The assumption is that Republicans follow orders, while Democrats all want to lead the parade. Republicans vote with their heads, Democrats with their hearts.
So, Mitt Romney. It's his turn. He finished second last time, McCain lost, so it's his turn. He's got the money, he's got the looks, he's got the money, he's got the endorsements. And if his personality has a Nixon problem -- he's uncomfortable around people -- well so did Nixon. And if those Kennedys hadn't stolen 1960 Nixon never would have lost (and may have never gone paranoid).
But if Mitt Romney is the GOP ego, Newt Gingrich is its id.
Newt is still in this race because of one man, a guy I once worked for. Sheldon Adelson. Adelson cares about one issue and one issue only -- fealty to Israel and whatever Israel wants. The big story no one is writing is that Newt Gingrich has pledged such fealty, and he has $10 million (so far) to show for it.
But leave that aside. Other than Shelly's money, what is Newt Gingrich? You've got a man who was a politician for a quarter-century but who has actually spent the last 14 years in entertainment. He writes books, he talks in front of crowds or TV cameras.
He's a stand-up. As in stand-up comic. He's been doing it most of his life -- it was what propelled him into the House Speaker's chair, the idea that he could vamp on camera, keep the attention of the nation focused on him, defy Presidents (starting with Bush the greater) and leave 'em laughing. Not all of 'em, but his people, his audience.
It's just what every stand-up comic does. The secret to a stand-up's success is finding his people and cultivating that audience. Jeff Foxworthy never appeared on Def Comedy Jam. Dave Chappelle was not part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.
Your audience can be very narrow, or it can be very broad, like that of Russell Peters. Its devotion could be an inch thick or a mile deep. You can fly across the sky like a meteor, a la Bill Hicks (left, above), or you can hang in there and become a legend, like Bill Cosby.
Of course there's a less charitable way to put this.
Instead of selling his personality or the laughter of the moment, he's got a product to sell you, literally political snake oil:
I drank it once, it tasted
Like grease and paraffin
It's mostly alcohol, okay
You can't deny it's strong
But aren't both sides pushing the same simple set of solutions -- is there really much difference between what Romney or Gingrich would do in office (even regarding Israel) and what Bush the Lesser did? So what is the business wing of the GOP really all about -- do they really believe in what they're selling or are they selling snake oil?
This is the real division within the party right now. It's between those who view "principles" as rhetorical tricks to gain power, as snake oil, and those who really believe in what's being peddled, who think the snake oil works. And what's happening within the party right now, as the establishment pushes harder-and-harder to marginalize the Stand Up Guy and the Stand Up Guy pushes harder-and-harder to stay on stage, is that the audience is starting to figure out that the guy who made the snake oil knows it's a nonsense.
It's a different kind of "blow-up" than what happened to Democrats in 1972, when everyone was reduced to tribes -- by race, by sex, by passion -- and voters chose Nixon 3-2, Watergate notwithstanding. "We're all Nixon's niggers now, joked George Carlin (another great stand-up) and the audience cheered because it was the truth.
But it's a blow-up nonetheless.
The question is whether this President can do more with that blow-up other than ride to his own re-election, whether he can use that blow-up to turn whoever wins, not into George McGovern, whose party lost little ground in 1972 other than at the top of the ticket, but into Barry Goldwater, who gave Democrats the veto-proof majorities they needed to create real, lasting change.
I'm sure if you asked Newt's fans that question they'd prefer he be Goldwater.
So would I.