Steven Hayward doesn’t actually label Newt Gingrich the next Winston Churchill, “which would indeed feed Newt’s grandiosity.” But Hayward does compare the two political figures in a new National Review Online column.

The important fact is this: The example of Churchill (and also Reagan to some extent) shows that we cannot prospectively identify those whom we will later come to laud as great statesmen. Very few leading Republicans thought Reagan would be Reagan, even after the 1980 election, just as Churchill was not a popular choice of his own party in 1940. One of the best studies of Churchill’s pre-1940 career could almost be adapted for Newt, Robert Rhodes James’s Churchill: A Study in Failure.

Two questions must be asked in order to judge whether Newt might have Churchillian qualities (both good and bad) once in office, or whether Romney’s predictable managerial qualities are more suited to the present moment.

The first question is whether we require someone utterly unconventional to match up to the circumstances of the moment. The same negative qualities that kept Churchill from high office in the 1930s — his resolute stubbornness, his unconstrained and unpredictable imagination and occasional recklessness — paradoxically made him the best person to lead the nation when it reached the point of extreme crisis in May 1940. But the crisis had to reach the extreme before the Churchill option became thinkable.

You might remember that Hayward has written an entire book comparing Ronald Reagan to Churchill.