Amity Schlaes
Amity Schlaes - 

Kai Ryssdal: As Republican voters survey the 2012 field, they see what they want. This candidate has these strengths, that one has those. Eventually there'll be a meeting of the minds.

Commentator Amity Shlaes says there's an emerging narrative to the GOP fight.

Amity Shlaes: New is what candiates are supposed to be about. New to Washington, that is. President Obama after all represented something new when he was running for office in 2008. Our first black president, essentially an outsider, though he had been a senator 25 months when he ran. That newbie Sarah Palin of Alaska was supposed help Republican candidate John McCain. 2008 was a competition to show which party could be newer.

This year the GOP is fielding plenty of new candidates. John Huntsman and Mitt Romney have not represented a state in Washington. But Newt Gingrich is gaining popularity. Newt is not new.

Gingrich is a legislative veteran who led a flawed budget balancing drive in the 1990s when he was Speaker of the House. Besides, Gingrich carries loads of baggage; multiple marriages, infidelities, a record of quarrels with other lawmakers. Why do Republican voters think he has a shot?

The answer is that this election cycle is different. Voters want someone for president who is ready to sit down and rewrite Social Security in January 2013. And move on to Medicare repair the next month. A policy technician already familiar with the difference between defined benefits and premium supports before he gets to Washington. What voters remember about Newt was that some of his work laid the ground for balancing the budget. He was leaving the speaker's job by the time that happened, but that experience was key.

In other words, new may be fresh, but this economy can't wait for a novice chief executive to climb up the fiscal learning curve. For 2012, old is the new new.

Kai Ryssdal: Amity Shlaes is a senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations.  Take a second to send us your thoughts.

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