Load up on popcorn: The Republican ticket may be poised to go to 11. According to numerous reports, Donald Trump is considering Newt Gingrich as his running mate. And as traffic-baiters like to say on the Internet: You won’t believe what happens next!
But first I should come clean. I like Gingrich. My wife worked for him for several years. Whatever his faults, the former House speaker — and architect of the “Republican Revolution” in 1994 — is a brilliant man with almost encyclopedic knowledge of political history and a grab bag of other topics as well. When John Boehner stepped down from the speakership last year, I proposed in this space that Gingrich serve as his temporary replacement.
Over roughly the same period, I have to say, Gingrich foreshadowed Trumpism. In the 1990s, he used talk radio much the way Trump has exploited social media to get his message past the gatekeepers. In 2012, Gingrich leveraged the debates to dominate the news cycle like a force of nature, attacking — often with devastating efficacy — the presumptions and arrogance of the media.
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Bill Clinton tapped Al Gore in 1992 to reinforce — rather than offset — his brand as a next-generation Southern moderate. (This was before Gore became a Silicon Valley cliché.) In many respects, a Trump-Gingrich ticket would also count as a “double-down” move (and not just in the sense that they’ve totaled six wives between them) — except that while Trump can’t offer much beyond the bumper sticker “Make America Great Again,” Gingrich has written books on “Renewing American Civilization.” Gingrich could complement Trump; he could be like the walking explanatory footnote to Trump’s every outburst.
For argument’s sake, let’s say Trump announces that we should abolish the question mark. Gingrich will then appear on Meet the Press to defend his running mate, as any VP candidate must.
“Frankly, Chuck,” he’ll begin. (Gingrich likes to begin his sentences with “Frankly.”) And then we will get a very frank master’s course on how, frankly, in the age of emojis, the question mark is a waste of vital national resources. Moreover, he will explain, frankly, that the mainstream media’s scorn for this idea just shows how out of touch they are with the concerns of everyday Americans.
Then, on Monday, Trump will say, “Question marks? I love question marks. I meant we should abolish semicolons.” And Gingrich will be there, standing alone, atop a rhetorical cloud castle of his own devising, holding the bag.It gets better. Gingrich suffers from an intellectual version of Trump’s political Tourette syndrome. The difference is that Gingrich can almost always offer a plausible — or seemingly plausible — defense for every crazy idea, from moon colonies and mirrors in space (to create 24 hours of electricity-free daylight) to claiming that a woman who drowned her kids proved that people needed to vote Republican.
While I’m sure the presumptive GOP nominee would love to see a Trump Tower on the moon, I have a sneaking suspicion he will have a tougher time explaining his running mate’s rhetorical excesses than the other way around.
— Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. You can write to him by e-mail at [email protected]. © 2016 Tribune Content Agency, LLC