The Big Questions: Newt Gingrich and the GOP ’12 Field

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Mark Halperin’s answers this week in TIME.

Is Newt Gingrich a formidable presidential candidate?

The former House Speaker is, ironically, discounted by GOP sharpies inside the Beltway, where he first made his name. Gingrich’s complex personal life and chronic tendency to spew controversy have many thinking he can’t survive the presidential freak show. And Gingrich often seems to teeter between transcendence and Charlie Sheen–size implosion. But naysayers ignore his fundraising capacity, grass-roots following, laser focus and blistering brainpower.

Why are Republicans wringing their hands about 2012?

The GOP field is both weak and slow-starting. Some on the right are annoyed that attractive candidates such as Chris Christie and Jeb Bush are sitting it out, and they grouse about the dithering of the likely entrants. Barack Obama is a better political athlete than his would-be rivals — Mike Huckabee and Senator John Thune are among those to publicly bemoan the President’s strength — and he will enjoy the power of incumbency. Unless some Republican can make a strong case not just against Obama but for him or herself, the Democrats could hold the White House even if unemployment remains high.

Why are Obama and most GOP governors keeping their distance from the Wisconsin labor fight?

Smart politicians follow three rules: don’t pick needless fights, don’t put political capital on the line in situations you can’t control, and don’t hitch your wagon to a rookie’s caboose. Republican Governor Scott Walker, in office for mere weeks, has bitten off a big chunk. Obama and Walker’s fellow governors have enough worries already without getting involved in such an unpalatable, unpopular, unpredictable mess.

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Related Topics: 2012 Elections, Republican Party

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