Now it's Newt's turn. Having risen to the top in some opinion polls, the former speaker of the House is taking heat for large consulting fees paid to him by the government-sponsored mortgage company Freddie Mac for wisdom a New York Times editorial said was so simplistic it might have come from a fortune cookie.
As Republican presidential candidates rise only to fall when their imperfections are brought to light, Republican voters risk disappointment in 2012 by playing the left's game on their turf and by their rules. What they must do instead is to protect their "product" at a time when the opportunity to hold Barack Obama to one term, while taking the Senate and increasing their House majority, has never looked better.
The best candidate would clearly be a composite of the eight still standing: Mitt Romney's business sense and debating skills; Newt Gingrich's experience in Washington and knowledge of how to tear down the enormous bureaucracy and make government function the way the founders intended; Herman Cain's political passion and the added bonus of being a conservative African-American; Ron Paul's fealty to the Constitution and his call for America to rethink its military role in the world; Jon Huntsman's knowledge of China, which will remain important for decades; Rick Santorum's and Michele Bachmann's strong moral voices (along with her singular feminine voice) in an age of societal flux; and Rick Perry's Southwestern values and evangelical faith.
Unfortunately, Republicans can't vote for a composite; they'll have to choose one candidate, hopefully one they won't come to regret.
There is something else Republicans must not do. They must avoid making the same mistake Democrats make by looking to government as a first resource. If they are to reduce the size, reach and cost of government, they must demonstrate how they intend to empower Americans. If they are going to deprive Washington of power, they must show people who have ceded personal control to government why they would be better off taking care of themselves. Tell stories about those who have overcome obstacles to become self-sustaining.
The liberal left has so addicted half the country to government entitlement programs and the fiction that they can't possibly make it in life without the aid of government that many have forgotten the meaning of personal freedom and the power that comes with it.
Back to Newt. That Mr. Gingrich took money from Freddie Mac, an agency he now derides, may seem like hypocrisy to some, but not to me. I, for example, think the Department of Agriculture should be closed, though I once worked for them. I also received a student loan, which I repaid, though I am now critical of how some of the government's student loan programs are run. I attended public schools, but believe parents ought to be able to send their kids to a private school if it promises to offer a better education. Am I hypocritical?
Mr. Gingrich could return his fees to Freddie Mac, but that wouldn't satisfy his critics. He should only make the offer if some of those top Fannie execs who received fat bonuses gave them back.
For their role in the failed government loan program that aided the bankrupt Solyndra, President Obama and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu are not getting anywhere near the heat Mr. Gingrich is getting over Freddie Mac.
The U.S. government, as part of its "Fast and Furious" program, sent guns to Mexican drug cartels in hopes of tracing them to cartel leaders and making arrests. Are we holding the administration accountable? There are different standards for Republicans and Democrats.
Looking for a perfect candidate will end in disappointment. Consider President Obama, his falling poll numbers and the misplaced faith too many voters had in him in 2008. Republicans should not make the same mistake in selecting the next GOP presidential candidate.
By realizing the imperfections in every candidate -- and every person -- and focusing on the ability of the one who is nominated to do what he promises, Republicans will have a better candidate and the country could have a better (but not perfect) president.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.