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Right Turn
Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 11/21/2011

Conservatives shouldn’t kid themselves about Newt

Some conservatives seem to have taken leave of their senses and/or developed a bad case of amnesia when it comes to Newt Gingrich. He’s credited with “leading the conservative movement for 25 years.” (Really? After he was booted from the speakership, what did he do to further conservative values and causes?) He’s labeled as a conviction conservative. (Really? Was hawking Freddie Mac and ethanol subsidies a pro-conservative or a pro-Newt endeavor?) He’s credited with grand accomplishments as speaker of the House. (Really? He lost the government-shutdown standoff to Bill Clinton and lambasted conservatives who objected to his penchant for excessive compromise.) He’s more mature and sober. they say. (Really? Attacking Rep. Paul Ryan for “rightwing social engineering” wasn’t exactly a responsible move.)

Just as we saw with Herman Cain and, before him, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, some otherwise sensible conservatives seem to be in massive denial about Gingrich in an apparent effort to find some not-Romney candidate, no matter how flawed. True, not all conservatives have drunk the Kool-aid. George Will mocked on ABC’s “This Week” the notion that Gingrich was hired as an “historian” by Freddie Mac, succinctly describing Gingrich as “embod[ying] everything disagreeable about modern Washington.” And yet, for every George Will there are a handful of talk-show hosts and pundits who fancy Gingrich as conservatives’ knight in shining armor.

The Gingrich fan club might do well to consider three items that landed in my inbox Sunday evening.

First is Tim Carney’s must-read take on Gingrich’s denials that he engaged in “lobbying.” Carney explains:

While some consultants simply provide strategy or advice, Gingrich directly contacted lawmakers in an effort to win their votes.
Three former Republican congressional staffers told me that Gingrich was calling around Capitol Hill and visiting Republican congressmen in 2003 in an effort to convince conservatives to support a bill expanding Medicare to include prescription-drug subsidies. . . .
One former House staffer told me of a 2003 meeting hosted by Rep. Jack Kingston where Gingrich spoke. Kingston would regularly host “Theme Team” meetings with a few Republican congressmen and some of their staff. Just before the House vote, Gingrich was the special guest at this meeting, and he brought one message to the members: Pass the drug bill for the good of the Republican Party.

Carney points to the federal statute on lobbying. That specifies that a lobbyist includes someone making a “lobbying contact”; that is, engaging in “any oral, written or electronic communication to a covered official [such as a congressman] that is made on behalf of a client with regard to . . . the formulation, modification, or adoption of Federal legislation.” Yup, that’s what Gingrich did. (As an aside, it is interesting that Gingrich pleaded with lawmakers to keep their eyes on the polls, rather than stick to conservative values.)

Second, the former Obama bundler “John”, whom I have written about, e-mailed me Sunday. He was fretful about the newfound fascination with Gingrich. He wrote, “For what it is worth, I cannot see Independents supporting Gingrich. Certainly none I know will. It would present them with a simply horrible, gut wrenching choice: Obama, who we feel is hopelessly over his head and has seriously erred on his priorities and leadership to the detriment of the country. . . and Gingrich who makes Clinton look noble and a paragon of morality and is truly a narcissistic egomaniac who has violated far more conservative principles in his material pursuits than Romney in his governorship.”

He warns: “It makes no sense and is totally self destructive. Republicans will reap what they sow if they nominate Gingrich and the country will pay the price.” He adds with some despondency: “I really don’t get this purity expectation that by definition no politician can ever live up to and still be electable. . . . I mean do they ever look beyond their emotional needs for some perceived virtuous ‘knight’ who is going to come to the country’s rescue?”

Finally, an e-mail comes from a “a political science professor and a psychoanalyst” (boy, isn’t that a useful combination these days). In a lengthy missive, he points out that what I called Gingrich’s lack of self-discipline is better described as “impulsiveness.” He explains: “We saw this before in the prelude to the government shutdown when he was not treated, as he believed he deserved to be by then President Clinton. Might I add the obvious—that impulsiveness in the Oval Office is absolutely dangerous. It is all the more so when it is coupled, as it is in Mr. Gingrich’s case by the view that every idea or whim of his is a gem. Again, the word that best describes this is grandiosity.”

He argues, “Impulsiveness coupled with grandiosity is an absolutely scary character combination and no one who combines these two character traits should ever be inside the White House except to visit.”

Well, those are pretty powerful arguments against a Gingrich candidacy. But more to the point, they all suggest that some Republican voters and a great many conservative pundits place far too much weight on glibness and ideological fervor and too little on electability, character and governing ability.

Republicans will have to sort out who they think is the best candidate to lead the party, but they would do well to consider more than a checklist of positions on issues. They are electing a president to lead the Free World, a job that requires immense courage, integrity and sometimes humility. If they disregard these qualities in selecting a nominee, the GOP and the country will be the losers.

By  |  10:30 AM ET, 11/21/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign, Conservative movement

 
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