The GOP Field: All Talk, No Do - If GOP candidates don't take on tough issues as Ryan & Christie, they might as well go hold forth with The Donald.
Newt Gingrich embarked on a national apology tour this week, which was not exactly how he pictured his 2012 rollout. There's a simple lesson here for those seeking the GOP nomination: Stop talking.
His rivals, and the press, ought to be thanking Mr. Gingrich for his "Meet the Press" performance, for finally injecting clarity into the GOP battle. Why oh why, everyone keeps asking, does the Republican race excite less enthusiasm than a curling competition? Why does watching the speeches and the interviews require No-Doz . . . or Tums . . . or an epidural? What is the problem, people?
Mr. Gingrich supplied that answer on NBC last weekend as he talked, and talked, and talked. Make no mistake, the former speaker put in the usual fabulously pithy oration—rapping President Obama, summoning Ronald Reagan, knocking House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's Medicare reform. Yet in all that talk, talk, talk, Mr. Gingrich never actually laid out a bold vision of what he'd do, do, do as president. That sums up the problem with the GOP field.
Look at the rising Republican stars, those who have excited voters: Mr. Ryan, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. What do these men have in common? None are what the press likes to classify as "militant right-wingers," who whip up the base with gay marriage or abortion. Most aren't even particularly big talkers or partisan firebrands. Even Mr. Christie, who can verbal with the best of them, directs most of his volleys at entrenched interests—not political opponents.
These politicians are, instead, getting marks as the party's "doers," the guys making things happen. They lay out the ugly problems and then lay out the tough solutions—despite political risk. The press initially declared each of these individuals clinically insane for taking on Medicare, Social Security, public-employee unions. Yet it has been precisely their willingness to do so that has won them some measure of admiration from a public that is in the mood for action.
Mr. Gingrich's mistake on Sunday was to go the opposite route. The former speaker doesn't like "radical" solutions, and he has no more time for "right-wing social engineering" than he does "left-wing social engineering." This was Mr. Gingrich at his 1990s political and rhetorical finest—triangulating, positioning, defining—teeing up both Mr. Ryan and Mr. Obama as extremists, leaving his audience to understand that he was the sensible, comforting middle.
Which is what, exactly? Well, Mr. Gingrich wants a "national conversation" on Medicare that will result in "better outcomes, better solutions, better options." He wants to talk. Much as he talked about the issue during the HillaryCare fight, and much as he's talked about it for the 18 years since, and much as he'll no doubt happily continue talking about it—right up to the point that Mr. Obama's panel of bureaucrats starts rationing hip replacements.
For tens of millions of Americans, whose main beef with today's Washington is that it shirks big issues, this isn't serious. For millions of conservatives it is downright offensive. Mr. Gingrich's talk is undercutting an entire House Republican caucus that had boldly followed Mr. Ryan down a path of principled doing.
If those voters aren't jazzed by the GOP field, it is because the field is still partying like it is 2010. Republicans won last year by presenting themselves as the anti-Obamas, tapping into a public frustration with the White House and its policies. The GOP presidential runners seem to think the nomination fight is, likewise, about which of them can best provide a contrast to the president.
Conservative and grass-roots voters want the White House, but they want something more. They (and independent voters) have spent a decade watching the GOP wander in the policy wilderness. They don't want just a choice, they want a leader—someone who will define a vision of the future.
It isn't enough for Mitt Romney to talk (and PowerPoint) about the evils of ObamaCare. He has to disavow his own prototype of that health-care experiment in Massachusetts and offer a believable vision for market-based health care. It isn't enough for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to talk about the problems of President Obama's (and his own, onetime) support for cap-and-trade. The nation needs a free-market energy vision that advocates U.S. sources and reverses government-directed-and-subsidized energy. It isn't enough for Mr. Gingrich to essentially say on national TV: Republicans should not mess with entitlements because it is too politically risky.
It isn't enough because the GOP candidates will continue to be measured against the "doers." Neither Mr. Ryan nor Mr. Christie may ever be tempted to officially join the 2012 race, but they already are—and will remain—at the center of the nomination battle. With every day's headlines, they provide a reminder to voters that there is a serious wing of the party that is going to the mat over honest (if difficult) policy solutions on taxes, on education, on spending, on big government. If the talkers don't rise to this level of leadership, they might as well go hold forth with The Donald.
The time for talking is over.