For Some Reason, Newt Gingrich Wants To Make Character An Issue

Bad Newt is back.

When Newt Gingrich started withering under the onslaught of negative ads from Mitt Romney and Ron Paul and their SuperPACs in Iowa, he started lashing out at his opponents in increasingly ill-tempered attacks that probably did more to hurt him in the Hawkeye State than anything else. The fact that he was able to bounce back and actually win South Carolina will, regardless of the outcome this year, stand as one of singular political “second acts” in American politics. Now that the same withering attacks are leading to what looks more an more like a Romney blowout in Florida on Tuesday, Gingrich is returning to old form. The most recent example came today on ABC’s This Week when he actually suggested that the argument for his candidacy over that of Mitt Romney comes down to a question of……wait for it…….character:

Following an onslaught of attacks in last week’s debates and on the Florida airwaves, Newt Gingrich amped up his criticism of frontrunner Mitt Romney this morning, aiming his arrows directly at Romney’s character and calling him “fundamentally dishonest.”

“I am saying that he would not be where he is today, the debates this week wouldn’t have been where they were, if he had told the truth,” Gingrich told me this morning on “This Week.” “And I think that’s a very serious problem for somebody.”

Gingrich said Romney has run a “campaign of vilification” that is based on “factually false” claims and “carpet-bombing with negative ads.” When I asked the former speaker if Romney had the character to be president, Gingrich said “it is a very serious problem.”

“You cannot be president of the United States if you cannot be honest and candid with the American people,” Gingrich told me.

This repeats a theme that Gingrich had made a part of his stump speeches during campaign appearances ever since Thursday’s debate, where he failed to lay a single glove on Mitt Romney for the entire two hours:

Under siege from Mitt Romney and conservative elites who seem to be conspiring against his candidacy, Gingrich abandoned his stump speech on Thursday in favor of an angry tirade against his most daunting Republican rival and the Washington establishment. He isn’t the candidate who vowed to stay positive in Iowa, or the nose-to-the-grindstone guy he was in South Carolina.

As he took the stage before a tea-party crowd here, Gingrich seethed at Romney for the avalanche of negative ads blanketing the Florida airwaves and bashed the Beltway denizens for coalescing to obstruct his rise.

“There’s the Washington establishment sitting around in a frenzy, having coffee, lunch and cocktail hour talking about, ‘How do we stop Gingrich?'” he said, referring to a spate of prominent Republicans who painted him Thursday as a philandering egomaniac comparable to Bill Clinton and not as close to Ronald Reagan as he would like to think.

The former House speaker told the tea party crowd that they shouldn’t be confused by the attacks coming from the right because it’s still part of the scared establishment.

“Remember, the Republican establishment is just as much an establishment as the Democratic establishment, and they are just as determined to stop us,” he said

The level of absurdity here is really quite high. First of all, there’s the idea of Newt Gingrich, the man who was a Member of Congress for 19 years including 4 as Speaker of the House, claiming to be someone outside the so-called “Washington establishment.” During the time he was in power, and for the ten years he spent out of power before running for President, Newt Gingrich was as much a part of the inner circles of power as the people who are now criticizing him. In fact, it’s because he’s spent so much time in those corridors of power that those people know him well enough to tell the stories that we’re hearing now. If Gingrich was truly the outsider he claims to be, then why is it that so many Washington insiders seem to know him so well? Newt Gingrich an outsider? It’s an absurd idea.

The true irony, though, is the sight of Newt Gingrich attempting to go after Mitt Romney on character issues. Seriously Newt, do you really  want to go there? Romney doesn’t strike me as any more or less honest than any other politician (then again, I’ve got a fairly Mencken-esque view of the trustworthiness of politicians of any kind), but in a character contest between Romney and Gingrich is there really any doubt who comes out looking worse here? If that’s what the Republican primary fight were to come down to, I doubt Romney or his surrogates would even need to mention anything about Newt’s personal life. Everybody already knows about that stuff, and if they don’t the constant presence of Callista by his side reminds them of it. His ethics record in Congress, the manner in which he has switched positions on issues of public policy on a dime without even acknowledging that he’s done so (at least Romney admits he’s changed positions on issues like abortion), and just his general Newt-ness would seem to be enough alone to make a fight based on character a slamdunk for a guy who’s been married since 1969 and has five sons. Say what you will about Mitt Romney, and I’m not much of a fan myself, but on a personal level he strikes me as a decent human being. Perhaps dorky in a Clark Griswold kind of way, but most assuredly not nearly as slimy as a guy like Newt Gingrich.

I doubt it will actually come down to this, of course. What we’re seeing is the first signs of Newt lashing out as he realizes that his dream of becoming President is going to pretty much die in Florida. Oh, he’ll stick around, maybe even until the convention, but after Tuesday we’re entering the phase of the race that favors only one candidate, and his name isn’t Newt Gingrich. The danger for Republicans is that a dying Newt Gingrich campaign that lasts for months will result in a candidate that continues to lash out at the inevitable nominee in a manner that hurts the party in November. But that’s what you get when you let Newt into the arena.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    But that’s what you get when you let Newt into the arena.

    Yes how unreasonable of a large segment of the GOP to want Newt as their candidate. Don’t these people realise theirs not to reason why

  2. anjin-san says:

    Got to love GOP presidential candidates making character and issue. They are arguing about something none of them has. Obama, on the other hand, does.

    You really can’t make this stuff up.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Don’t worry Doug, Newt is beside the point. For that matter. so is Mitt.

    So… you are now reduced to praying for a world wide economic calamity….

    Good luck with that.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    It’s too bad that the Republican establishment hasn’t decided just to say, “ah, the heck with it, let the Base have what they want” and refrain from running the anti-Newt peanut gallery. Let the Fat Man explode…..

  5. An Interested Party says:

    What we’re seeing is the first signs of Newt lashing out as he realizes that his dream of becoming President is going to pretty much die in Florida.

    A dream that was never more than a delusion, as Pelosi was right when she said that Gingrich would never be president…

    Meanwhile, it is hardly surprising that Gingrich would go after anyone else’s character…after all, time and time again, he has proven himself to be completely, totally, and absolutely shameless…

  6. I kinda would like to be there at the momment when Gingrich realizes that not only did his scorched earth campaign fail to win the nomination, but his “strategic consulting” business is now finished because he’s burnt all the bridges to the contacts that business depended on.

  7. anjin-san says:

    So… you are now reduced to praying for a world wide economic calamity….

    It’s all Republicans/conservatives have. Hope that the events of the year bring hardship and misery to millions of Americans. What’s bad for America is good for the GOP…

  8. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    When the history of the ’12 GOP campaign is written, it’ll show the turning point was Romney battering Gingrich in the Florida debate (here’s the important part) under circumstances that will be repeated when it’s the Republican nominee vs. Obama. IOW, no mob braying for blood.

    Much of Gingrich’s appeal was how, against Obama, he’d ram that uppity jerk’s pretty words right in his big ears… But when the time came to put away Romney through a rhetorical fencer’s thrusts and parries – not just dog whistles designed to set off a partisan crowd – Newt was found wanting.

  9. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Nah, after this election there will still be a few wealthy die-hards Newt can mooch off. He won’t be clipping coupons by this time next year.

  10. de stijl says:

    Thin-skinned and vituperative is not a pretty combination. In a Presidential candidate, even less so.

  11. DRS says:

    Not the end of a presidential candidate’s campaign but rather – the start of a REALLY REALLY AWESOME book tour!

  12. Moosebreath says:

    I am no fan of Newt’s (in fact my favorite joke over the last few months is how is campaign bus needs a sidecar for all his baggage), but I think there’s a difference between personal character (where Newt falls on his face and Romney is in good shape) and political character, such as sticking to a single position and having a coherent worldview (where Newt is about average for politicians and Multiple-Choice Mitt is in the cellar). Romney is the antithesis of Henry Clay, who famously said he’d rather be right than President.

  13. A voice from another precinct says:

    @Moosebreath: On the other hand, there wasn’t a “President Clay” was there?

  14. Tillman says:

    Say what you will about Mitt Romney, and I’m not much of a fan myself, but on a personal level he strikes me as a decent human being.

    Unless that’s your basic assessment of anyone you’ve just met, I don’t follow. The only effects Romney leaves in my mind are those which have been focus-grouped to death, and I end up tuning him out like most commercials unless he says something unusual (e.g. “ten thousand bucks” and “politics of envy”).

    Also, you’ve heard the story about the dog in the carrier tied on top of a station wagon, right?

  15. MarkedMan says:

    Hmmm… I think Stormy Dragon may be right to think that Gingrich’s behavior may end up putting a real crimp in his bread-winnning style. Anyone want to bet how long Callista stays around if his cash starts to dry up? My guess: 22 months. (8 months before Newt unloads on her for buying a new diamond necklace without checking with him first, 4 months for her to realize it isn’t going to turn around, 3 months for her and her lawyer to calculate the perfect point at which to liquidate Newt’s remaining assets, 6 months to gather evidence of Newt’s indiscretions, and 1 month for the filing to become public. Of course, if she was collecting evidence of his indiscretions along the way (and was smart enough to never put in writing anything about an open marriage or mention it in front of a credible witness), we can knock the six month evidence gathering stage right out.

  16. grumpy realist says:

    Looking at the polls in Florida, it also looks like Newt’s got quite a split between male and female support. A larger percentage of men don’t seem to mind so much Newt’s cheat-on-two-wives-then-marry-mistress-as-third.(Cynical comment: because that’s what they’d like to be able to do themselves?) but it definitely seems that’s a sticking point for women, based on the comments. Probably because a lot of women have had someone like Newt in their lives and heard the very same self-serving excuses justifying infidelity. Didn’t fly then, doesn’t fly now.

  17. sam says:

    Newt has a staff meeting during which he discusses his post-election plan for revenge on the GOP establishment.

  18. Moosebreath says:

    a voice from another precinct,

    “Moosebreath: On the other hand, there wasn’t a “President Clay” was there?”

    True. And when a 20th century politician (Dewey?) trotted out that line, a heckler shouted, “Don’t worry — you’ll never be either”.

  19. Fiona says:

    Well, Newt’s head hasn’t exploded yet, but it’s kind of fun to watch him flame out, trying to inflict maximum damage on Romney.

  20. Well, as a topic alternative to the fluff, I think the question of how right Krugman really was has merit:

    Britain is doing worse this time than it did during the Great Depression. Four years into the Depression, British G.D.P. had regained its previous peak; four years after the Great Recession began, Britain is nowhere close to regaining its lost ground.

    Nor is Britain unique. Italy is also doing worse than it did in the 1930s — and with Spain clearly headed for a double-dip recession, that makes three of Europe’s big five economies members of the worse-than club. Yes, there are some caveats and complications. But this nonetheless represents a stunning failure of policy.

    And it’s a failure, in particular, of the austerity doctrine that has dominated elite policy discussion both in Europe and, to a large extent, in the United States for the past two years.

    Where are all those kids who told us Krugman didn’t have a real Nobel, and cutting spending was the sure path to growth?

  21. gVOR08 says:

    @Gold Star for Robot Boy: The debate is irrelevant. Romney’s outspending Gingrich better than 4:1. This is also Mitt’s plan in the general.

  22. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I’m sure Newt will continue to have two eggs for breakfast. What’s significant about his likely failed attempt is it’s effect on the unity of the GOP. Newt has been trashed by the party establishment and the conservative chatterers who are all on the payroll to a greater or lesser extent but remains very popular with much of the base. Even if Newt calls it a day after a big defeat in FL this incident is going to have left some bruised feelings. Maybe they’ll all go away by November but I suspect not and if this is the case it’s hard to see how it hasn’t inflicted some serious damage on the fabric of the party as similar events did to the Democrats in the 80’s.

  23. Brummagem Joe says:


    The difference is that Obama and the Democrats will have a billion bucks to reply.

  24. Tillman says:

    @Brummagem Joe: That’ll depend on just how aggressive this new securitization fraud task force with Eric Schneiderman is in the election year. Those Super PACs have only just started to roll in the primaries. The general is when we’ll see the blood hitting the wall.

  25. JKB says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    And Obama has the media with frickin’ laser beams on their heads who really can only carp and be ill-tempered.

  26. Let's Be Free says:

    @john personna — Someone would have to be mentally unhinged to think that anywhere in the world are conditions worse now than they were during the Great Depression, which fits my classification of Krugman precisely.

  27. @Let’s Be Free:

    Well, you have to be able to parse a sentence. He said:

    Four years into the Depression, British G.D.P. had regained its previous peak; four years after the Great Recession began, Britain is nowhere close to regaining its lost ground.

    Do you know what GDP is? Do you know that it is not a subjective measure?

  28. Jib says:

    The disconnect between Gingrich as an insider running as an outsider is consistent with the repubs. The whole party is in massive disconnect. Ever repub I have talked to has told me they are for smaller govt. For over 30 years, I have heard repubs politicians talk about making govt smaller. I even voted for several and exactly ZERO ever made govt smaller. Z-E-R-O. They run against deficits and every time they get in the white house they blowup the deficit. Ryans plan which all repubs are so proud of, actually makes the deficit worse by doing what repubs ALWAYS do, cut taxes and promise spending cuts “later”.

    Newt rails against big govt while promising more defense spending and permanent colonies on the moon all while cutting taxes. But we should vote for him because he wants small govt and cares about the deficit.

    Repubs are a strange, strange, party.