Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Newt's figment


The freight car known as Newt Gingrich left the station on an utterly quixotic quest for the 2012 Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States. It will be a long and slow journey on the Gingrich Personal Baggage Train from now until the season of the snows in Iowa and New Hampshire next year; it may not get further than the parking lot.

He proved this over the weekend. Speaking at a GOP convention in his home state of Georgia, Gingrich posited an either/or scenario for the nation.

“You want to be a country that creates food stamps? In which case, frankly, Obama is an enormous success, the most successful food stamp president in American history. Or do you want to be a country that creates jobs?” Gingrich said. “I would like to be the most successful paycheck president in American history.”

But Gingrich will not be so regarded in the history books. The man that Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington state called “the most uniquely unqualified man to be president I can imagine” has launched a presidential campaign that reveals just what’s wrong with his party.

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Gingrich made it official on May 11, via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, that he would run for president “I'm Newt Gingrich, and I'm announcing my candidacy for president of the United States because I believe we can return America to hope and opportunity, to full employment and to real security,” Gingrich said in a two-minute video on YouTube.

“There's a much better American future ahead with more jobs, more prosperity, a better health system, longer lives, greater independent living and a country that is decentralized under the 10th amendment, with power once again back with the American people and away from the Washington bureaucracy,” he said.

On the one hand, you have to admire the courage of the man’s convictions. Anyone else with one affair, three marriages and two divorces under his belt, who had resigned as Speaker of the House in disgrace would’ve called it a day — and a career.



Not Newt. Since resigning the Speaker’s post in November 1998, Gingrich has reinvented himself as a fundraiser, mini-media mogul and ideological gun for hire. He had a gig at Fox News lobbing grenades at President Obama and Democrats in general. His fundraising organization, American Solutions, has raised at least $28 million for Republican causes and initiatives. And his production company, Gingrich Productions, makes videos that amount to infomercials for conservative ideology.

Now he wants to be president. But the dream that is utterly a figment of Gingrich’s fevered imagination will founder on the rocks of reality soon enough. First there are the messy personal details of a libido run amok. Then of course there’s the “clash of civilizations” mini-meme Gingrich has trotted out in various speeches since Obama took office, in which Gingrich rhetorically positioned the United States in a war against the “Islamist triumphalism” symbolized by the planned mosque near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

And with various intemperate or quasi-racist statements he’s made about Obama over the last two years, it points to a pattern of behavior that suggests what David Corn of Mother Jones said May 11 on MSNBC’s “Hardball” is true: “Newt Gingrich is Glenn Beck with better syntax.”



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These problems are bad enough; now add to that an underreported issue that could well derail Gingrich’s hopes among the same deep-conservative voters he hopes to woo. Erick Erickson of RedState.com told CNN last week that Gingrich’s conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholicism could create problems for him as he campaigns in Iowa, and in North Carolina and other Southern states where evangelicals are a force to be reckoned with.

No doubt true: Gingrich’s past extramarital sorties combined with an abandonment of his evangelical identity won’t go away quietly. These aren’t conservative transgressions that will vanish with one lapidary address on the campaign trail. This won’t respond to anything like a Checkers speech or John F. Kennedy’s frank talk about his Catholicism.



The combination of negatives Gingrich embodies is hugely problematic; billionaire publicity enthusiast Donald Trump couldn’t bring more liabilities to the table (besides the liability of never having been elected for anything). And coming days after the saga of the implosion of Nevada Sen. John Ensign — for a series of sordid personal and romantic manipulations that may have legal consequences — Gingrich’s candidacy may be met with a public that’s had quite enough of that kind of scandal.

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But on top of all the previous maters, Gingrich will fail because of something more fundamental: Newt Gingrich represents the past of the Republican Party, a history the GOP of 2012 is just short of desperate to conceal and forget in a march, or at least a lurch, toward the future.

Steve Schmidt, former senior adviser to the McCain 2008 campaign, seemed to suggest this on May 9, in an interview with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC’s “The Last Word.” Lamenting the GOP field as “a reality show,” Schmidt obliquely suggested that a Gingrich candidacy symbolized a field of hopefuls so weak that “other, serious candidates” may jump into the race “as late as the fall.”

The demographics of that country aren’t what they were in Newt’s heyday, when he took over as Speaker after spearheading the GOP takeover of Congress/House during the Clinton administration. Gingrich’s latest reach into character assassination of the president recalls Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” cheap shot in the 1980 campaign, and it’s no more accurate or enlightened now than Reagan's was then.



This is a candidate who is fundamentally out of touch with reality. Schmidt said as much on “The Last Word” when he aligned Gingrich with “the Donald Trumps of the world, spouting this mosaic of nonsense day in and day out … trivializing serious issues and trivializing a group of ... what could be some compelling candidates.”

NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” said as much on May 7 in a sketch that was a sharp takeoff on presidential campaign TV. “The 2012 Undeclared Candidates Debate” starred Bill Hader as Fox News mouthpiece Shepard Smith and Bobby Moynihan as ... Newt Gingrich.

Smith: Newt Gingrich, you’re never gonna be president and I have a feeling you don’t really want to be. Would you like to duck out early?

Gingrich: Yeah, I’d love to.


He sprints sloppily off the set, shaking hands as he exits.

Smith: Bye, Newt.

Image credits: Gingrich: CNN. Newt 2012 logo: newt.org

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