Newt Gingrich as the Republican frontrunner was funny a few weeks ago, in a Bizarro-World sort of way. Now that he’s won South Carolina and polling eight points ahead in Florida, I’m no longer amused. I have only five words for the GOP electorate and they’re Are you f***ing kidding me? Newt Gingrich. I shouldn’t even have to explain why this is the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard. I’d try, but I just start weeping in frustration every time I start. Newt Gingrich? NEWT GINGRICH? REALLY? I’d italicize, but it won’t help to become hysterical. I should probably just take a moment to breathe deeply and calm down.

Okay. [Long sigh] Okay. Good-cop mode. I get where people are coming from. It’s understandable. Your choices are Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Someone Else We’d Just As Soon Not But Damn The Pickins’ Is Slim. First Rick Perry was Someone Else, then Herman Cain was Someone Else–good grief, even Rick Santorum had fifteen minutes of being Someone Else, so why not Newt Gingrich? I get it. It’s cute in theory, but here’s the thing: NEWT GINGRICH? There’s only one of him, you know. This is not some new and improved Newt Gingrich who isn’t a big-government conservative narcissist with a Buick full of ’90s baggage that makes Hillary Clinton look like Barack Obama circa 2006, who doesn’t make enemies like he makes hash out of his marriage vows—IT’S THE SAME GUY. Do you honestly think this cat has a snowball’s chance in hell to win a general election, or have you just decided to carve a big “up yours” in the school desk of democracy? What’s the matter with you people???

That last part wasn’t very good cop-ish. You see what current events have done to me.

You long-term gentle readers know how I feel about Mitt Romney. Some people have been eager to write off all this Romney rejection as so much anti-Mormon bias, but I haven’t gone there. I’m too aware of Mitt’s shortcomings as a candidate. He’s got that big albatross MassCare, which—you know what, we’re not even going to talk about it. We could go round and round on “Romneycare” or “Obamneycare,” tenth-amendment-lover to tenth-amendment-lover, but the point is that there’s a big chunk of the Republican party who doesn’t trust someone who thinks MassCare is something to be proud of. I sympathize with that argument. Aside from that, though—forgetting that MassCare was his baby—there is the ever-present problem of him not being able to connect with voters, and it’s not because he’s an out-of-touch millionaire but because it’s just really hard to get a read on the guy. Voters don’t necessarily want a president they can sit down and have a beer with. They do want to know that what they’re seeing is what they’re getting, and with Mitt Romney it’s just so hard to believe that what you’re seeing is really all there is.

It’s not so hard for Mormons, I don’t think. To his fellow Mormons, Mitt Romney probably seems like a perfectly normal dude. He looks like he could be our stake president. Not coincidentally, Mitt Romney was a stake president in the LDS church for eight years. He’s that kind of guy. An administrator. Someone who makes sure the trains run on time (in a non-Mussolini sort of way). Not the sort of man you fall in love with, but no one needs to be in love with their stake president; they just have to not hate him. So we see this clearly intelligent, clearly competent, clearly experienced, and clearly not hate-worthy guy running for president and think, “Well, what’s wrong with him (so long as you’re a Republican)?”

Two things you should not expect from Mitt Romney: spontaneity and candor. I think Mona Charen had a column psychoanalyzing Mitt Romney and speculating that watching his father, popular Michigan governor and one-time serious presidential material George Romney, self-destruct in a moment of spontaneity and/or candor (when he said he was “brainwashed” on Vietnam) taught Mitt never to let his guard down and risk saying something he might regret. That seems perfectly plausible, if a tad Freudian/TV movie. There’s also the fact that spontaneity and candor are two things you should never expect from Mormon church leadership, either. Hedging and side-stepping and speaking in platitudes is Salt Lake leadership to a T. To a T. I am sorry to be the one to say it, but it’s true. Mormons are used to it and those of us who stick around realize that it’s not necessarily sinister, even if it is annoying. It’s just politic. I suppose we’ve also learned that shooting your mouth off a la Brigham Young causes its own problems. Maybe we’ve learned to prefer our leaders bland and harmless.

But yeah, it does give Mitt Romney that vague, used-car-salesman-esque vibe that he just can’t shake. He does seem too genteel to be compared to a used-car salesman. I think Jonah Goldberg said it best when he said, “There’s just something about the guy that makes people say, ‘There’s just something about that guy.’”

So I understand that not wanting to vote for Mitt Romney doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve got a problem with him being a Mormon. As I said, I have never heretofore gone there. I’ve defended Mike Huckabee on that front, for Pete’s sake. However…

Newt Gingrich? I’m starting to wonder.

I’ve never denied that there’s an anti-Mormon element in the anti-Romney camp. I’m not that naive. I’ve just never thought it was as significant as some people say it is. I’ve always argued that it would be almost negligible were it not for Mitt Romney’s other liabilities. Even Newt Gingrich surging ahead in the polls and eventually winning South Carolina I could write off as so many Republicans wanting a candidate that excites them rather than doesn’t-exactly-offend-them. But I can’t just ignore the exit polls; voters who say a candidate’s religious beliefs mattered “a great deal” went for Newt Gingrich by an embarrassingly large margin. (Embarrassing for Mitt Romney, but the voters themselves should probably be embarrassed, too.) It could just be a coincidence, but…Newt Gingrich? Really?

So I’m going to go all identity-politics on you for a moment and give any “values voter” out there who thinks Newt Gingrich is a better choice than Mitt Romney for President simply because he doesn’t believe in gold plates and magic underwear a piece of my mind:

I know why a candidate’s religion is important to you. Being President of the United States is a tough gig. That cat needs all the help he (or she—smirk) can get. And if your president is praying to the wrong Jesus, it could have implications for the whole country. And by “implications” I mean God could just decide to destroy us. (It’s not like he’s never done it before.) Here’s where an ordinary Mormon might try to convince you that our beliefs really aren’t that different from yours, that we believe in the same Jesus you do, and blah blah de blah. But I’m not an ordinary Mormon; I value candor and spontaneity, so I’m just going to come out and tell you—yeah, I do believe in a different Jesus than you do. My Jesus listens to your prayers even if your theology isn’t one hundred percent accurate, and he isn’t going to destroy a whole country because its president wears the wrong kind of underwear. My Jesus is nice, and so’s Mitt Romney’s. But if you’re so particular about your Jesuses, maybe I should remind you that Newt Gingrich is a (converted) Catholic, and as I recall from the “counter-cult” section of your bookstores, his religion is a little fishy, too (even if it is older). And by “a little fishy” I don’t mean what you put on the back of your car.

Enough of that, though. It’s not like it makes any difference.

Mitt Romney’s still a really problematic candidate. As Mark Steyn said in the Corner yesterday, “For a guy running as a chief exec applying proven private-sector solutions, his campaign looks awfully like an unreformable government bureaucracy: big, bloated, overstaffed, burning money, slow to react, and all but impossible to change.” Mitt the Wealthy and Very Competent Administrator should have the best advisors money can buy, and this is the best he can do? He’s losing to Newt Gingrich. NEWT FLIPPING GINGRICH. Holy heck.

It’s not like I’m completely blind to Newt’s appeal, either. I understand that he accomplished great things for the party twenty years ago. I know he’s quick and he’s smart and watching him debate Pres. Obama would be like watching the Oregon Ducks play Portland State. I’m not even all that hung up on him being a serial adulterer, aside from the fact that he tried to blame his affairs on the fact that he was just working so darn hard for his country that “things happened.” (Someone should probably warn Newt’s current wife that the American presidency entails a fair amount of hard work. He won’t just be playing golf all day.) I don’t think he’d be a bad president. I think he’d be an unpredictable president because who the crap knows what Newt’s going to come up with next?

But that’s neither here nor there because Newt’s never going to be president. It’s never going to happen. Mitt Romney might never be president, either. I think Barack Obama would have mopped the floor with Mitt in 2008, and he might very well mop the floor with him in 2012. But if the Republicans nominate Newt Gingrich, the President will not only mop the floor with him, he’ll scrub the bathtubs, shower stalls and toilets and possibly clean the second story windows, too. For the love of all that’s holy, my friends—we have to make it look like we’re at least trying.

Okay, I’m done with politics now. D-U-N. On to Florida, God help us all.

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Madhousewife is a possible candidate for VP on a Gingrich ticket–or would be, if she weren’t a Mormon.

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