By D.G. Martin
Will John Edwards someday be the new Newt Gingrich?
Where did this crazy question come from? To get the answer, read on.
First, we should wrestle with the questions political experts have been stuttering over since Gingrich’s stunning upset of Mitt Romney in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary last weekend.
How can a candidate like Gingrich get over the deathblows his campaign suffered in Iowa and New Hampshire?
How can he sidestep the disgrace from the damning condemnation of his colleagues in the House of Representatives who censured him for misconduct 15 years ago?
How can he get around the moral consequences of his conduct in the breakup of two earlier marriages?
How does he get around the lack of support from people who worked with him when he was House speaker?
How does he get around the panic shown by so-called establishment Republicans who believe his nomination for president would lead to a disaster for their party in the fall?
How can these questions be answered? It would be easy to say, simply, that South Carolina voters are different. From John C. Calhoun to Strom Thurmond, South Carolinians have shown a fondness for brilliant, confrontational, no-holds-barred, attack- dog politicians. Newt fit their bill. But what about other states?
Both Calhoun and Thurmond had fans in other states. How about Gingrich? We will begin to find out next week in Florida.
Whatever the results in Florida and elsewhere, Gingrich has shown that time really can heal old wounds in politics. Even the most conservative religious voters in South Carolina showed that they were willing to forgive the sins of a seemingly penitent person.
The South Carolina results show us that, after the passage of time, voters are not bound by earlier judgments about a politician’s sins.
John Edwards may be trying to take advantage of this lesson.
The health problem that was the basis for the delay in his trial is a real one. An irregular heartbeat has bothered Edwards for many years. Still, delay may be part of his trial team’s strategy.
Every delay puts the management of the trial further away from the influence of the zealous investigation and prosecution led by former U.S. Attorney George Holding. He is running for Congress rather than continuing to lead the determined effort to put Edwards in jail.
Greater and greater distance from Holding increases the possibility that less-driven prosecutors will see the benefits of making a deal with Edwards that would free them to concentrate their efforts on getting other criminals off the streets.
Every delay works to distance the minds of potential jurors from the heavy and negative publicity that accompanied Edwards’s downfall. With the passing of time, jurors may be less likely to punish Edwards simply for being the bad person the news stories made him out to be.
Every delay lessens public interest in the case and the strength of any public demand that he be held accountable.
Every delay puts the public’s memory further away from his relevance as a public figure whose extraordinary gifts almost made him a vice president, almost a president.
Thus every delay could increase the chances that Edwards will win an acquittal if the case ultimately goes to trial or, even more likely, that there will be an acceptable plea bargain offer from prosecutors.
Back to our opening question: If Edwards does walk away from his legal troubles, could he, with the passage of time—say 10 years from now—bring his gifts of persuasion and charisma back into the political arena and have some of those who have written him off today declare him to be the new Newt Gingrich?
D.G. Martin hosts UNC-TV’s "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. For more information or to view prior programs, visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.