In an interview with Don Imus, Meghan McCain dismissed Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich as passe, and “not pop-culturally relevant to my generation.” She has a point. There is a legitimate generational divide regarding how the former Speaker of the House is seen. The conservative blogger Ace attacked her for her ignorance. He represents one side. The other side wonders who the hell Newt Gingrich is.
When Newt Gingrich entered the primaries, it was taken for granted that he had near-universal name recognition. And it’s easy to make that assumption, considering what a media presence he was as Minority Whip from 1989-1995 and Speaker of the House from 1995-1999. I’d imagine that if you were to do a survey, he would have high name recognition for older voters, but the numbers would be lower as respondents get younger. Political pundits, conservative activists and Republican primary voters were more likely to have followed politics at the time, and they can forget that this isn’t true of everyone in the country.
Gingrich hasn’t held public office since anyone currently under the age of thirty’s been able to vote. A forty-year old who started following politics in her late twenties might just know him as someone who resigned in disgrace. So, many people in my generation (and slightly older) wouldn’t consider him to be a particularly relevant figure. He’s been on think tanks and Sunday Morning political talk shows, but that hasn’t really distinguished him from any other political has-been. He was a figure people from my parent’s generation sometimes talked about.
My dad’s 65, so I considered that he might think of Adlai Stevenson II the same way a twenty-year old voter would think of Gingrich, just in terms of stature. Except my dad was 18 when Stevenson died while serving as Ambassador to the United Nations. So Gingrich is a much more distant figure for today’s twenty-year-olds than Adlai Stevenson was to my father’s generation. For voters 45-59, Spiro Agnew is probably the equivalent of how my generation sees Newt.
I can appreciate on an intellectual level Gingrich’s success in taking back the House of Representatives. It may even be the most impressive political feat in the country from the last fifty years. But I’ve never thought of the US House as something that Democrats are expected to control. So I can’t recognize his accomplishment on a visceral level the way those who remember where they were in November 1994 (be they gleeful Republicans or despondent Democrats) do.
This represents a problem for Gingrich’s campaign, especially if he were to somehow become the nominee for the general election. He’s a figure from another era, and that’s quite abnormal for Presidents and nominees.