Paul Gigot: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
Well, it was a good week for Republican presidential hopeful and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with polls showing him surging in the race for the nomination as former front-runner Herman Cain falls. The latest FOX News poll shows Gingrich's support doubling in the last three weeks, from 12% in late October to 23%. He's now tied for the lead with Mitt Romney, who has the support of 22% of GOP primary voters. But as they take a closer look, will Newt Gingrich stay on top?
Let's ask Wall Street Journal editorial board members Dorothy Rabinowitz and Joe Rago and senior economics writer Steve Moore.
So Dorothy, what's behind this Gingrich surge?
Rabinowitz: Realization. It's really the perception of a mass of people at what they're looking at. And I think it was pretty pat of all of the commentators to say, "Well, this is the latest flavor of the month." I doubt that this is the latest flavor of the month.
Gigot: Well, what--what is his appeal, though, at this moment?
Rabinowitz: His appeal is simply--it's not simple, it's the genuine concentration on issues that has been absent, his capacity to engage people on issues. By issues we mean foreign as well as domestic, the depth of his reporting on the meaning of issues, and there is the X factor, the feeling that people have that they're listening to something different and substantial, some kind of very hearty meal, as opposed to a kind of mind-numbing repetition of "Government is broke, Washington is broke." How many times can you hear that and--
Gigot: So he can think on his feet and is doing well in the debates.
Rabinowitz: And expansively.
Gigot: Steve, in the summer, as you know, the Gingrich campaign was really given up for dead. His staff had quit. He had all kinds of troubles, couldn't raise any money--still not raising a lot of money, although that has improved. What's your reading on the revival of Gingrich?
Moore: Well, I think Dorothy has it right, that what--the reason you're seeing this revival of Newt Gingrich is that he has looked presidential, Paul, in these debates. He can play the part, and that's something the Republicans really want. You and I have known Newt Gingrich for over 20 years. We know that, you know, you walk around with Newt Gingrich, and he always has a live hand grenade in his pocket. So you never know when it's going explode. But you know, for the last--
Gigot: You want that in a president, Steve? Do you want a president with a live hand grenade in his pocket?
Moore: I'm not so sure, but you know, for the last couple of months, it has not detonated. He's looked very good. And I--one last thing, Paul. I've really gone through his economic program, and I think it's excellent. He sounds very much like a modern-day Jack Kemp, and it's a very appealing message.
Gigot: You mean it's a pro-growth message with substantial tax cutting as part of it.
Moore: That's right.
Gigot: Is that what you like?
Moore: Yeah, the tax cuts. It also has personal accounts for Social Security. He wants--one of the things I love, Paul, he wants to get rid of the Congressional Budget Office, which has been the bane of existence of supply-siders like me and you for 20 years. So he has very innovative ideas, and I think they're very attractive to conservative Republican voters.
Gigot: All right, Joe, do you share this enthusiasm?
Rago: No, I don't think so. I think Gingrich has his shtick, you know, I don't--
Rago: Yeah, "real, fundamental change," Paul, "dramatic change." "This is the most important election since 1932, if not 1860." But you know, he combines this rhetoric, this very expansive, inflammatory rhetoric, a lot of times with very timid policy proposals. So he gives the impression of doing too much while achieving nothing in practice.
Gigot: Seems more radical than actually he really is. Give us an example of that.
Rago: A real good one is Medicare reform. You know, just a few months ago, his grenade detonated when he went after Paul Ryan's Medicare reform for premium support and said, "You know, It's too radical, no one's going to accept it."
Gigot: Called it "Republican social engineering."
Rago: Exactly. And then if you look at his own Medicare proposal, it's actually more timid than Newt--excuse me--
Gigot: Mitt Romney.
Rago: Mitt Romney. So that takes some doing.
Gigot: Because it would preserve the traditional Medicare program instead of requiring everyone to get a fixed payment from the government--
Moore: But you know--
Gigot: --which is what Ryan's plan would do. Yeah, Steve, go ahead.
Moore: You know, one of the things that I find fascinating about what Newt has done, I think very shrewdly, is if you listen to his message now on the campaign trail and in the debates, it's, "Look, I've done these things, that--that I actually am the one in the--when I was speaker of the House that did welfare reform, that did the balanced budget, that passed the capital gains tax cut."
One of his lines he makes all the time in this era of these enormous debts is he says when he came in as speaker, we had a 10-year forecast of a $2 trillion deficit. When he left, we had a $2 trillion 10-year surplus. That's a pretty attractive message as well, and I think it's interesting he's running on that message.
Gigot: All right, but here's the thing. He also--and Steve is right about that record, but he also was the most unpopular politician in America in the late '90s, and his own colleagues in the House ousted him as speaker.
Rabinowitz: Was. Was.
Moore: That's true.
Rabinowitz: How about the famous phrase uttered by a current resident of the White House, "the fierce urgency of now"? This is the present.
Gigot: I never thought I'd hear you quoting Barack Obama favorably.
Rabinowitz: It was actually his minister.
Gigot: Oh, OK.
Rabinowitz: But the fierce urgency of now is, people listening to him, if they were aware of all these violations of the sacred covenants of conservativism, so aware--that they would be voting for Michele Bachmann. They would be voting for everyone else. But they're listening to what they understand is leadership and a capacity to be in this battle now.
Gigot: All right, Dorothy, what about this hand-grenade point, that he has a history of saying things that get him into trouble? You have to admit that. Is that a potential danger here?
Rabinowitz: We don't know. And that's the answer, we don't know what he will do. But people do move forward and change. You know, Richard Nixon did. Thank you for the reminder. And others have done so, and the capacity to grow is there, and I think I see it now. I think I see it in his understanding of the way to deal with people. But I am looking at the response to him, the response of these people. They recognize something special.
Gigot: All right. We're going to be watching all of this.