While the nation was digesting its turkey dinner, Rep. Michele Bachmann was seizing an opportunity to score points at Newt Gingrich’s expense. Suggesting that his position on illegal immigration amounts to “amnesty,” Bachmann predicted that the GOP electorate would “come home” to the person who has been the most “consistent conservative.” That would be, she offers, Mrs. Bachmann.
The voters may not agree with her solution, but many in the GOP do seem to be looking for a — forgive the expression — “thrill up the leg” candidate to take on President Obama in the general election. Thus the seismic spikes for Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and even, briefly, Trump. It is now, apparently, Newt Gingrich’s turn in what Brit Hume called “the single most dangerous place to be in American politics, which is the non-Romney leader in the Republican field.”
The adage has it that when the two parties pick their nominees, “Democrats want to fall in love and Republicans want to fall in line.” It will probably hold true. But there is more than a whiff of Democrat-style swooning in the Republican contest so far.
The Union Leader’s endorsement didn’t quite put it the way the Augusta Chronicle did (“Why Not Newt?”), but it did cite Gingrich’s “courage and conviction.” Yet, curiously, within its editorial endorsing him, the Union Leader inadvertently cited the best reason not to support Newt Gingrich: “ . . . Republican primary voters too often make the mistake of preferring an unattainable ideal to the best candidate who is actually running.”
Just so. But back to Gingrich.
It isn’t the three marriages — though the hospital visit to discuss divorce proceedings while his first wife was recuperating from cancer surgery is not an agreeable image. It isn’t the ethics violation for which he was cited by the House Ethics Committee while he was speaker (the IRS later ruled that he had not violated the tax laws). And it isn’t his position on illegal immigrants with deep roots in America.
Newt Gingrich is a bad bet because he will embarrass the Republican party. He will do so through things he has already said and done, and in ways we cannot predict except to be sure — because character will out — that they will happen.
No sooner had Republicans (with a huge boost from Gingrich) achieved the long-denied prize of control of the House of Representatives than Gingrich embarrassed the party by signing a $4.5 million book deal. Though an effective, even inspired, back bencher in Congress, Gingrich proved an incompetent and sometimes petulant leader. He explained that his decision to shut down the government in 1995 was in part motivated by Bill Clinton’s failure to spend time with him on Air Force One when the two were returning from Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. “It’s petty but I think it’s human,” said Gingrich.
Gingrich was the only speaker of the House in U.S. history to be removed by his own party. It wasn’t a cabal of liberals who forced him out, but Dick Armey, Bill Paxon, Tom DeLay, and John Boehner.
Gingrich is lauded as a “conviction” politician and a man of ideas. But his convictions are flexible and his ideas are half-baked when they’re not loopy. Always glib and self-assured, Gingrich declared on March 7 that he would impose a no-fly zone on Libya. On March 23, he just as smoothly declared, “I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Qaddafi.” Though he now says he doesn’t know whether the globe is warming, he filmed a commercial with Nancy Pelosi in 2008 saying that “our country must take action to combat climate change.”
Gingrich rose to prominence in the Republican party by citing the loose ethics of Speaker Jim Wright. Yet in his post-government career, he has been playing the traditional game of selling influence. Among his many lucrative clients was Freddie Mac. The GSE paid the former speaker $1.8 million. Gingrich explained that this was for his “advice as a historian.” Because of his grandiosity, it’s possible that Gingrich actually believes this. Either way — whether he was for sale or so vain that he missed what was obvious to others — it’s not inspiring leadership.
Gingrich once said that to understand him, you needed to do no more than to read “futurist” Alvin Toffler. The former speaker’s sweeping generalizations, flamboyant pronouncements, and soaring banalities do indeed seem influenced by Toffler. But Toffler is the opposite of a conservative. In The Third Wave, he declared that the Founders were “obsolete.” So should Toffler’s acolyte be.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2011 Creators Syndicate, Inc.