Gingrich Passes a Very Low Bar

November 29th, 2011 at 7:54 pm | 68 Comments |

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Newt Gingrich has a voluminous history of misdeeds as a public figure. But since he is now emerging as the consensus alternative to Mitt Romney, sickness we should pause to appreciate how he is succeeding where others have failed in auditioning for that role.

I write this not as a Newt Gingrich fan, view but in grudging admission that despite the mistakes he has made, mind his opponents have done worse.

On Libya, Newt made one of his most blatant reversals, saying first that the United States should intervene militarily on behalf of the rebels before later declaring that he would not have intervened after the president did just that. What did Newt NOT do? Display complete unfamiliarity with President Obama’s position and subsequent action, taking several minutes in an interview to sort through the “things twirling around his head” (Herman Cain).

On same-sex marriage, Newt has stayed fairly mum on the campaign trail (his unanimous support of a prohibitive constitutional amendment notwithstanding). What did Newt NOT do? Attempt to gin up Iowa evangelicals with a comically absurd diatribe contrasting napkins with paper towels (Rick Santorum).

On healthcare, Gingrich’s most flat-footed debate moment came as Romney challenged him to deny that he had ever supported an individual insurance mandate. However, in a subsequent debate he notably refused to distill the issue down to a 30-second sound bite, rattling off a laundry list of potential approaches highlighting the virtue and necessity of public-private partnerships. What did Newt NOT do? Pander to the libertarian populist wing of the party with “let-him-die” do-nothing memes (Ron Paul).

On immigration, Gingrich claimed he would “take the heat” for refusing to support deportation of longstanding undocumented residents, offering a path to legality for those sufficiently demonstrating ingratiation into their adopted communities. What did Newt NOT do? Suggest construction of an electrified border fence labeled “It Can Kill You” (Cain, again) or declare no responsibility to provide care or assistance to children of undocumented arrivals (Michele Bachmann).

These examples do not even touch upon his past positions on climate change and education reform—both issues on which he’s espoused downright liberal positions. In none of these areas has Gingrich advocated a do-nothing approach to governance, or suggested that the role of Washington is to be as “inconsequential as possible” (Rick Perry). Say what one will about his ideas, Gingrich displays a conservatism that is a mindset for problem-solving rather than an excuse for inaction.

Gingrich is still a condescending, unlikable blowhard and an odious exemplar of all that’s wrong with modern Washington. Come on, Freddie Mac didn’t pay $350k for his skills as an historian (such a price tag would accompany better than the likes of Newt’s bibliography—this isn’t David McCullough territory).

Nevertheless, given the low bar set by his fellow candidates it should come as no surprise that Gingrich has been able to surpass it. In Mitt vs. Newt, Republicans are looking at a top-two matchup between two sets of ideas. “Do nothing” is embodied by the buffoonery of their competitors, and that isn’t an option in 2012.

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68 Comments so far ↓

  • ottovbvs

    In the land of the clowns the one with the smallest red nose wins. The base of the Republican party is clearly longing for anyone other than Romney…Gingrich is the last clown left standing and is probably going to be the main beneficiary of the Perry, Bachmann and Cain implosions (apparently Cain may throw in the towel completely). To me the interesting point is if and when will Romney try to trash Newt.

  • Nanotek

    social conservatives destroyed the GOP

  • indy

    Wasn’t it Nate Silver who said that in the land of the salamanders the newt is king?

    I’m not sure what to think of the fact that that the Republicans might prefer to pass up the wall street guy with a stable family who got rich in business in order to choose the political guy who got rich from his office, is ethically challenged, and is a serial adulterer. Is it a religion thing?

  • Oldskool

    Bruce Bartlet put a smackdown on the Grinchster in the NYT, fwiw.

    Looking at polls from 2008, it was only in Jan/Feb that Obama began to pull even with the presumed nominee. Surely Rs have someone on the bench who can wrestle such a pretentious lightweight as Romney to the ground.

  • fgtayl01

    So Newt is succeeding where the others have failed?

    Like Huntsman?

    • Graychin

      Huntsman is tragically charisma-challenged. He peaked the day he announced. And to GOP voters, he is not an alternative to Romney. He’s just another not-so-conservative Mormon from Utah.

      Huntsman never caught fire like Pawlenty.* Unlike Pawlenty, Huntsman won’t have to drop out for lack of money. He and his daddy have as much as they need.


      • PracticalGirl

        Huntsman is tragically charisma-challenged.

        Isn’t it interesting? The Party that has complained ad nauseum about the “cult of personality” of President Obama is attracted bu nothing but that in their own candidates.

      • TJ Parker

        Oh puhleeze. Huntsman less charismatic than Romney or T’Paw? Nobody is less charismatic than Pawlenty or Cain or Gingrich.

        Huntsman refuses to heel when you tug on his leash – that’s the issue. Cheney and his hand-puppet Bush were satisfactory. Perry or Cain and a suitable puppeteer could also have worked. But Huntsman? The minute he says that he believes in Evolution, you know that this man has an independent streak that half the GOP will not tolerate.

        • ottovbvs

          “you know that this man has an independent streak that half the GOP will not tolerate.”

          That maybe because he belongs to one of the wealthiest families in America. But either way he’s not a serious contender.

        • PracticalGirl

          Nobody is less charismatic than Pawlenty or Cain or Gingrich.

          Maybe T-Paw who dropped like a rock early, but I totally disagree with Cain and Gingrich. Each of those men have grasped the zeitgeist of the conservative base, as conditioned by their media arm: The majority media is a group of evil liberals out to get us, and baby-it’s us against them. Gingrich has brought that to the debates so often (to enthusiastic cheers) that it appears to be his main platform issue, and Cain raised 2 million dollars in 10 short days when he turned the sexual harassment scandal into an issue of the liberal media out to get him. Cain may not be able to sustain his charismatic run in the face of the avalanche, but Newt is rising specifically because he’s brought the right personality to a base heavily conditioned to react emotionally to the issues-not policies- they’ve been told matter.

        • Graychin

          I agree that T-Paw has less charisma than the average bath mat. But although I find their politics abhorrent, I think that both Cain and Gingrich are strong in the charisma department. The air seems to crackle for me when they speak at the debates. I find Cain to be likeable, although woefully unprepared to be president. And I have a visceral dislike of Newt that winds me up whenever he opens his mouth.

          That’s charisma – the opposite of T-Paw’s blandness.

          (Edit – it appears that Practical Girl and I are on the same frequencies.)

        • NRA Liberal

          I find Newt so vile that, if he gets the nom, I’ll be forced to vote for Obama. If it’s Romney, I don’t much care about Tweedledum or Tweedledee.

        • LauraNo

          I think you’re right. And I do NOT understand people who say Cain is charming or charismatic. Huh? Ooze-becky-becky-becky-stan-stan is charming in a presidential candidate? Huh?

  • ConnerMcMaub

    As a supporter of President Obama, I am afraid to get my hopes up for Newt. Romney could beat the president, though his work is cut out for him. The ex-speaker would not only hand Barack Obama a second term, he would guarantee the senate remain Democratic and would open the possibility of Speaker Pelosi 2.0 which isn’t likely with Romney. Gingrich has flip-flopped more than Romney and it’s all on tape. Just play his 5 different positions on Libya in a commercial without narration.

  • chephren

    The GOP race has become completely predictable – Romney holds his lead and a contender bursts temporarily from the pack to challenge him – only to have his or her nuttery exposed. The contender-du-jour falls back into the pack only to be succeeded by yet another aspiring Romney-slayer. Who fails in turn. Lotsa nuts in this bunch.

    Who will be the last one to rise to the challenge? Huntsman? And might he succeed? For the sake of the Republican party, here’s hoping.

  • LauraNo

    We need another political designation on ballots, republican, democrat and conservative. Conservatives tend to stubborn ideology it seems to me, most people want solutions but those who want to stand rigidly for their ‘principles’ and care not a whit for fixing problems can do so, without any compromising – just vote conservative. Supposedly this is a center right country, according to themselves, let’s find out why don’t we?

  • SFTor1

    There is only one way to break up the party in Washington: empty the money trough.

    Until then we will have to endure empty suits like Romney, and corporate whores like Gingrich.

    Good luck to the GOP.

  • hisgirlfriday

    Why is Newt the beneficiary of the Cain implosion? Why not Santorum? Is the GOP really more concerned about turning off gay voters than it is turning off women voters?

    And if the choice comes down to Mormon Romney or Catholic Gingrich, just what do Hagee, Jeffress and their fundamentalist bigot brethren do?

    • Demosthenes

      And if the choice comes down to Mormon Romney or Catholic Gingrich, just what do Hagee, Jeffress and their fundamentalist bigot brethren do?

      Catholics are not perceived nearly as negatively as Mormons among “fundamentalist” Protestants. There is a general sense that Catholics may not be worshiping Jesus as well as they are, but that at least they are worshiping the same Jesus.

      • TJ Parker

        Goodness, is Newt’s new Catholic piety really believed by anyone? The scandalous Former Speaker and the little Member of Congress in his pants couldn’t be controlled when they were Protestant, but lo! he converts to Catholicism, wrangles two annulments for his former marriages out of some baby-eating Bishop, and he and his member are now pure as the driven snow.

        Are social conservatives really this gullible?

        I think Newt’s rise really says that the GOP is finally beginning to understand that its completely f*cked: all their candidates are seriously flawed, except for Huntsman, who is out of step with Limbaugh and Coulter and other serious (!) party leaders.

        • Demosthenes

          Yes, social conservatives are that gullible (at least some of them), however the real issue here is the symbolism. Not about Newt’s “conversion” but about the fact that he stood up to Clinton and has street cred as a culture warrior. He is a symbol of resistance against the Leftist Agenda. Romney is not.

      • LauraNo

        I don’t know about this. Catholic’s Jesus is all about charity and loving your neighbor and throwing out the money changers. Not the same Jesus at all.

    • TJ Parker

      Why not Santorum? Is the GOP really more concerned about turning off gay voters than it is turning off women voters?

      Its not just gay voters: its voters with a gay brother or sister, a gay parent, a gay friend, a gay relative … Santorum is *that* offensive. His career – at least in national politics – ended years ago.

      Theocrats like him and Bachmann can’t succeed. And you’ll never see them bump up in the polls beyond their fringe base.

      • Graychin

        All of us have known people like Santorum, who exude creepy piety. Even though he seems intelligent and well-informed, there isn’t much market for creepy piety.

        Proof: Santorum moved himself and his family to Iowa to campaign there. He has visited every corner of the state – all 99 counties. 99! He has worked his bottom off. And he STILL isn’t getting any traction there.

        In freaking IOWA!

  • heap

    then can we skip the rest of these drool-fest debates, and just make them limbo?

  • ottovbvs

    To be fair to the Newtster in terms of practical political experience he was way ahead of any other contender including Romney and he’s not dumb. He may be all the things Gatsby says but as an “Anyone but Romney” option he’s in a different league than the likes of Perry, Cain, Bachmann et al. As these dominoes have fallen (and it looks like Hermy is going to actually pull the plug) he’s the last man standing and he’s crested only 35 days before the first primary which he could actually win. If he follows this up with a respectable second in NH and a win in SC (he’s way ahead in a new poll) this could translate into a win in Florida. I’ve always thought Romney was vulnerable to a credible alternative because he’s so clearly loathed by large tracts of the Republican party. Perry flamed out as that alternative because he’s even dumber than I thought he was but Romney has to be worried about Gingrich. The money (which he’s been short of) must now be starting to flow in and this along with the implosion of the other ABR’s makes him a much more dangerous threat. Will Romney try to trash Newt? That Fannie Mae story almost certainly came from pro Romney forces in the Republican establishment but Newt seems to have survived that at least with the Republican electorate. A decision by Romney to go negative on Newt might be necessary but it’s very risky. Look at the RCP voting averages if you want to assess the size of Romney’s vulnerability. I would still say he’s the favorite but there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.

    • wileedog

      “A decision by Romney to go negative on Newt might be necessary but it’s very risky.”

      I’m thinking its going to happen pretty soon. The smart play is probably to remind these newly found converts from Cain that all of the sleaze that caused his fall from grace is old hat and then some for Newt, especially before he barrels into Iowa with a head of steam.

      • ottovbvs

        So far Romney’s strategy has been to stay above the fray but that becomes less viable if the Newtster starts to take off. But it’s a heck of a risk to start overtly trashing Newt who is basically a known quantity to the Republican base and they don’t care. He aint Romney.

        • wileedog

          I don’t disagree with the risks, but interestingly Romney threw the first jab this morning with the “career politician” accusation.

          That said, I don’t think the stay above the fray will work for Romney here. Unlike Cain Newt’s skeletons have long ago been pulled from the closet and put on the front lawn, and unlike Perry Newt’s political abilities – and self inflated opinion of them – are well known. There aren’t going to be any new big surprises out of the past or major gaffes that are going to let Newt self destruct like those two did.

          Romney IMO has to win this nomination be default – everyone else has to suck worse than him. He is never, ever going to excite the base to rally to his cause. If they look at all of Newt’s warts and don’t care about them then he is sunk – so he has to make them care if he wants a shot, and that means going negative.

          Will be interesting to see if either of the two biggest flip flopping candidates in recent memory pulls that card on the other…

        • indy

          Assuming Newt wins the nomination, is the base really going to rally around him any more than they would Romney? It seems just as problematic to me. Newt seems to have all the weaknesses of Romney but none of the strengths, and especially not any of the the blank areas that the base can fill with the self-delusions necessary to spur them into action.

        • ottovbvs

          “everyone else has to suck worse than him.”

          Basically I agree but there’s the rub. Will the Republican base perceive Newt as sucking more. Hard to tell when you look at those RCP averages (look at the chart), the minute a viable looking ABR comes over the horizon Romney is toast. The problem with going negative is that it will be immediately perceived as such and this has the potential to create a backlash. Like you I find it hard to believe Newt has any more bodies buried but it’s possible there’s a mass grave somewhere I suppose.

        • Demosthenes

          I would not bet on Gingrich’s flips being put in the same category as Romney’s flops by GOP primary voters.

      • Graychin

        Unless Newt crashes and burns very soon, Romney will have no choice but to go on the attack.

        But what negative things can he say about Newt that everybody doesn’t already know? All that baggage, and Republicans STILL like him more than Romney.

  • ZombieTory

    “… a conservatism that is a mindset for problem-solving rather than an excuse for inaction.”

    Phrases like that need to be plastered everywhere.

  • wileedog

    “Assuming Newt wins the nomination, is the base really going to rally around him any more than they would Romney”

    I think so. Religion aside, to me there is a strange perception out there that Gingrich is more conservative than Romney (even though both candidates have expressed multiple conflicting views on lots of policies), and at the end of the day Gingrich can throw the red meat far better than Romney ever will. In fact its Gingrich’s innate ability to be a condescending a**hole and apocalyptic bomb thrower that give him the edge when attacking Obama – which is all the base truly wants anyway.

    If Newt can successfully navigate the personal baggage waters, then he is an eminently more ‘exciting’ and engaging candidate than Romney (which says more about Mitt than Newt), especially with the base crowd that isn’t all that interested in facts anyway.

    I mean which do you think will fire up the Tea Party more?:

    Mitt: “Obama apologized for America!! And stuff… Oh and I completely made up an ad with Obama saying something about the economy and losing that actually McCain said! Tee hee!”

    Newt: “Obama is a Kenya, anti-colonial Marxist Muslim who eats white babies!” (ok I added that last part, but who is more likely to say that with a straight face, Newt or Mitt?)

    • Graychin

      “…is the base really going to rally around (Newt) any more than they would Romney?”

      The base will vote for anyone against Obama, no matter which one says that Obama eats white babies for breakfast. That’s for certain. The question is – which one would draw more votes from outside the base?

      That’s Romney.

      His interview yesterday with the Friendly Fox didn’t go well. So far, Romney has been able pretty much to both run AND hide. He won’t be able to keep hiding if he wins the nomination.

      • wileedog

        [i]“The question is – which one would draw more votes from outside the base?

        That’s Romney.”[/i]

        Oh no question, and I wasn’t particularly talking about the General. My point was more that the 75% who keep vainly searching for AnyoneButRomney to vote for in the primary are not going to one day see the light and nominate him in a glorious sweep.

        That said, even if he pulls more independents and moderates in the GE I think Romney is worse news for the downtickets as a lot of the base stay home and don’t pull the lever for anybody. Gingrich may at least be able to get them in the booth. Maybe.

    • indy

      Maybe, I guess. I really don’t know. I have little doubt they will vote for him, or Romney, or Cain, or Jack the Ripper, or whomever.

      I think you are probably right though. It’s possible that Newt will move people off the sidelines that would stay there for Romney, but it seems extremely unlikely that Romney could move people off the sidelines that would stay there for Newt.

  • icarusr

    “Gingrich displays a conservatism that is a mindset for problem-solving rather than an excuse for inaction.”

    Funny. This is the same Gingrich who wants to abolish the CBO and the GAO? Read Bartlett and weep – his is not a “problem-solving” conservatism, it never was in 1994 and it is not now. He is a rabble-rousing right-wing autocrat. His opaque speeches, his delusions of gradeur, his reliance on his own (but no one else’s) “learnin’ and expertise”, his odious graft, his lying – endless, ceaseless, shameless lying – are all part and parcel of an interesting leadership style that has its exact match in Iran’s Ahmadinejad. The political and stylistic similarity is uncanny; and the effects on the Republic here of a Gingrich presidency are not likely to be less disastrous than A’jad has been for Iran.

    No, this is not a “problem-solving” conservatism. It is “identify the wrong problem and offer the wrong misguided solution, so as to avoid dealing with the real problems and to keep power for its own sake” kind of political illusion-making.

    Basically, the Republican “bar” is set, these days, slightly above “Just Got out of the Primordial Ooze”, accompanying slime and inherent slipperiness optional. No wonder Newt and Romney are leading the pack.

  • Graychin

    Does anyone else suspect that Newt doesn’t really WANT to be President? That his book-tour candidacy has spun a bit out of control?

    Someone with an ego the size of Newt’s won’t be able to resist his “country’s call.” But I have to wonder if he ever thought he would be in this position – leading the pack in December!

    • ottovbvs

      You’re oversimplifying it. A lot of politics is about carpe diem or finding a wave and riding it and Gingrich is a very experienced politician. When Gingrich started his campaign he obviously knew he was an outsider so at worst he’d sell a few books but with a few of the right breaks he could become a contender. Since he knew all these people he also probably figured out most of them were going to fall at the first or second fence as potential ABR candidates and this could provide an opening him. Gingrich although a slimeball of mega proportions is no fool.

  • indy

    Well, I’ll be the first to admit I never saw this (Newt) coming this year.

    • PracticalGirl

      I bet the staff who defected from Newt to work for Rick Perry are just a surprised. :)

      • indy

        I’m sure they’re not worried about it at all. Newt strikes me as the forgiving sort. Not.

    • ottovbvs

      It surprised me because I thought Perry was going to be the anti Romney (as obviously did Newt’s defecting staff) but he turned out to so monumentally dumb it was beyond belief. However, it’s an interesting commentary on the Texas mindset that this bozo could be repeatedly elected governor of the largest state in the country. Once Perry imploded Newt became a possibility.

      • Crime Dog

        Largest state in the country? Sarah Palin is crying (or, alternatively, Jerry Brown is)

        • ottovbvs

          I always thought that physically Texas was the largest state in the country but I’m quite prepared to believe Alaska is largest. I made no mention of economic size therefore no problem for Mr Brown.

    • ottovbvs

      A statesman… must wait until he hears the steps of God sounding through events, then leap up and grasp the hem of His garment.
      Otto von Bismarck

  • lilmanny

    Mitt versus Newt as the Final Choice is the Purgatory the GOP must endure for releasing Sarah Palin into the world. This is pure, laughable hell, every second of it predictable and deserved.

  • LFC

    Several years ago I couldn’t imagine Mitt Romney being the GOP Presidential candidate. I figure somebody at least semi-competent and with stronger right-wing credentials would take him down.

    Over the past 6 months I couldn’t imagine anybody BUT Mitt Romney being the GOP Presidential candidate. The rest of the pack were just such a massive collection of losers (except Huntsman who never really got out of the gate).

    Now I actually have to entertain the fact that NEW FREAKIN’ GINGRICH might actually end up as the GOP Presidential candidate.

    Every time I think the GOP has scraped the bottom of the barrel I’m proven wrong. Nothing to do anymore but sit back and watch the freak show.

    • ottovbvs

      Looks like the Newtster could be walking away with FL. 41% to Romney’s 17% in the latest poll!! Go Newt. Imagine Frum’s horror when he returns from the sceptred isle and finds the Newtster in the lead.

      • indy

        I think this might signal the longest and most drawn out Republican primary since…well, since forever. Add in that it is (mostly) no longer winner-take-all, and the Republican primary just moved out of the watching paint dry category.

      • indy

        PPP just released a poll with Newt 47% to Romney’s 17% in Florida and Newt 37% to Romney’s 11% in Montana (with Ron Paul at 12% LOL).

      • indy

        Newt leads by 10 points in LA according to the latest poll there. Freaking awesome.

  • Holmes

    Smart money is on Newt to get the nomination. The base is seething with anger and Newt can stoke those Palinesque flames where and when it suits him, Romney can’t. It’s not that Romney is above demagoguery, it’s just that he’s not believable in the role. When it comes to bitter resentments, Mitt lacks gravitas.

  • Baldezar

    Are there no such comparisons to Mr. Romney?

  • LFC

    Apropos of little, it’s always fun to take a look at Intrade.

    Gingrich’s stock is skyrocketing, up 28% today alone (as of now). The jump is so recent that you have to look at the big chart to really see it:

    Romney’s stock has taken a hit, but not yet a massive one and he’s still ahead of Newt in price:

    Good times. Good times.

    • ottovbvs

      Do you ever read the comments on these sites. Are these people on drugs or something?

  • Woodrow

    Speaking only for myself, if Romney is nominated I will vote for him. If Newt is the nominee, maybe not.

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