The first question during Thursday night's GOP presidential debate went to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Moderator Bret Baier of Fox News, citing Gingrich's steady rise in the polls, questioned him on the uncertainty felt by many members of the conservative elite, who respect Gingrich's contributions but consider him to have problems with temperament, discipline, and insufficient fealty to conservatism. (As an example of such criticism, consider the editors of the National Review, who have opined that Newt winning the nomination would "blow this opportunity" to beat President Barack Obama in 2012.)
"Can you put to rest all doubts?" asked Baier, giving Gingrich approximately a minute and a half to accomplish this feat.
Gingrich quickly cited the 1979-80 election cycle, when Ronald Reagan was running 29 points behind, to make a case for his electability. Gingrich said that voters eventually came around to a candidate who proved that "he believes what he's talking about ... has big solutions, and can grow the economy."
"I believe I can beat Barack Obama," Gingrich said, adding, "and in seven three-hour debates, he will not have a leg to stand on" as far as defending his record.
Baier followed up with some more specific criticism, saying that some felt Gingrich wasn't sufficiently conservative, and quoting Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as saying he "lacks discipline and focus."
Newt insisted that his voting record was "pretty conservative."
"It's sort of laughable to suggest that someone who campaigned with Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp is not a conservative," he said.
As for the latter charge, Newt mostly shrugged it off. "I think that people will have to watch me and decide," he said. "I think my discipline is fairly obvious."