As everyone is well aware, the last 72 hours have seen an astonishing transformation in the American political landscape, with a pugnacious Newt Gingrich coming from far behind to crush Mitt Romney in South Carolina, and now take a substantial lead in looming Florida and perhaps nationwide as well. A remarkable political comeback indeed.
Gingrich’s rise has been fueled by his avowed status as the champion of the conservative common man, today sorely aggrieved not merely by the notorious “media elites”, but also by the Republican political elites, as exemplified by their wealthy, tall, and handsome private-equity standard-bearer from Massachusetts.
The wild success of Gingrich’s populist strategy leads me to believe it has long been intended, with various ruses and deceptions used to mask the plan. As all of us remember, last year Gingrich’s entire campaign staff quit in anger when he abandoned the campaign trail for a expended European vacation cruise with his youthful third or fourth wife, during which they could endlessly admire the $250,000 in Tiffany’s jewelry he’d purchased, the cost covered by the millions he’d received for mortgage-derivative corporate consulting. Surely no Romney strategist would have imagined an angry populist flank attack coming from such an individual.
So now, with the trap sprung, Romney is on the ropes. Another $5 million check from Gingrich’s casino-billionaire patron is about to unleash another massive wave of populist Michael Moore rhetoric on the airwaves, and it may well swamp the bland Mormon in the Florida vote. And if Mr. Inevitable is crushed in Florida, he surely becomes Mr. Inevitable Loser, and leaves Gingrich the clear path to the title-bout against Obama.
But just when matters bleakest for our poor Mormon stiff, perhaps an opportunity might be at hand. Some weeks ago prominent economist J.K. Galbraith had strongly endorsed my proposal to raise the national minimum wage to $12.00 per hour, arguing it constituted the best chance of reviving our depressed economy. Soon afterward even National Review treated the idea quite respectfully. Most recently, prominent Internet columnist Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Treasury Secretary under Ronald Reagan, has also strongly endorsed the idea, and urged Ron Paul to bend his libertarian principles far enough to adopt the idea, and perhaps ride it to great political success.
But now the topic has crossed the crucial media divide separating punditry from hard reported news. Just this morning FORTUNE Magazine, America’s most prominent financial news publication, ran a lengthy article on the subject, exploring both the economic and political implications. Although it got my name slightly garbled, it did give respectful attention to the idea, which is far more important, while mentioning the enormous popularity of such a proposal in all polling data.
Moreover, while the Fortune journalist recounted the general support which Mitt Romney has long shown for a minimum wage rise, she also emphasized Newt Gingrich’s ferocious opposition, which is perhaps even more important. If the one says Yes while the other shouts No, an important political difference is immediately established.
As in most things, size matters. When politicians typically discuss a rise in the minimum wage, the cash they propose is rather insignificant, perhaps a few hundred dollars per year, and voters doubt they’ll actually receive anything and may pay little attention. But promising workers a rise from the current $7.25 to $12.00, means an extra $5,000 or even $10,000 per year in income for most workers impacted, the sort of dollar figures would get wide-eyed attention. And those are exactly the sort of lower-end Republican voters whose overwhelming support for Gingrich is currently carrying him to likely victory over Romney.
A poorly-paid grassroots conservative today might strongly favor a populist Newt over an elitist Mitt. But what if we add $8,000 per year cash-money on the Mitt side of the balance scale? I suspect the instanteous response would be “What’s a Newt?” And since thousands of dollars in long overdue credit-card debt might soon get paid off, all the Republican banksters who own Republican politicians would be very happy as well.
Also, there is an ironic aspect to the current national landscape, with Newt Gingrich being utterly despised and detested by the entire national media, both liberal and conservative alike. Furthermore, he has a notoriously wild temper and loose tongue, and I’d think that if he were poked and prodded a few times by reporters regarding his extreme hostility to higher minimum wages, he might likely explode with harsh comments about lower-wage workers and their current financial difficulties. At that point, judiciously edited clips this would give the media—liberal and conservative alike—a perfect hook upon which to run endlessly looped stories about Gingrich’s $250,000 Tiffany bill, his luxurious European cruises, and his millions in mortgage-securities consulting fees. Hello “Dean Scream II” and goodbye Newt-the-Populist.
We’ll soon see whether Romney and his people decide in desperation to actually do what’s right.