So Newt Gingrich is rising, and may actually have a shot at the Republican presidential nomination. Great news for progressive groups’ fundraising efforts, right?
Well, yes and no. And maybe.
I talked to a number of progressive leaders Tuesday about the prospect of a Gingrich nomination. The question was simple: between Mitt Romney and Gingrich, who would you rather face in the general? Who’s going to be better boon to fundraising and organizing?
The answer was not as simple as one might think. Social progressives? They couldn’t be more pumped about a Gingrich nomination. Environmental groups? Meh, they’ll take him or leave him. Economic progressives, keeping a close eye on the angry masses in the Occupy movement? Well, the one leader I talked to was adamant: Romney is the candidate for them.
This is not to say there wasn’t a general consensus that a Gingrich nomination wouldn’t be anything other than totally amazing from a leftward perspective. If the Republican nomination were decided by people in DC who focus on raising money and organizing resources for social causes, Gingrich would have the nod well in hand.
“Assuming Donald Trump or Sarah Palin can’t come back, I don’t think we could do any better than Newt Gingrich,” Steve Rabinowitz, a progressive consultant, said. He literally laughed out loud at the prospect of facing Gingrich in a general.
“To paraphrase Barney Frank it’s too good to be true to think Newt Gingrich would be the Republican nominee,” he said.
The reasons are obvious for progressive glee. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty of getting progressives fired up (and writing checks) in the general, Gingrich is a more nuanced figure.
Social progressives brought up Palin as well, saying that plastering Gingrich’s face on a fundraising letter will do as much for their coffers as the former Alaska governor did, who remained an unwittingly motivational figure even years after her failed run as John McCain’s running mate.
When it comes to Romney, who governed as a moderate, social groups say they still have to convince some of their supporters about how bad (from their perspective) he is.
“A lot of people and people who care about choice think that Mitt Romney is moderate,” said one progressive advocate focused on pro-choice issues. “They didn’t think he did anything that’s that horrible.”
Romney has done a lot to divest people of the notion he’s a moderate in his debate performances and out on the campaign trail, but the choice activist said a lot of progressive-leaning voters don’t know that yet. They don’t pay as close attention to the GOP nomination process as some, so social progressive groups say they still need to “educate” their supporters on Romney’s stances along with asking for money. Gingrich’s nomination would open wallets across the progressive world pretty much immediately, the advocate said.
“Progressives generally? We just hate Newt Gingrich,” the advocate said.
The Sierra Club, focused on environmental issues, wasn’t as over the moon about Gingrich 2012. Sure he’s bad, Tony Cani, the group’s National Political Director told me, but it’s not like Romney is any better.
“They’re both so flawed as candidates,” he told me. “They’re both so flawed on our issues I can’t really choose between them.”
The real enemy for environmental groups Cani said, in terms of stoking the fires among donors and supporters, are Super PACs. Oil and other industry groups are dumping millions into campaigns aimed at defeating President Obama — “They don’t care who the nominee is,” Cani said. And so neither does the Sierra Club. They’ve focused their efforts on making their supporters and donor base aware of the Super PAC influence and and building an effort to combat it.
There was no such equivocation from Robert Borosage, president of the Campaign for America’s Future. Economy-focused progressives need Romney, he said. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.
“Mitt it seems to me is much more the representative of the 1%,” Borosage said. “He’s a much easier opponent in terms of not being able to make the argument that he knows how to make the economy work. As he tries to make his argument, he shows everything that’s wrong with the economy.”
Gingrich, Borosage said, is able to tap into the, he called it, “pseudo-populism” of the tea party right. He can run on his record as Speaker, balancing the budget with President Clinton and claiming that Obama’s run a more Bush-style economic plan of bailouts and stimulus packages. (More on Borosage’s theory here.)
So if you want to run an election focused on the white-hot progressivism found among the throngs in the Occupy movement, Borosage says, Romney’s the way to go.
Romney’s Bain Capital experience really reflects the way the economy has went,” Borosage said.
There’s one thing all the groups agreed on when it came to Gingrich vs. Romney — they’re not really planning for Gingrich. Yet. As nice as it would be for Gingrich to give the left the gift of his carrying the banner for the GOP this year, the progressives I spoke to Tuesday all expected the Republican nomination process to play out as it always does: that is, the next guy in line, Romney, will win in the end.
“We all think it’s funny as shit,” Rabinowitz said of a Gingrich nomination. “But I don’t see anyone believing it could actually happen.”