So Republicans are embarrassed and infuriated that a prominent GOP presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, blasted their House-passed budget and its Medicare plan in extreme language, the kind that leads to “even the right-wing Newt Gingrich…” types of editorials, blog posts, and attack ads. But Republicans have no one to blame but themselves for their Newt problem.
Newt’s attack was, to be sure, an honest conservative statement, if we’re talking about Burkean or Oakeshottean conservativism, the kind of conservative thinking that values tradition, prudence, and what is rather than what could be. Of course, Newt’s attack was entirely disingenuous, because Newt is not and has never been that kind of conservative. At least in rhetoric, Newt has always been a radical, and so it’s not surprising that a couple of weeks ago Newt saw Paul Ryan’s Medicare plans as too modest.
But that aside, the bottom line is that Republicans had this one coming. Look: House Republicans, the people who really had to deal with him on a day-to-day basis, took only a few months to begin plotting against him back in 1995, and they were fully prepared to get rid of him three years later. They had already concluded — by the mid-1990s — that Newt was an irresponsible blowhard and all-around fraud who had no business being anywhere near political power.
It’s not his marital record, or multiple ethics investigations. Rather, it’s that Newt Gingrich has a long record of saying outrageous things, worded in every case as if the demise of American civilization was at stake if we didn’t immediately drop everything and do whatever Newt thought was necessary today, and never mind it had nothing to do with whatever he was all worked up about last time. But instead of relegating him to wherever Democrats hid Jim Wright after his aborted Speakership, Republicans set Newt up in a highly visible Washington perch, pretended that his nonsense constituted Serious Ideas and made him an Intellectual, and enjoyed the benefits of his eagerness to use extremist language against the Democrats.
Surprise, surprise: he’s still the same old irresponsible Newt, willing to say pretty much anything as long as it’s phrased as strongly as possible. Even if he said the opposite, in just as dire terms, two weeks ago. Or yesterday. Only this time, since he’s in a GOP primary, he’s going to turn some of that fire on his own party. And, yeah, they don’t like it. But they might have thought about that before, during the decade they were pretending he deserved to be on the Sunday shows and the op-ed pages, making the case for why Clinton or Gore or Kerry or Obama was fundamentally wrong for America. They propped him up. Now — for a while, at loeast — they’re going to have to live with him.