Newt Gingrich Embodies Everything Disagreeable About Modern Washington

George Will's disdain for Mitt Romney pales in comparison of his disgust at Newt Gingrich.

George Will’s disdain for Mitt Romney pales in comparison of his disgust at Newt Gingrich. From yesterday’s “This Week”:

Gingrich’s is an amazingly efficient candidacy, in that it embodies almost everything disagreeable about modern Washington. He’s the classic rental politician. People think his problem is his colorful personal life. He’s gonna hope people concentrate on that, rather than on, for example, ethanol. Al Gore has recanted ethanol. Not Newt Gingrich, who has served the ethanol lobby. 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. Hire Sean Wilentz, hire Gordon Wood if you want a historian.

Now, as a technical matter, Gingrich, who has a PhD in history from Tulane, is a historian. But Will’s right: Freddie didn’t hire him for his decades-lapsed scholarly credentials but for his ability to lobby Congress and his credibility in some conservative circles.

Politico’s Alexander Burns adds:

Will’s undisguised scorn is a good illustration of why Gingrich, even as he makes a bid for the affections of rank-and-file anti-Romney voters, is unlikely to win over much of anti-Romney conservative upper crust. As much as there’s still a demand for an impressive, thoughtful conservative in the race who can lead the party to Romney’s right, most of the political elites who know Gingrich best were convinced a long time ago that he isn’t that guy.

Quite right.

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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.


  1. ponce says:

    I just read Gingrich was denied tenure at the Podunk school he taught at…which, if true, makes him a pretty dumb bunny.

  2. Andyman says:

    Exhibit Z for why polls of Obama vs Generic Republican are meaningless. One of these tools is actually going to be on the ballot. Would George Will get out of bed on a sleeting November morning to pull the lever for Gingrich? And if not, who’s the constituency?

    This might actually be a multi-election debacle for a party so heavily invested in the “next man up” philosophy of grooming nominees. 2016 will be this same crowd, minus Romney and the bottom rung, plus a senator or governor. If I was at all conservative I’d be praying that Mitch Daniels gets very comfortable talking about his personal life over the next four years.

  3. Fiona says:

    Well, I’ve got to agree with Will on this one.

  4. Gustopher says:

    I’m pretty sure there are a new disagreeable things that Gingrich doesn’t embody. He’s the 1993 model unctuous Republican, but the newer models have found more ways to be unctuous.

    The next Not Romney might rise just in time for Iowa and New Hampshire.

  5. Franklin says:

    @Gustopher: Who’s left? Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich have all got their 15 minutes now. Ron Paul has the same 1-3% polling he’s had for the last 20 years. Santorum? Yeah, right. We can hope it’s Huntsman, but I think the fat lady is warming up.

  6. MBunge says:

    Actually, everything disagreeable about modern Washington is embodied by George Will’s anti-ethanol reference. Not that I mean to defend ethanol, but how is it that this one subsidy has become the thing that Very Serious People always hold up as an example of egregious government policy? Not oil company subsidies, not the home mortgage tax break, not even ridiculous overspending in the defense department. No, it’s ethanol that everyone from George Will to Lawrence O’Donnell points to when they want to bitch about the state of policy-making.

    That’s not because the ethanol subsidy is particularly bad or especially large. It’s because it’s a subsidy that primarily benefits rural states like Iowa. There are no ethanol defenders going to Beltway cocktail parties. The ethanol industry isn’t big enough to bankroll Beltway think tanks, pay for advertising on cable news shows or make big donations to political campaigns. So, that makes it an easy target for our courtier elite.

    Considering how completely our political establishment has failed us over the past 15 years, its open contempt may be the best thing Newt has going for him.


  7. @Andyman:

    By the time we got to late September 2008, Will was one of those on the right openly trashing the McCain/Palin ticket.

  8. de stijl says:

    Will’s wife works for the Perry campaign in messaging and debate prep.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @de stijl: I’ve covered that in a previous post. I have no reason to believe that her employment is coloring his disdain for Gingrich, which I believe to be quite genuine.

  10. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Will’s ultimate thesis that Gingrich shouldn’t be the nominee is correct, but it’s a case of stopped clock syndrome. It’s important not to confuse the likes of George Will with the demographic groups that participate in and ultimately that decide GOP primary contests.

    For every George Will out there, i.e., psuedo-intellectual conservatives trying to impress their friends at cocktail parties, there are two extreme evangelical Protestants, two bored housewives, one retired non-com, one cracker, one malcontent and around four businessmen who toil for a living in the real economy. You have to focus on the first and the last groups. The groups in the middle will disperse their votes among several candidates, largely at random, ultimately rendering nugatory the entire lot.

    Evangelical Protestants won’t be voting for Gingrich, but certainly not for the reasons cited by George Will. It’s a lot simplier. To that demographic guys who convert to Catholicism and who go through wives like potato chips are personae non gratae.

    Businessmen won’t be voting for Gingrich. Again, however, it’s not because of ethanol subsidies, or Solyndra, or any other single policy point. It’s far more basic. Gingrich failed as House Speaker, he has no relevant executive experience, he’s never won a statewide election and he’s been out of circulation for over a decade. If you’re a businessman and you want to see Obama gone you’re not going to vote for someone who literally has zero chance of beating Obama. You don’t care about politics as usual or picayune grievances. You just don’t want to get your ass handed to you. You at least want a chance of backing a winner.

    That’s why the GOP presidential nominee almost always winds up being an establishment-backed candidate who’s paid his recent political dues. With that sort of candidate you might not necessarily win the game, but at least you’ll be in the game. That’s how businessmen think. They’re not going to roll the dice on a complete unknown or on a rank ideologue.

    You have to go all the way back to Ike in ’52 to find someone who wasn’t a “it’s his turn” type of candidate and who nevertheless garnered the GOP nomination. Gingrich doesn’t fit the bill. Neither by that same token would the likes of George Will.

  11. Rick Almeida says:


    It never occurred to me, but now I eagerly await Sen. Santorum’s 2 weeks as front-runner.

  12. Franklin says:

    @Rick Almeida: Be careful what you wish for.

  13. WR says:

    @James Joyner: Yes, but I bet if Will’s wife went to work for Gingrich, that would magically color his disdain for the candidate, who would suddenly look serious and vital.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @WR: It’s not reasonable to expect columnists’ spouses not to take jobs to avoid the appearance of conflict.

  15. anjin-san says:

    Will’s wife works for the Perry campaign in messaging and debate prep.

    I’m surprised she is willing to admit it…

  16. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: In fairness, she’s a very recent hire–after his debate implosions