As he worked to unleash the Republican Revolution, Newt Gingrich famously crafted a lexicon to disparage Democrats. Among his favorite 1990s buzzwords: corrupt, pathetic, and sick. With C-SPAN cameras newly installed in the House, he spoke to an empty chamber, believing his words would find an audience of conservatives who wanted to “speak like Newt.” He packaged this new vocabulary in a memo titled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” and he baited Democratic leaders as pro-communist, un-American traitors in business suits.
But three decades after storming into Congress as a radical reactionary Speaker of the House, he has changed his tune—at least for a moment. With Democrats excelling in the midterms last month, Gingrich penned a column comparing Joe Biden with Republican greats Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
And even before Raphael Warnock triumphed over Trump favorite Herschel Walker in his home state, Gingrich warned his party not to underestimate the Democrat in the White House.
“We pettily focus on his speaking difficulties, sometimes strange behavior, clear lapses of memory, and other personal flaws,” Gingrich wrote.
He warned this risked leading his ideological allies to overlook a record of success comparable to previous Republican icons.
After all, Gingrich argued, Eisenhower and Reagan “found being underestimated was a major asset. While people laughed at them, they were busy achieving their goals and getting their programs implemented. Biden has achieved something similar.”
When words of praise come from such an unexpected source, they land with impact. Democrats should listen to Gingrich. For all the hand-wringing about Biden’s age, the lack of enthusiasm for him, and some very obvious failures—like the horrific withdrawal from Afghanistan and mixed signals on COVID—by some important metrics, his presidency has been successful.
And it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to dislodge him.
If there were any doubts about Biden’s intentions, the fact that he reportedly pushed for the new Democratic primary map leading with South Carolina—a scheme that favors himself—is evidence of his toughness.
Democrats have been worrying about Iowa and New Hampshire for years, and didn’t have the nerve to upend the storied role of these states that don’t represent the diversity of the country. Biden had a poor showing in Iowa in 2008, and then again in 2020, and when he finished fifth in New Hampshire in 2020, he was written off by a lot of pundits.
The new map beginning in South Carolina, the state that helped make Biden president by roundly backing him in the 2020 primary, is the clearest signal yet that Biden is running in 2024 despite his advancing age. “It’s a brushback pitch to any serious challenger,” argues Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank. “He’s saying, ‘I’m running to my strength, so get back.’”
It looks like a moment for a leader who solves problems, and there’s nobody waiting in the wings on the Democratic side who can match Biden’s track record.
“Gingrich is right,” says Simon Rosenberg, founder of NDN (New Democrat Network), which supports centrist progressives. “If he’s going to run, he’ll be universally supported in the party, and at this point, it’s prudent for people to assume he’s running, and that he’ll be a strong candidate.”
Universal support is, of course, hard to imagine. But switching out early states where hardcore activists have a history of backing challengers to establishment favorites gives Biden running room.
If further evidence is needed, the New York Times reported that Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron took part in a toast at last week’s state dinner after Jill Biden emphatically declared she was up for another campaign.
American University Distinguished Professor of History Alan Lichtman says Democrats have “by far the best chance to win if Biden runs.” Lichtman’s 13 keys to predict the fate of an incumbent president correctly called the last 10 elections, including Donald Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. If Biden doesn’t run, his presumptive successor loses two keys: the advantages of incumbency and party unity, since there would be a guaranteed slugfest for the nomination, rather than a potential internal conflict.
Under Lichtman’s rubric, it takes six keys to turn negative to predict a loss, and for now, Biden actually scores well on some measures like legislative accomplishments, scandal, and social unrest, to name a few.
Biden is expected to make his decision public after the holidays, and if he runs, nothing much will change. He’s already visiting key states on the new proposed primary calendar to tout his accomplishments. If he decides to step down, well, things could get wild. But I don’t think he will. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that he expects Biden to run.
Democrats need to suck it up and recognize they’ve got a winning candidate in Biden and a world of trouble if they insist on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The age issue is real, but it’s not disqualifying, and there’s a process in place beginning with Jill Biden to help determine what is realistic for her husband.
Winning isn’t everything—it’s the only thing, given the threat to democracy. And that’s something Newt Gingrich—latter-day MAGA acolyte though he may be—understands Biden can do. He can win.