Newt and the conservative memory hole
Ramesh Ponnuru says Republican voters inclined to swoon over Gingrich had better reflect on the Nineties-era Newt to what they’re likely to get. Excerpts:
Gingrich’s fans say that he isn’t the same man he was then; he has “matured” in his 60s. Maybe so. But he’s still erratic: This year he flip-flopped three times on the top issue of the day, the House Republican plan to reform Medicare. He’s still undisciplined: He went on a vacation cruise at the start of his campaign. He still has the same old grandiosity: In recent weeks he has compared himself to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and said confidently that the nomination was his.
He still has the same need to justify his every petty move by reference to some grand theory. Plenty of politicians competing in Iowa come out for ethanol subsidies; only Gingrich would proclaim that in doing so he was standing up to city slickers in a culture war invented in his own mind. He still has a casual relationship with the truth. In recent weeks he has said that Freddie Mac (FMCC) paid him to condemn its business model, only for reporters and bloggers to find out that he had in fact shilled for the organization in return for about $1.6 million.
He still has the same penchant for sharing whatever revelation has just struck him, as with his recent musings about getting rid of child-labor laws. “He goes off the deep end and throws things out there,” says Joe McQuaid, the publisher of the Manchester Union Leader, which has endorsed Gingrich. He means it as a compliment, but it doesn’t strike me as one of the top traits to seek in a president. Many voters may have the same reaction.
True, Gingrich has done more to advance the cause of conservatism than Romney. But he’s also done more to damage it. He lost his job as speaker of the House because conservative representatives were fed up with his inconstancy.
To know Gingrich from working with him, as opposed to listening to him on Fox, is to dread a Gingrich presidential bid, says Byron York:
Gingrich has also taken flak from another former colleague, Rep. Peter King. “The problem was, over a period of time, he couldn’t stay focused,” King said of Gingrich a few days ago. “He was undisciplined. Too often, he made it about himself.”
It’s more than just former colleagues. If one were to survey politicos, journalists and others who lived through Gingrich’s years as speaker in Washington, there would likely be a near-consensus that Gingrich will blow up his candidacy through some mixture of arrogance and indiscipline. Those insiders simply don’t believe there is a New Newt. Old Newt, the Gingrich who alienated many of his colleagues back in the 90s, will reassert himself soon enough, they believe.
John Podhoretz, who covered the Gingrich House speakership as a founding editor of the Weekly Standard, cautions conservatives who have short memories:
We remember the brilliant political design of the Contract with America — and how little of it actually made it into law. That would prove to be very much the pattern with Gingrich, who loves to think in grand terms but who tends toward not grandeur as a result but grandiosity, instead.
We remember how he tarnished his own “Republican revolution” even before it started between the 1994 election and the swearing-in of the new Congress by getting himself a $4.5 million book deal (that would be $6.5 million today) — a PR blunder and possible ethics violation that backfired so badly that he had to forswear his advance.
We remember the wildly wrongheaded conviction some of us shared with him that he was powerful enough to go mano a mano with Bill Clinton in 1995 — because he and we hadn’t taken account of the fact that in his races for his House seat, he’d get 100,000 votes while Clinton in 1992 got 40 million.
We remember how that conviction led to perhaps the greatest political blunder of our time — the showdown over the budget in October 1995 that led to the three-week government shutdown and the subsequent GOP cave-in that brought the “Republican revolution” to an end only nine months after it began.
I feel like someone who’s watching his sister decide that maybe she should get back together with the lout she divorced, because he says he’s changed.
Do you remember how that fiasco started? Because Newt believed Clinton had dissed him about a ride on Air Force One. This is not a stable or a worthy man. Put him up against Obama, and the incumbent will look like the Rock of Gibraltar.