My friend and all-around brilliant political analyst Patrick Ruffini deduces that Newt Gingrich has decided to enter the 2008 presidential race. He takes a look at Newt's pledge scheme and figures that Newt only needs to find 14,000 donors to contribute the maximum $2300 in order to reach the threshold of $30 million Newt demanded as a prerequisite to opening a nomination bid:
Newt would need only 14,000 of his fans to flood the site with $2,300 "pledges" in order to declare a broad public groundswell for his candidacy.
Sound far-fetched? You've seen what Ron Paul supporters do. You think Newt fans wouldn't do the same if they believed his entry into the race depended on it? And if Newt's people actually left the system this open -- i.e. didn't require you to leave a credit card that could then be charged -- I guarantee this hack would spread like wildfire on the blogs the minute the site went up.
Well, that's certainly one look at the situation. The pledge system seems rather non-committal, and if Newt could generate a Paul-like Internet movement, he could garner that much in meaningless pledges. Something tells me that Newt isn't looking for vaporware donations, however, and that he's serious about needing $30 million to catch up to Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, if not Fred Thompson. I doubt seriously that Newt wants to give up his current commitments just to wind up with a few million dollars in actual receipts and drafting in just above the second tier.
So what does that mean? Why make a demand for $30 million in pledged donations in just three weeks, an amount that no Republican candidate in the race has managed in an entire quarter? It sets a bar so high that it qualifies as highly improbable, if not impossible. It's designed to fail, and to let Newt get back to his American Solutions project.
And let's take a look at this project. Newt has made clear that he thinks the future is in bipartisan outreach. This Wiki-style grassroots movement is designed to facilitate that, and to generate policy on all levels -- local, state, and federal. If he has any amount of success in transforming policy through American Solutions and drafts both Republicans and Democrats into the system, he really could generate a new movement of pragmatism within American politics.
If he does that, Newt will exchange his limited constituency from a narrow philosophical band to a truly national organization that transcends partisan lines. He can choose then whether to play kingmaker or heir apparent. Newt will be able to rid himself of the baggage of the bitter partisanship of his Speakership and reinvent himself as a Teddy Roosevelt.
That will take some time to develop -- and that plays into this analysis. In talking with Newt yesterday, he made it clear that he thought the Republicans (and Democrats) had run politics off the rails. He claimed that GOP consultants were basically stupid (an analysis which Matt Lewis found some consultants in agreement). The only candidate for which Newt had any kind words was Hillary Clinton, calling her serious and formidable, if wrong on almost all policy.
I think Newt believes that Hillary will win the presidency in 2008. He's not looking to beat her; realistically, he knows he won't be given that chance in 2008. He's looking to build a constituency that will allow him to challenge Hillary in a re-election bid in 2012. That's the calculus I see at work, only at risk of changing if he actually finds a hard $30 million in a little more than a fortnight -- which would indicate a bigger constituency than he first thought. Either way, he's positioned himself well.