsements rained down upon you; you racked up delegate after delegate, and pretty soon, Bob’s-your-uncle, you had the nomination.

I don’t have a crystal ball, and like I said, this could play out any number of ways. But in the spirit of offering advice, I will tell you what I would tell any president: Be very mindful of how powerful such movements can be. Even though some of your Democrats may be salivating over the chance to face a conservative war horse like Gingrich, instead of a more moderate player like Romney, they should be careful what they wish for.

Once people start imagining something, they can often make it come true.

Other than that, did you see the playoff games over the weekend? Entertaining to be sure. With my Saints out, I don’t really have a favorite anymore, but I suppose the Super Bowl will be a good matchup. We’re not planning a party, but if you an Michelle want to come over, give a buzz and we’ll order some pizza or something.


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