The Rise and Fall and Rise of Newt Gingrich

[My latest for The Huffington Post.]

Conservatives have rummaged their way through the primary clown car and landed back on the generous lap of Newt Gingrich. The approximately 45-day pattern of elevating a candidate, then watching as that candidate melts down has apparently lapped itself, since Newt Gingrich has already been elevated and subsequently disintegrated back in May and June, following the 45-day rise and fall of Donald Trump.

The old meme about how conservatives don’t have any memory of events prior to January 20, 2009 can be recycled for Newt Gingrich because they evidently don’t remember anything before June when Gingrich’s campaign all but collapsed under the mildest scrutiny. Now they’re taking another look — or, with a short-term memory lapse, a look for the first time. It’s not unlike laundry day when you’re out of underwear, so you gnash your teeth and find a pair from the hamper that’s the least filthy, but, in this case, conservatives are looking at the stinky hamper flotsam as if it’s a dryer-fresh pair.

Newt Gingrich is a student of history, so here’s some history. Just a few of the things conservatives appear to have forgotten about Gingrich.

First, a brief review of his past. Gingrich has exemplified the sanctity of marriage by divorcing twice (once sending divorce papers to his wife while she recovered from cancer) and marrying three times. He allegedly cheated on his first two wives with the subsequent wife. In the shadow of various congressional ethics investigations and following the over-the-top impeachment process against President Clinton as well as the dismal Republican showing in the 1998 midterms, Gingrich was forced out as speaker by other Republicans including John Boehner. Not only did he step down, he also resigned from Congress. His former congressional staff reportedly referred to Gingrich as a “sociopath.”

It’s also worth noting for the benefit of strict constructionist tea party people who cherish the original intent of the founding documents, that Gingrich isn’t too fond of the Constitution when it comes to national security. In late 2006, Gingrich famously repeated the fear-stricken far-right refrain, You can’t have a Constitution if you’re dead, when he said he’d restrict free speech rights in order to fight terrorism. Recently, Gingrich said he would ignore the Supreme Court on matters of security, thus exceeding the executive powers enumerated in Article II. If you’re a tea party member and you claim to be a constructionist, these remarks ought to knock your tri-cornered hat clean off your skull.

Now, Gingrich’s campaign for president has been a slow-motion disaster. It’s difficult to know where to start his 45-day flame out from early May through late June, so let’s rewind to the beginning of the intervention in Libya.

At first, before the president acted, Gingrich said he would set up a unilateral no-fly-zone over Libya. Then, as soon as the president intervened, Gingrich said, “I would not have intervened.” Interesting. While it was a great example of how Republicans choose their positions based on doing the opposite of the president, it didn’t really help to establish important presidential qualities like integrity and consistency.

As the Gingrich campaign revved up, reporters began to look at his positions on issues like cap-and-trade — a policy proposal most Republicans hate, but only since the president and the Democrats adopted it from the Republicans and included it as part of their plan to restrict carbon emissions. In 2007, Gingrich supported cap-and-trade and even appeared in an Al Gore-sponsored television commercial seated next to Nancy Pelosi. The topic of the commercial was, naturally, fighting the climate crisis through bipartisanship. Fast forward just a couple of years and Gingrich changed his position on cap-and-trade, while calling global warming an “artificial energy crisis.”

Peppered throughout Gingrich’s time as the flavor of the month were bits of the Southern Strategy. Gingrich is a well-known demagogue who, like Lee Atwater and Frank Luntz, is a master of Orwellian language and dog whistles. (In 1994, Gingrich authored a memo for GOPAC titled Language: A Key Mechanism for Control. You might recognize many of Gingrich’s suggested words used in Republican talking points even today.) As such, he’s been known to pop off very well calculated bursts of subtle race baiting. For example, in May, Gingrich said, “President Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history.” Hmm. Earlier that month, he compared the success of the mostly white Texas with the failure of the mostly black Detroit. There’s also that time in late 2010 when Gingrich invoked Birtherism, saying that President Obama has a “Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview.” Later, Gingrich expressed support for a Jim Crow style law requiring an American history test before being allowed to register to vote.

There was also the time in early May when Gingrich told the Christian Broadcasting Network that his love of country forced him to do things that “weren’t appropriate,” and led to his two divorces. Yes, he loved America so much he just couldn’t keep his pants on.

In June, Gingrich and his third wife Calista bugged out on a luxury Mediterranean cruise around Greece. This immediately followed his formal announcement to run for president. Yes, Newt Gingrich is a guy who knows how to bear down and get to work. What’s more incomprehensible about this garish excursion was the fact that Gingrich had previously suffered yet another scandal when reporters learned that he had racked up $500,000 in credit debt at Tiffany’s. That’s a lot of debt for a guy who claims to be a fiscal conservative. Speaking of which, news broke in late June that Gingrich’s campaign was $1 million in debt with donors rapidly jumping ship (pun intended). Maybe Gingrich should have been more frugal with his war chest and not paid cash money for his Twitter followers, and then publicly bragged about how many followers he had accumulated.

Oh, and amidst all of this, his campaign staff quit. Twice.

Perhaps the biggest pile of elephant crap he stumbled into was when he referred to Paul Ryan’s dismantling and privatization of Medicare as “right wing social engineering.” Whoops. Everyone in the Republican Party knows you don’t pick on Paul Ryan because Paul Ryan is awesome. Talk radio, and especially Rush Limbaugh, jumped all over Gingrich for this fatal trespass. Paul Ryan said, “With friends like that, who needs the left?” Then, when ads went up using Gingrich’s quote against him, he inexplicably said, “Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood.” In other words, I didn’t say what I clearly just said, so don’t use it, liar.

There you go. The Gingrich campaign during a span of around 45 days.

I’m not sure what conservatives expect to discover about Gingrich this time around the horn. As far as I can tell, Herman Cain and Rick Perry, the previous two clown car passengers to endure their messianic 45 days, merely stumbled over some words and blanked out on live television, respectively. But Newt Gingrich is a full-on disaster from top to bottom. He flip-flops on the issues like Romney, he shoves his foot in his mouth like Cain and Perry, he says fringy things like Bachmann and Santorum, but he also has money-management problems, marital fidelity problems, ethics problems, resigned-from-office-in-disgrace problems and constitutionality problems.

The question is, other than his ability to string words together to form complete sentences, what does Newt Gingrich have that’s not a total liability? Come to think of it, with the tea party’s history of championing semi-illiterate candidates, the complete sentences thing might be a problem, too. So what’s left? He’s white and he has a pulse. I guess that’s enough to make him a frontrunner in the modern Republican Party.

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  • http://twitter.com/JPFrankenstein JPFrankenstein

    Hey Bob – thanks for posting your articles here so I don’t have to read them on huffpo…thanks!

    • jmby

      I was just thnking the same thing. Thanks for saying it, and I second it!

    • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

      what JP said.

    • http://www.osborneink.com OsborneInk

      Pals like ya’ll are why I no longer post there at all.

  • GrafZeppelin127

    Very interesting, Bob, but of course none of this matters to the typical GOP primary voter. They’re so driven by their reflexive, unthinking hatred of some fictional character called “Obama” (who bears no resemblance whatsoever to any real person, living or dead, let alone the 44th President of the United States) that they’re willing to listen to (not to mention accept, repeat, and disseminate) anything that any Republican candidate has to say on any topic. The candidates, for their part, know that as a result they have no accountability for what they say and do on the campaign trail that they can alternately spout fountains of fiction, idiocy, nastiness, and various other forms of rhetorical awfulness that repel the rest of us but make Republican voters feel really, really good about themselves (and their hatred of the aforementioned fictional character).

    What I see happening is that either GOP itself or its primary voters are making their way through the lineup, so to speak; letting each non-Romney candidate step up to the plate, be as nasty as they want to be toward the President and the Democrats, and then when that person’s brand of fact-free propaganda has worn out its welcome, send him/her to the dugout and bring on the next one to saturate the airwaves with more rhetorical awfulness of a different variety.

    In other words, I think this is quite deliberate. This way, the GOP candidates can keep hammering the president and his party without the public at large getting tired of it, because every month or two it starts coming from someone else. Palin, then Trump, then Bachmann, then Perry, then Cain, now Gingrich; next it’ll be Ron Paul, maybe even Rick Santorum will have his turn at bat (Huntsman won’t because he’s neither versed nor skilled in Tea Party crazy, although I’m sure could learn quick if he wanted to), until the actual primaries get started and we’ll end up with Romney, the CGI character, as the nominee and the rest of them can get back to their speaking gigs, book deals, Fox News shows, lobbying firms, or whatever other never-work-another-day life that a failed presidential run will gain them.

    P.S. I wonder if it’s unusual that so many of the candidates in the field are not current public officeholders. Perry, Bachmann and Paul are, but Romney, Gingrich, Cain, Santorum and Huntsman (not to mention erstwhile candidates Palin and Trump) aren’t. By comparison, in the 2008 Democratic field, Obama, Clinton, Richardson, Dodd, Biden and Kucinich were all current officeholders, while only Edwards and Gravel were not. The 2008 Republican field also had only 3 current officeholders (McCain, Paul and Hunter) and 5 others (Romney, Huckabee, Guiliani, Thompson and Keyes).

  • dildenusa

    Economic arguements aside, the troubling thing about this presidential race is the anti-science rhetoric of the hard core right. When did this start? I hate to beat a dead horse but it does go back to the 1980 election between Jimmy Carter and Ronnie Raygun. Ever since then hard right candidates have pandered to the anti-science hard core Christian fundamentalists. Now, the battle over human caused climate change has turned this pandering into an art form. It’s not only the hard core religious fundies now, it’s also the ignorant tea party republics.

    It’s obvious now that smarmy psychologists have become campaign advisors to candidates like Gingrich, Cain, Perry, to teach them how to push the right emotional buttons. This will only hurt our democracy by lowering the value of education in science and technology. Ignorant tea party republic people become reverse snobs. Ignorance become a badge of honor.

    I think Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and other founders of the US would be appalled at the current state of our political campaiging.

    • http://twitter.com/AlanFors Alan Fors

      I think Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and other founders of the US would be appalled at the current state of our political campaiging.

      I’m not so sure of that. I’m currently just about finishing Ron Chernow’s 2005 biography of Alexander Hamilton. The in-fighting between Hamilton and Jefferson in Washingtons first cabinet was epic. While Washingtons second term was really a given (in fact, he could have served for life, had he chosen to), the 1796 election would look very familiar to todays observers.

      All kinds of scandal – real and manufactured – was slung in anonymous newspaper articles and pamphlets written primarily by Hamilton, Madison and Monroe – Hamilton taking the Federalist side supporting Adams, and defending Washingtons policies, and Madison and Monroe writing for Jefferson and the Republicans in support of an aliance with revolutionary France and against the banking and manufacturing interests of the north. It only got worse by the 1800 election, with an outright three-way fued between Hamilton, Adams, and Jefferson.

      No, the young nation and its early politics were not nearly as pure, enlightened, and polite as our modern fairytales make them out to be. What I find surprising is that we’ve been at it this long and still haven’t figured out a more cooperative way to air and resolve our disputes.

      • dildenusa

        So what are you trying to say? That anti-science goes back to 1796? That Hamilton said 2 + 2 = 5? I was talking about the ignorance of the tea party republics and their anti-science snobery. Not the political machinations of Hamilton.

        Jefferson was an enlightened politician who understood the concept of national interests. Hamilton was a self centered snob who tried to use his insider status with Washington and his position as treasury secretary for his own financial self interest.

        You took what I said out of context to show your own snobbery.

        • http://twitter.com/AlanFors Alan Fors

          No insult (nor snobbery) intended. I was simply pointing out that politics in America has always been a dirty game, and ignoring the truth when it’s politically expedient happened then, as well as now.

          Now it’s ignoring science, then it was ignoring and denying the outright barbarism of the French revolution. Now it’s the hypocrisy of Newt declaring his moral superiority, then it was the hypocrisy of Hamilton (after his affair with Mariah Reynolds) questioning Jeffersons morals.

          The context I was commenting on was your final sentence which I quoted. My point was, I don’t think those gentlemen would be surprised at all at how campaigns are run today.

          Forgive me if my response came out any different than that.

    • http://www.osborneink.com OsborneInk

      “to teach them how to push the right emotional buttons” — not just emotional, but cultural.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/GIQIFF7A7RFUB5SZVHTELINBLE oron

    Its funny, they are are probably going to cycle through their options two or three more times as they desperately search for their not-Romney saviour who won’t immediately collapse under mild scrutiny for being batshit crazy. However, Huntsman and Rohmer will never get their flirtation with top tier status; they are disqualified right off the bat since they aren’t batshit crazy.

  • http://www.osborneink.com OsborneInk

    OK, Bob, let’s start a Newt flameout betting pool. I’ve got $10 on the first week of December.