Newt Gingrich talks to New Hampshire State Rep. Joe Pitre during a campaign stop at the Circle Restaurant in Epson, NH. Friday, Nov. 11, 2011.
Newt Gingrich talks to New Hampshire State Rep. Joe Pitre during a campaign stop at the Circle Restaurant in Epson, NH. Friday, Nov. 11, 2011. Jim Cole/AP
Say this for the New Hampshire Union Leader editorial board, it's no fair weather fan in the world of politics. It endorses who it will for president, no matter the odds of his eventually getting the nomination or becoming president.
As has been widely reported, the conservative newspaper on Sunday endorsed Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
The backing by one of New England's most influential conservative institutions was immediately seen as a big boost for Gingrich and a yet another pothole placed before Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts.
But the endorsement of someone other than Romney wasn't really surprising. The newspaper's publisher and editorial board has a history of endorsing those presidential candidates it judges to be as faithful to conservative orthodoxy as itself.
In 2000, it endorsed Steve Forbes, despite the availability of George W. Bush, the eventual nominee. And in 1996, it endorsed Pat Buchanan despite then-Sen. Majority Leader Bob Dole being in the race. Dole became the nominee.
So it's clear that the Union Leader hasn't historically placed a high premium on choosing the Republican candidate likely to fare best in a general election race in which adherence to conservative principles matter less.
In the current field, so long as there was a conservative alternative available to Romney for them to endorse, Union Leader publisher Joseph McQuaid and his editorial board staff, were likely to go for the unRomney, since the former Massachusetts governor may be called many things, but long-time rock-ribbed conservative isn't one of them.
Romney has a large lead in New Hampshire. The Real Clear Politics New Hampshire average gives him an 18.3 percent. And if you throw out as an outlier the bizarrely low two percent lead the NH Journal/Magellan poll gave him, Romney's average lead becomes more like 23.6 percent.
The good news for Romney is that many New Hampshire voters already know him because so many of them moved from Massachusetts. So the Union Leader's endorsement isn't likely to mean much to them.
Also, in making its case for Gingrich, the Union Leader so reimagines his career and the role he played in 1990s Washington, as to make its entire judgment suspect.
From its editorial:
We are in critical need of the innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing.
He did so with the Contract with America. He did it in bringing in the first Republican House in 40 years and by forging balanced budgets and even a surplus despite the political challenge of dealing with a Democratic President. A lot of candidates say they're going to improve Washington. Newt Gingrich has actually done that, and in this race he offers the best shot of doing it again.
Gingrich improved Washington with positive leadership? Well, there were that government shutdown he oversaw. Then there was the presidential impeachment process of which he was one of the prime backers. He was sanctioned for ethics violations. Eventually, his own Republican House colleagues rebelled against him and, while he staved off the coup attempt, resigned as speaker and from the House after the 1998 mid-term elections went badly for Republicans.
He then went and leveraged his past speakership and political connections to makes millions of dollars giving "strategic advice," to corporations, Washington-speak for one-time big political players engaging in lobbying without technically being registered lobbyists.
If Gingrich improved Washington, the changes were largely imperceptible to many who experienced Washington first hand during his years running the House.