Steven F. Hayward: Is Newt Like Churchill?

Roundup: Media's Take

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Greatness: Reagan, Churchill and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders.

As one of the most polarizing figures in modern American politics, Newt Gingrich has racked up a huge inventory of pungent criticism of both his ideas and his character — much of it from his fellow conservatives. National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru, for example, notes Newt’s "erratic behavior, lack of discipline and self-absorption" and "need to justify his every petty move by reference to some grand theory."

But before becoming prime minister, Winston Churchill was often dismissed in similar terms by members of his own party, who complained that "his planning is all wishing and guessing," that he was "a genius without judgment," and that he had been "on every side of every question." His many non-fiction books were even characterized as "autobiographies disguised as history of the universe." This is not to suggest that Newt is the next Churchill, which would indeed feed Newt’s grandiosity. Rather, it is to prompt us to recognize one important fact and to ask two questions that have heretofore not been asked.

The important fact is this: The example of Churchill (and also Reagan to some extent) shows that we cannot prospectively identify those whom we will later come to laud as great statesmen. Very few leading Republicans thought Reagan would be Reagan, even after the 1980 election, just as Churchill was not a popular choice of his own party in 1940. One of the best studies of Churchill’s pre-1940 career could almost be adapted for Newt, Robert Rhodes James’s Churchill: A Study in Failure.

Two questions must be asked in order to judge whether Newt might have Churchillian qualities (both good and bad) once in office, or whether Romney’s predictable managerial qualities are more suited to the present moment...

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