Time & Trust

By Steve Deace

So my phone rings while I’m eating my breakfast Wednesday morning, and it’s a reporter from The Washington Post gauging my reaction to Newt Gingrich’s answer on illegal immigration at Tuesday night’s CNN Debate.

In case you missed what Newt said, you can click here.

I didn’t watch the debate last night. I frankly needed a break for one night from the political process. The situation is growing intense in the final 40 days, and I needed some time to catch my breath, connect with my small group, and try and seek some spiritual peace about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.

However, I did have time to read some stories summing up the event before the Post reporter called, and saw the Gingrich clip in question. Given the emails and texts I got after the debate, and who those texts and emails are from, it’s clear the big question coming out of this debate is the one the reporter asked me: did Gingrich hurt himself by backing some form of amnesty?

Here’s how I answered that question.

Each of these candidates has a dueling narrative about who they are and what they represent, and there is truth in each of these narratives. These candidates, like us, are human beings. Human beings are complex creations, so each of these dueling narratives – both the good and the bad – has at least some truth in them.

Sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons, and the right things for the wrong reasons.

For Gingrich, the positive narrative is he’s got the brains and bravado to take the fight to President Obama and the American Left (including their willing accomplices in the media). The negative narrative on Gingrich is that this is a candidate with so much baggage he can’t be trusted no matter what he says. Like his campaign rivals, Gingrich’s actions on the campaign trail reinforce one of those two narratives. It appears as if his statement on what many are interpreting as amnesty for illegal aliens last night reinforced the negative narrative, after months of good debate performances reinforced the positive one and gave Gingrich new life in this presidential campaign.

Therefore, by reinforcing the negative narrative there is no question Gingrich was hurt by last night’s exchange, even though the framework of the position he articulated is very similar to what Mike Huckabee believed when he won the Iowa Caucuses going away four years ago. The only question is how much?

I will also say I’ve been exposed to some very high-level conservative leadership discussions on the topic of illegal immigration in the past two months, and within those circles there was much debate about whether deporting 12-20 million illegal aliens – after securing the border, of course – is either feasible or moral. This position, which Gingrich seems to have, is best summed up by Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.

At a time when the economy is so bad and taxpayers are already stretched so thin, arguing for incentives for those whose very existence here is a breaking of the law is a very tough case to make. Then again, Gingrich making that case at this time could also be turned around and used to say see, this guy tells it like it is and is being honest about what he thinks, even when it’s not popular.

Regardless of what you think of Gingrich’s comments, I doubt Gingrich did much to stall his momentum of the past two weeks. That’s because based on the numerous meetings and conversations I’ve been privy to during that time the discussion has shifted to a new phase among voters and activists.

What I’m about to share with you are my observations, not my preference or speculation.

There is now a sense that the more consistently principled candidates like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum (nobody I know is seriously talking about Rick Perry) are running out of time to become viable, and the one thing every Iowa Tea Party person/leader and every Iowa Christian Conservative person/leader I have talked to recently agrees on is “anybody but Romney.” These people do not agree on who the alternative to Romney should be, but they all agree they want one and they all agree Romney must be stopped in Iowa or he won’t be stopped.

Bachmann and Santorum were both very good at The FAMiLY LEADER’s recent presidential forum, but there is a sense they failed to distinguish themselves and close the sale. Even in that setting that favored Bachmann and Santorum, many people I have talked to still considered Gingrich the star. The conversation now being had is how much time should be given to Bachmann and Santorum to show one of them is at least viable for January 3rd?

The clock has not run out on those candidates, which I think most of these people would prefer to support, but the clock is most definitely ticking. After this weekend when folks come together to discuss this as families and friends over the holiday, I believe you will start to see an anti-Romney coalescing in Iowa.

If Bachmann or Santorum has an arrow in the quiver they haven’t fired now is the time to use it—like today, or right this minute. Otherwise, you’ll see Gingrich – barring another immediate future moral failing or violation of conservative orthodoxy he’s been guilty of in the past – be the one people will coalesce behind.

Why? Because whenever everyone else is making fear-based decisions, the one who seems the most fearless wins.

The other, more consistently-principled candidates for reasons known only to them and God haven’t demonstrated Gingrich’s level of fearlessness when the spotlight was shining. This despite the fact some of us have almost begged them to do so. Yet still they refuse to take on Romney, and he escapes virtually unscathed in every debate. True, on smaller stages like online ads or my radio program they have done it, but when the spotlight is on and Romney shares the stage with them they almost always punt.

That strategy is working as well for Bachmann and Santorum as it worked for Tim Pawlenty. It’s almost inexplicable when people won’t do what’s in their own best interest, but in this case they haven’t.

In addition, many voters are making a fear-based decision. We are afraid we’re losing our way of life. We are afraid that time is running out on securing our liberties and prosperity for future generations. We are afraid we will miss the chance to elect a true champion of our values and be stuck with Romney as a nominee. There probably hasn’t been as much appetite in the country to undo the Left’s infrastructure since 1980, and who knows when/if we will get this opportunity again. If there’s one thing we know about Romney, it’s that he isn’t a champion of our values. Romney is only a champion of what’s in it for Romney. Gingrich has volunteered on a national stage to be our champion, and that is causing conservatives to overlook his past transgressions.

Because of everything I just said, the Iowa Caucuses now come down to do you trust Gingrich? If you do then you have already moved on from Bachmann and Santorum. If you haven’t, then you’re still giving them some time, especially after what Gingrich said on immigration Tuesday night.

But Bachmann and Santorum need to realize that time is the one thing we’re not making more of.