I was wrong about Newt. Or, as Newt would say, I was fundamentally wrong. Fundamentally and profoundly wrong. I was as adverbially wrong about Newt as it’s possible to be. Back in the spring, during an analysis of the presidential field, I was asked by Sean Hannity what I thought of Gingrich. If memory serves, I guffawed. I suggested he was this season’s Alan Keyes — a guy running for president to boost his speaking fees but whose candidacy was otherwise irrelevant. I said I liked the cut of this Tim Pawlenty fellow, who promptly self-destructed. There would be a lot of that in the months ahead: Michele Bachmann ODing on Gardasil, Rick Perry floating the trial balloon of his candidacy all year long, only to puncture it with the jaunty swing of his spur ten minutes into the first debate. And when all the other Un-Romney of the Week candidates were gone, there was Newt, the last man standing, smirking, waddling to the debate podium. Unlike the niche candidates, he offers all the faults of his predecessors rolled into one: Like Michele Bachmann, his staffers quit; like Herman Cain, he spent the latter decades of the last century making anonymous women uncomfortable, mainly through being married to them; like Mitt Romney, he was a flip-flopper, being in favor of government mandates on health care before he was against them, and in favor of big-government climate-change “solutions” before he was against them, and in favor of putting giant mirrors in space to light American highways by night before he was agai . . . oh, wait, that one he may still be in favor of. So, if you live in the I-95 corridor, you might want to buy blackout curtains.
But, when you draw them, Newt’s still there, shimmering beguilingly, which is the one adverb I fundamentally never thought I’d be using for this most fundamentally adverbial of candidates. A year ago, we were still talking about Palin and Daniels and Christie and Jindal and Ryan, an embarrassment of riches. Barely a month ago, Cain and 9-9-9 were riding high, an embarrassment of a different kind, and Gingrich was still a single-digit asterisk. But, like Gussie Fink-Nottle, we are all Newt-fanciers now. On the eve of Iowa it seems the Republican base’s dream candidate is a Clinton-era retread who proclaims himself a third Roosevelt, with Taft’s waistline and twice as many ex-wives as the first 44 presidents combined; a lead zeppelin with more baggage than the Hindenburg; a self-help guru crossed with a K Street lobbyist, which means he’s helped himself on a scale few of us could dream of. For this the Tea Party spent three years organizing and agitating?