The biggest fear of those who've known Mr. Gingrich? He has gone through his political life making huge strides, rising in influence and achievement, and then been destabilized by success, or just after it. Maybe he's made dizzy by the thin air at the top, maybe he has an inner urge to be tragic, to always be unrealized and misunderstood. But he goes too far, his rhetoric becomes too slashing, the musings he shares—when he rose to the speakership, in 1995, it was that women shouldn't serve in combat because they're prone to infections—are too strange. And he starts to write in his notes what Kirsten Powers, in the Daily Beast, remembered: he described himself as "definer of civilization . . . leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces."
Those who know him fear—or hope—that he will be true to form in one respect: He will continue to lose to his No. 1 longtime foe, Newt Gingrich. He is a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, "Watch this!"
What they fear is that he will show just enough discipline over the next few months, just enough focus, to win the nomination. And then, in the fall of 2012, once party leaders have come around and the GOP is fully behind him, he will begin baying at the moon. He will start saying wild things and promising that he may bomb Iran but he may send a special SEAL team in at night to secretly dig Iran up, and fly it to Detroit, where we can keep it under guard, and Detroiters can all get jobs as guards, "solving two problems at once." They're afraid he'll start saying, "John Paul was great, but most of that happened after I explained the Gospels to him," and "Sure, Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize, but only after I explained how people can think fast, slow and at warp speed. He owes me everything."
It's funny, in an ironic sort of way, that tea-party conservatives seem so hungry for a candidate with a big mouth they're about to nominate the epitome of Washington insiders for president. Think about it -- they've spent three years meeting, demonstrating, organizing, writing letters and circulating petitions to oppose the policies of Barack Obama, who they consider to be an imperial president. Then after all that, who do they put up against him? A former Speaker of the House-turned-lobbyist who sees himself as the "definer of civilizations". Ironic, indeed.
As Noonan says, it's a risk that's not without its upside. But if Gingrich wins the nomination with vast tea party support and he implodes, I fear it will be the end of the tea party as a credible movement. Any noise its supporters make in Obama's second term will ring eerily hollow.
[Disclaimer: I'm an independent, so I make these observations about the GOP from outside the party. And personally, as a voter, I've not yet settled on a candidate for president.]