There’s a lot of pixels being sacrificed over Newton Leroy Gingrich these days.
There’s a deep and growing divide in the Republican world between those who are able to reconcile themselves with — to wrap their heads around — the possibility of Newt Gingrich becoming the GOP presidential nominee, and those who are not. It’s becoming increasingly clear that it is Washington insiders who are having the most trouble imagining a Gingrich nomination, while Republicans outside Washington aren’t having a problem.
Of course it’s the Washington insiders who have the most actual experience dealing with Gingrich. Just look at what Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, who served with Gingrich in the House in the 1990s, said about the former speaker on Fox News Sunday. “I’m not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich’s having served under him for four years and experienced personally his leadership,” Coburn said. “I found it lacking often times.”
“There are all types of leaders,” Coburn continued. “Leaders that instill confidence, leaders that are somewhat abrupt and brisk, leaders that have one standard for the people they are leading and a different standard for themselves. I just found his leadership lacking and…I will have difficulty supporting him as president of the United States.”
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.
Those opinions are colored by personal experience with Gingrich during his years as speaker. That’s not the case for most voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and the rest of the primary and caucus states. While insiders remember Gingrich’s low points from the 90s, outsiders remember his triumphs. They remember a Gingrich who had the vision to imagine a Republican takeover of the House when no one else could, and the skill to make it happen. And when outsiders think of the two greatest policy achievements of the Clinton years — a balanced budget and welfare reform — they know Gingrich can legitimately claim a lot of credit for both. So what if he was abrupt with colleagues? Or, for that matter, if he was the target of a Democratic-driven ethics attack? As far as the 1990s are concerned, outsiders remember Gingrich’s high points.
When I was in college in the mid-nineties I did a term paper on Newt. I still have the paper somewhere (I’m a packrat) and probably have a version on floppy disk. But I don’t want to explore my archives and I don’t have a floppy drive anymore. There was nothing really earth-shattering in there anyway.
I only bring it up to emphasize that I have more than a passing familiarity with Naughty Newtie. He is someone I could never vote for, but at the same time I have developed a grudging respect for his abilities.
More than any other person, Newt Gingrich is responsible for the Republican Revolution of 1994. By then I had been a Newt-watcher for nearly a decade and a half. I first remember seeing him while watching the 1980 GOP convention. At that time I was in the Army stationed in Germany. Newt was a freshman congressman running for reelection and was the leader of the “Young Turks.”
Gingrich brought to Washington, D.C., the same energy and determination that had served him well on the campaign trail. He quickly became known as one of the “Young Turks,” a group of technology-savvy, young Republican conservatives reshaping the national party. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican, was elected president, Gingrich was reelected to the House of Representatives. Though still a part of the minority party in the House, Gingrich and his allies, including Trent Lott of Mississippi, began to employ an aggressive strategy to use all available media to rail against what they believed were unfair manipulations of House rules by dominant Democrats.
Coinciding with Gingrich’s arrival in Congress, the chamber began to be televised through the C-SPAN network. Gingrich learned that any member could give a speech after the House had concluded its business for the day. The House ended its day around 9 p.m.—a time when many Americans were watching television. Gingrich began giving speeches, which were broadcast on C-SPAN, and through these speeches he was able to build a loyal following of conservatives. His popularity increased as he denounced the policies and personalities of the Democratic leadership in the House. He also formed a political action committee to aid conservatives running for Congress from across the country.
Newt put together a
diabolical plan for world domination to take over Congress:
Few observers believed Gingrich when he announced that he was going to lead the Republicans in taking over the House of Representatives, but he developed a cohesive and popular agenda to do just that. The “Contract with America” was the outcome of his efforts—a ten-point plan for action that he promised to bring to a vote if the Republicans won. Republicans stated that if they were elected to lead Congress, they would work to balance the budget, repeal certain tax increases, strengthen the military, and hold a vote on term limits, among other items. Democrats criticized Gingrich for having developed the agenda solely from popular opinion polls, but Gingrich said, “What is the primary purpose of a political leader? To build a majority. If voters care about parking lots, then talk about parking lots.” With the 1994 elections the Republicans won 54 additional seats in the House and gained the majority (230 to 204), and Gingrich was poised to become Speaker.
Newt led an effort to recruit Republicans from all over the country to run for Congress. You can call the Contract on America a gimmick (it was) but it was a damn effective gimmick:
The Contract with America was introduced six weeks before the 1994 Congressional election, the first mid-term election of President Bill Clinton’s Administration, and was signed by all but two of the Republican members of the House and all of the Party’s non-incumbent Republican Congressional candidates.
Proponents say the Contract was revolutionary in its commitment to offering specific legislation for a vote, describing in detail the precise plan of the Congressional Representatives, and marked the first time since 1918 that a Congressional election had been run broadly on a national level. Furthermore, its provisions represented the view of many conservative Republicans on the issues of shrinking the size of government, promoting lower taxes and greater entrepreneurial activity, and both tort reform and welfare reform.
In a historic election, House Speaker Tom Foley (D-Washington) was defeated for re-election in his district, becoming the first Speaker of the House to fail to win re-election since the era of the American Civil War. Other major upsets included the defeat of powerful long-serving Representatives such as Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Illinois) and Judiciary Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Texas). In all, 34 incumbents (all Democrats) were defeated, though several of them (like David Price of North Carolina, Ted Strickland of Ohio, and Jay Inslee of Washington) regained seats in later elections; Maria Cantwell of Washington won a U.S. Senate race in 2000. Republicans also won some seats that were left open by retiring Democrats. Democrats won four Republican-held seats where the incumbents were stepping down (Maine, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island). Democrats who were elected in this situation included current Rhode Island congressman and Kennedy family member Patrick J. Kennedy and current Maine governor John Baldacci. No Republican incumbent lost his or her seat in 1994.
Minority whip Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia), re-elected in the Republican landslide, became Speaker (previous Minority Leader Robert H. Michel having retired). Former Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri) became Minority Leader. The new Republican Party (GOP) leadership in the House promised to bring a dozen legislative proposals to a vote in the first 100 days of the session, although the Senate did not always follow suit. The Republicans would remain the majority party of the House for the following 12 years, until the 110th United States Congress following the 2006 midterm elections.
Newt was Speaker for only four years before ego and ethics (too much of one and not enough of the other) brought him down. He ran roughshod over the GOP members in the House and Senate, making lots of enemies.
But that doesn’t diminish the scope of his achievements. He is a very effective politician when he is at the top of his game, and he’s got his “A” game going right now.
This is not an endorsement of Newt Gingrich. It is an assessment. Underestimate him at your peril.
One last thing:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is holding back some information on Republican Newt Gingrich that could detract from his presidential campaign, according to a report published Monday.
“One of these days we’ll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich,” Pelosi told Talking Points Memo. “When the time is right. … I know a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff.”
What a bad bluff. Nancy is talking out her ass.
One of the things that makes Newt such a formidable candidate is the fact that his life is pretty much an open book. There are no secrets or new skeletons left to emerge. As someone recently said, his baggage is calculated into his price.