Everyone Hates Newt

With Gingrich surging in the polls, the pundit class has gotten out the long knives.

This morning, Joe Scarborough tweeted, “National Review, George Will and Red State all rightly find Newt Gingrich to be an unacceptable choice for conservatism.”

It is an interesting phenomenon. Gingrich, who most of us presumed was a novelty candidate running solely to feed his ego and sell more books, is now the Republican frontrunner, holding the widest lead anyone has had thus far in the horserace. But, not only does the Establishment not like Gingrich, even major bastions of the Tea Party brand of anti-Establishment Republicanism are leery.

The Washington Examiner, for example, has endorsed Mitt Romney and explicitly cautions against nominating Gingrich.

Several weeks ago on this page, we urged conservatives to “think twice” before deciding to back Gingrich, saying that he “has been seen as an ultimate Washington insider, as exemplified in that $1.6 million he was paid to represent Fannie and Freddie, and his work with Nancy Pelosi on behalf of cap-and-trade.”

The fact is, Gingrich is part of the problem, not part of the solution. He has tried mightily to shift attention away from his Washington insider status, saying, “I have never done lobbying of any kind.” But that claim simply does not square with the facts, especially concerning Gingrich’s lobbying Republicans in Congress for a new Medicare entitlement in 2003

[…]

Try as he might, Gingrich cannot change the fact that, as rival Ron Paul has pointed out in a TV spot, his reported net worth went from $10,000 when he entered Congress in 1978 to $7.5 million when he left Congress in 1998. And remember, it was only then that he began making millions by selling access to his vast networks of influential Washington contacts to clients like PhRMA and Freddie Mac. Combined with his rhetorical unpredictability and short-fuse temperament — he is like an exploding cigar, waiting to be lit — Gingrich’s insider status makes him a symbol of congressional back-scratching and an easy target for Obama’s political hit squads.

It is not unusual in politics for voters to project their hopes and dreams onto a fresh candidate. But Gingrich is hardly a blank slate. It should be remembered that he is the only Speaker ever to be reprimanded by the House of Representatives, and was ordered to pay $300,000 in penalties because of his ethical transgressions. It also needs to be remembered that he was engaging in an adulterous affair with a twentysomething aide (now his wife) even as he was preparing the impeachment of President Clinton for having an adulterous affair with a twentysomething intern. Republican voters seem to be engaging in willful amnesia about what is euphemistically called Gingrich’s “baggage.” They shouldn’t: It would be used against him in ugly ways in a general election campaign.

Even Ann Coulter–hardly a bastion of pragmatism–piles on:

If all you want is to lob rhetorical bombs at Obama and then lose, Newt Gingrich — like recent favorite Donald Trump — is your candidate. But if you want to save the country, Newt’s not your guy.

Gingrich makes plenty of bombastic statements, but these never seem to translate into actual policy changes.

After becoming the first Republican speaker of the House in nearly half a century, for example, Newt promptly proposed orphanages and janitorial jobs for children on welfare.

It was true that welfare had destroyed generations of families shorn of the work ethic and led to soaring illegitimacy rates, child abuse and neglect. Maybe orphanages and child labor would have been better.

But we didn’t get any orphanages. We didn’t get jobs for children in families where no one works.

What we got was the cartoonish image of Republicans as hard-hearted brutes who hated poor kids.

[…]

With Gingrich we get the worse of all worlds. He talks abrasively — offending moderates and galvanizing liberals — but then carries a teeny, tiny stick.

We want someone who will talk softly and unthreateningly while implementing vital policy changes. Even when Gingrich doesn’t completely back off conservative positions, his nutty rhetoric undermines the ability of Republicans to get anything done.

By the time of the 1996 Republican National Convention, Gingrich was so widely reviled that the Democrats’ main campaign strategy against all Republican candidates for office was to link them with Gingrich.

When Ann Coulter is condemning your “nutty rhetoric,” you may have crossed a line.

The National Review editorial Scarborough mentions praises Gingrich before burying him:

We say that mindful of his opponents’ imperfections — and of his own virtues, which have been on display during his amazing comeback. Very few people with a personal history like his — two divorces, two marriages to former mistresses — have ever tried running for president. Gingrich himself has never run for a statewide office, let alone a national one, and has not run for anything since 1998. That year he was kicked out by his colleagues, the most conservative ones especially, who had lost confidence in him. During his time as Speaker, he was one of the most unpopular figures in public life. Just a few months ago his campaign seemed dead after a series of gaffes and resignations. That Gingrich now tops the polls is a tribute to his perseverance, and to Republicans’ admiration for his intellectual fecundity.

Both qualities served conservatives well in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Gingrich, nearly alone, saw the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress and worked tirelessly to bring it about. Even before the takeover, Gingrich helped to solidify the party’s opposition to tax increases and helped to defeat the Clinton health-care plan. The victory of 1994 enabled the passage of welfare reform, the most successful social policy of recent decades.

Gingrich’s colleagues were, however, right to bring his tenure to an end. His character flaws — his impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas — made him a poor Speaker of the House. Again and again he combined incendiary rhetoric with irresolute action, bringing Republicans all the political costs of a hardline position without actually taking one. Again and again he put his own interests above those of the causes he championed in public.

He says, and his defenders say, that time, reflection, and religious conversion have conquered his dark side. If he is the nominee, a campaign that should be about whether the country will continue on the path to social democracy would inevitably become to a large extent a referendum on Gingrich instead. And there is reason to doubt that he has changed. Each week we see the same traits that weakened Republicans from 1995 through 1998: I’d vote for Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform; Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform is radical right-wing social engineering; I apologize for saying that, and no one should quote what I said because I was wrong; actually, what I said was right all along but nobody understood me. I helped defeat Communism; anyone who made money in the ’80s and ’90s owes me; I’m like Reagan and Thatcher. Local community boards should decide what to do with illegal immigrants. Freddie Mac paid me all that money to tell them how stupid they were. Enough. Gingrich has always said he wants to transform the country. He appears unable to transform, or even govern, himself. He should be an adviser to the Republican party, but not again its head.

George Will‘s most recent column chastising Gingrich is comparatively mild. He was more blistering a month ago:

“Gingrich’s is an amazingly efficient candidacy in that it embodies everything that is disagreeable about modern Washington. He’s the classic rental politician,” George Will said on “This Week” today.

“People think that his problem is his colorful personal life. He’ll hope that people concentrate on that rather than, for example, ethanol. Al Gore has recanted ethanol. Not Newt Gingrich. Industrial policy of the sort that got us Solyndra, he’s all for it. Freddie Mac, he says, hired him as a historian. He’s not a historian.”

The bottom line is that people who have been paying rapt attention to American politics since at least 1994 simply don’t like Newt Gingrich very much. The average voter–even the average primary voter–has only fuzzy recollections of Gingrich as Speaker. To them, his carny act seems original. And, in contrast to previous frontrunners Rick Perry and Herman Cain, his ability to speak in paragraphs makes him seem positively brilliant.

This act will wear thin this go-round just as it did in the 1990s. The only question is whether it’ll happen in time to derail his train to the nomination or we’ll have to wait until November.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JosieSC says:

    The tea party rocker at it again – music vid here- http://youtu.be/AokBQwrn6u0

  2. John Peabody says:

    “[H]is ability to speak in paragraphs makes him seem positively brilliant.” This is the money quote. Yes, we have sunk that low that any phrase longer than a sound bite sounds like the Declaration of Independence.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    I guess obsessing about irrelevant Republicans is much easier that making posts about relevant issues such as federal budgets, social security, and what congress is doing.

  4. PogueMahone says:

    “National Review, George Will and Red State all rightly find Newt Gingrich to be an unacceptable choice for conservatism.”

    Didn’t the same people – more or less – say the same thing – more or less – about John McCain in 2008?
    Remind me again on who was the eventual GOP nominee.

    Cheers.

  5. Moosebreath says:

    “If all you want is to lob rhetorical bombs at Obama and then lose, Newt Gingrich — like recent favorite Donald Trump — is your candidate. But if you want to save the country…”

    Proving that irony is not quite dead yet.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @superdestroyer: This is nonsensical. First, because Gingrich is the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and therefore by definition not irrelevant. Second, because public policy debates are irrelevant outside the context of who gets elected and makes policy.

  7. mattb says:

    I think the most interested missive in the entire Newt debate, and one I’d love the Tea Party aligned posters here to address was Ross Douthat’s recent op/ed in the NYTs “Ron Paul Rising” http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/ron-paul-rising/ — in which he poses the following point:

    If the town hall crashers and Washington Mall marchers of 2009 settle on a Medicare Part D-supporting, Freddie Mac-advising, Nancy Pelosi-snuggling Washington insider [Gingrich] as their not-Romney standard bearer in 2012, then every liberal who ever sneered at the Tea Party will get to say “I told you so.”

    To his point, if Tea Partiers continue to lean towards Gingrich, it demonstrates that the real fuel of the Tea Party has always been anger at change and a perceived loss of power It’s got far more to do with being anti-compromise than anti-spending.

    Which leads to an interesting bit I heard on El Rushbo’s show yesterday afternoon, where he repeated an oft said comment that McCain refused to criticize Obama in ’08. Which seemed to me to be a bit strange considering all the criticism I heard during that campaign. Then I realized that “criticize” was a code word for “personally attack” (go full till on “Anti-American”, “Crypto-Marxist”, “Rev. Wright”, and “Birth Certificate”).

    And this blending of two concepts seems critical for understanding both the Tea Party (if it’s simply an angry venting) and the rise of Newt (and the constant decision by people like Eric to love Newt’s anger and ignore his record).

  8. mattb says:

    @James Joyner:
    You need to remember that in SD’s black-white-brown-&-yellow America, race trumps everything. And so his belief is that the Republican cause is irrelevant and lost because racial demographics are so against it.

    Oh, urban elites fit somewhere in his extra special model of total librul domination until we close the borders and kick out all the non-whites (or the US collapses under the weight of improverished and ethic inner cities and we all end up in Thunderdome). I think most of the academics need to be kicked out too… I’m not sure about that one.

  9. MBunge says:

    “The bottom line is that people who have been paying rapt attention to American politics since at least 1994 simply don’t like Newt Gingrich very much.”

    Considering the direction “people who have been paying rapt attention to American politics since at least 1994” have been leading this country…why should anyone listen to them?

    Mike

  10. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge: That . . . doesn’t make any sense. What direction have George Will and National Review, much less Ann Coulter, been leading us?

    For that matter, much of the current mess the Republican Party is in can be laid at the feet of one Newton Leroy Gingrich.

  11. mattb says:

    @MBunge:
    I challenge you — or any Newt leaners here — to build a case for Newt as the conservative choice this go round.

    Extra points if you can assemble an answer that doesn’t rely upon “he successfully moved the government to the right twenty years ago” as the core of your argument.

    Extra-extra points if you can show how supporting Newt is in any significant way consistent with “Tea Party values”.

  12. ponce says:
  13. MBunge says:

    @James Joyner: “That . . . doesn’t make any sense. What direction have George Will and National Review, much less Ann Coulter, been leading us?”

    George Will is exhibit “A” of right wing intellectuals who sat by and said NOTHING about the rise of know nothingism in the GOP, only to be “horrified” at the consequences of their inaction.

    The National Review’s position on the Iraq War, torture and a military strike on Iran is?

    As for Ann, she said that if Republicans didn’t nominate Chris Christie, then Romney would get the job and he would lose. Now, Romney’s actually using her to champion his candidacy.

    Those are folks to whom we should listen?

    Mike

  14. MBunge says:

    @mattb: “I challenge you — or any Newt leaners here — to build a case for Newt as the conservative choice this go round.”

    Rick Perry destroyed himself, Ron Paul says he would not have killed Osama Bin Laden and Hunstman was a happy and content member of the Obama Administration. With them disqualified, that leaves Newt vs. Romney, Bachman and Santorum.

    So, is Newt more conservative than Romney? Absolutely. Not only was Romney a pro choice, pro gay rights, big government moderate when he ran for office in Massachusets, he now bold facedly lies about it and pretends he’s always been a conservative. Romney stood on a debate stage and called himself a “man of steadiness and constancy”. The only way that’s not a lie is if Romney doesn’t understand what either of those words mean.

    Is Newt more conservative than Bachmann? No, but with all of his flaws and weaknesses, does anyone actually think Bachman is more capable or better suited to the job of President than Newt? Whatever your non-political concerns are about Newt, would you be LESS worried if it was Bachmann with her finger on the nuclear button?

    Is Newt more conservative than Santorum? Nope, and if that’s the candidate you’re going with, more power to you.

    Mike

  15. mattb says:

    @MBunge:

    Not only was Romney a pro choice, pro gay rights, big government moderate when he ran for office in Massachusets, he now bold facedly lies about it and pretends he’s always been a conservative. Romney stood on a debate stage and called himself a “man of steadiness and constancy”.

    Of course, this ignores the facts that:
    a. despite the “rightward turn” under newt, the size of government continued to grow.
    b. Newt, in the past, has voted for federal funding for abortions and spoken as to the need to protect the freedom of choice in cases of rape and incest.

    I’m also curious about how you react to Newt’s boldfaced lies… recent policy reversals. On that line he seems just as guilty — if not more — than Mitt. For example his very public support event to 2007 of Freddie and Fanny, talking about how they stablized the housing market and conservatives should support the attempt to extend home ownership to low income Americans. Likewise how about Newt’s attacks on the Tea Party supported Ryan Plan.

    Also, isn’t it a common Conservative meme that legislators make bad executives.

    Oh and I’m trying to wrap my head around your primary reasons to say “no” to Paul. Is that because that single statement wouldn’t fly with the general public or that national security trumps financial issues?

    To your point about being less concerned about whose running the country, my support leans towards Romney or more preferably Huntsman. As someone who leans center progressive when pushed, my preferred candidate would in theory be Newt… except that as someone who cares about the overall direction of the country, I would never want him to be PotS.

  16. MBunge says:

    @mattb: I notice that nothing you say denies the fact that Romney is both NOT a conservative and IS lying about being one. I think you’d be concerned about one or the other. And if you’re not a conservative and are nothing but a blind partisan who only wants to beat Obama, you really ought to think twice before giving that job to Mitt “1%” Romney.

    Mike

  17. mattb says:

    @MBunge
    In general, I see Romney as a right/conservative leaning centrist. He’s about as conservative as one can get and hold state wide office in the North East (see Scott Brown as another example). That would say, in general I see his views as, more often than not matching those of mainstream conservatism.

    The issue I take is with the idea that Newt is somehow a better “conservative.” In fact, it seems to me that the only way one can take that position is if you listen to what he says versus what he has consistently done.

    To this degree I see no difference between him and Romney. Both are prime examples of mainstream Republicans who attempt to wrap themselves in conservatism.

    As tape continues to come out of Newt, you’ll find he is a far bigger “flip-flopper” than Romney. And potentially, what makes Newt far more problematic, is that rather than altering views in the name of compromise, he has displayed a long term trend of altering his views in the name of personal and financial power (see the freddie/fanny quote).

    If you honestly think that image will play well outside of the true believers (who I think have been conditioned to be so anti-Romney that they are willing to continually compromise their values), what can I say… good luck with that.

    BTW… for the record, I’d rather stick with the current center-left president than 3/4’s of the current ticket.

  18. MBunge says:

    @mattb: “As tape continues to come out of Newt, you’ll find he is a far bigger “flip-flopper” than Romney. And potentially, what makes Newt far more problematic, is that rather than altering views in the name of compromise, he has displayed a long term trend of altering his views in the name of personal and financial power (see the freddie/fanny quote).”

    Saying something stupid and then having to walk it back isn’t flip flopping. It’s having a big mouth, which Newt is certainly guilty of. Flip flopping is when you take one position and then another and the change is clearly based on political expediency and that is something Romney is far, far, far more guilty of than Newt.

    As for the freddie/fanny thing, how many conservatives had any real problem with them BEFORE they became the boogeymen used to deflect any responsiblity for the housing crisis from corporate America? Think Romney had a problem with them?

    Mike

  19. mattb says:

    @MBunge:
    The issue with Newt and Freddie/Fanny is not that he took that position, but he had the gall to say the following about his $1.6 lobbying/endorsement of them:

    Gingrich: And my advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, “We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that’s what the government wants us to do,” as I said to them at the time, this is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible. It turned out, unfortunately, I was right… (november 9th, 2011)

    So you’re right, I guess, this isn’t flip-flopping, it’s flat out lying. Or worse, if we read this as true, and he did exactly this in 2006 (when he claimed he did), how do we account for the 2007 statement that he released. As I said, this is a prime example of Newt changing his position for PERSONAL expediency (ie. when Freddie and Fanny were paying him, he sung their praises, when he’s running for office he claims he (a) never lobbied and (b) that he didn’t sing their praises).

    Likewise we’re seeing a similar pattern with Newt and everything from his position on Libya to the Ryan Plan. And the fact that he generated far more tape (as a pundit) than Romney did, means that there are Archives full of him taking one position and then reversing himself.

    The hubris of Newt is his imagination that this stuff will not come out. Explain to me how this is not as bad, if not a worse liability than Romney…

    (Note: I’m not just trying to score points, I’m really trying to understand the entire Newt thing… which is beginning to seem more and more like the constant support and rehabilitation of GWB. Because Newt was a darling in the past and had everyone’s backing, there just seems to be this ability to completely ignore everything that he does that isn’t conservative… ironically, this seems to parallel a lot of Dem’s views WJC).

  20. mattb says:

    BTW, both quotes reproduced side-by-side for full effect:

    Gingrich 2007:
    The housing GSEs [Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae] have made an important contribution to homeownership and the housing finance system. We have a much more liquid and stable housing finance system than we would have without the GSEs. And making homeownership more accessible and affordable is a policy goal I believe conservatives should embrace. Millions of people have entered the middle class through building wealth in their homes, and there is a lot of evidence that homeownership contributes to stable families and communities. These are results I think conservatives should embrace and want to extend as widely as possible.

    Gingrich (november 9th, 2011):
    And my advice as a historian, when [Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae] walked in and said to me, “We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that’s what the government wants us to do,” as I said to them at the time, this is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible. It turned out, unfortunately, I was right

    Again, as far as I can tell there is far more tape of Newt pontificating than Romney. And as that comes out, I just can’t see any argument for Newt as an “honest” conservative that doesn’t rely on the 1994 election cycle and *only* the 1994 election cycle.

  21. de stijl says:

    Ann Coulter: “If all you want is to lob rhetorical bombs at Obama…”

    Pot, meet Kettle. It, too, has a massive Adam’s Apple.

  22. MBunge says:

    @mattb: “Explain to me how this is not as bad, if not a worse liability than Romney”

    I think I already covered this, but here goes. Newt Gingrich, warts and all, is a conservative. Call him a “big government” conservative, call him a “radical” conservative, call him a “zany” conservative, the last part of the label remains the same. For his political existence, Newt has self-indentified with conservatism and fought to defend and advance the principles and policies of the movement. Imperfectly, erratically, self-agrandizingly, but still a warrior for the Right.

    Mitt Romney is not a conservative and he has spent the last 5 years lying about being one. His involvement in and around politics goes back to at least his run for U.S. Senate in 1994. In the that race and the 17 years since, what has Romney EVER done to brand himself a conservative and join the fight to support the movement until he decided he wanted to run for President? Romney’s adoption of the conservative mantle is one of the most transparently phony things to happen in American politics in my lifetime. That our political elite largely excuse Romney’s craven deceit because they see him as “one of us” doesn’t change anything.

    Or let me put it this way, go ask any liberal blogger who is more conservative, “Newt or Romney”. You’ll discover that while none of them are big fans of Mitt, neither do they really believe he’s anything like the right winger as which he’s trying to portray himself.

    Mike

  23. Liberty60 says:

    @mattb:

    Any quote of what Newt said is a lie.

  24. mattb says:

    @MBunge:
    Fair. And I appreciate the point you are raising.

    My counter, is that the more you push on Newt, the less conservative he turns out to be in action.

    He does have 1994 and the game he talks. But as the summary at http://www.notonewt.com/ points out, his record isn’t the same as the game he talks. And that gap in talk versus delivery (once you get beyond 1994) will come back to haunt Newt in ways that I don’t think that it’s going to hurt Mitt.

    Is Mitt a “flip-flopper” … yes. But Gingrich’s appeal has been his supposed purity (that he’s a talk radio conservative). Again, his record is really erratic and there a lot of media that essentially will demonstrate him talking outside of both sides of his mouth. Outside of the radical base, I just don’t think Newt’s brand of boldface lying will be MORE popular that Mitt’s New England Conservatism.

    It all boils down to a really interesting question of “trust” I guess.

  25. MBunge says:

    @mattb: “And that gap in talk versus delivery (once you get beyond 1994) will come back to haunt Newt in ways that I don’t think that it’s going to hurt Mitt.”

    If you’re worried about electibility, running Mitt “1%” Romney is the last thing you should be thinking of doing.

    Mike

  26. Eric Florack says:

    “As tape continues to come out of Newt, you’ll find he is a far bigger “flip-flopper” than Romney. And potentially, what makes Newt far more problematic, is that rather than altering views in the name of compromise, he has displayed a long term trend of altering his views in the name of personal and financial power (see the freddie/fanny quote).”

    What in his legislative record suggests that?

    I’ve provided a rather extensive list of places where Romney’s legislative record has tilted left and stayed there, yet I have not seen anything Gingrich has done of the like. Perhaps you’d be good enough to provide it?