In his cross-examination of Newt Gingrich last night, Rick Santorum claimed that Newt Gingrich had sat on the “biggest scandal to hit the Congress in 50 years,” the check-kiting scandal, because Gingrich was afraid to take on his own leadership. As Politico points out today, quoting a 1992 New York Times story: “His own 22 overdrafts, including a $9,463 check to the Internal Revenue Service, were the heaviest weapons against him in an anti-incumbent campaign waged by an underfinanced former state senator. After lavishing $1.1 million on the race, Gingrich survived, by 980 votes, and the district is so Republican that he seems a shoo-in in November.”
I asked the Gingrich campaign for comment, and will report back on any received response. The check-kiting scandal and its fallout (nearly ending his career) raise a few key points.
First, if you look at the polls and his negative ratings, Gingrich doesn’t have the ability to argue he is more electable than either Mitt Romney or Santorum. And his own electoral track record is rather lame. He’s never run for statewide or national office. In fact, before finishing fourth in Iowa he had never run a race in a district that wasn’t heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republicans.
Second, if you think you know all the scandals, all the ethics charges and all the embarrassing aspects of Gingrich’s past, you are kidding yourself. There is no guarantee that next week or next month, or in the fall if he is the nominee, that there aren’t other ethics, sex or political skeletons hanging in his closet. (Yeah, I picture a giant walk-in one.) Santorum said Republicans would spend every day worrying about the next shoe to drop if Gingrich were the nominee.
That explains why the Romney campaign is demanding that Gingrich turn over the confidential files that led to his ethics charges. Spokeswoman Gail Gitcho put out a statement that reads:
Given Speaker Gingrich’s newfound interest in disclosure and transparency, and his concern about an ‘October surprise,’ he should authorize the release of the complete record of the ethics proceedings against him. We know from Newt’s own statements that he turned over a million pages of documents. Nancy Pelosi, who sat on the ethics committee, said that this information contains damaging information. Nancy Pelosi is gleeful over the information she has on Speaker Gingrich, and Speaker Gingrich is concerned enough to threaten her with a rules violation. If Nancy Pelosi has this information, Barack Obama has this information.
She’s got a point.
And finally, Gingrich has a serious problem with “for thee but not for me.” He kited checks and then wielded ethics charges to oust Democratic leaders. He bashed Bill Clinton’s lack of morals while carrying on with Callista. He spent decades hurling over-the-top personal attacks on opponents and then when ads using his own words were used against him he threw a fit. And notice how cavalierly he announced in the debate that he could still take on ObamaCare even though he supported the individual mandate until recently:
SANTORUM: The core of Obamacare is an individual mandate. It is what is being litigated in the Supreme Court right now. It is government, top-down, telling every business, every American what kind of health care you will have. That is the problem with Obamacare at the core of it, and the Speaker supported it repeatedly for a 10-year period.
So when he goes and says, I can, you know, run rings around President Obama in a Lincoln/Douglas debate, you can’t run rings around the fact, Newt, that you supported the primary, core basis of what President Obama’s put in place. . . .
GINGRICH: Just one brief comment. Of course you can. I can say, you know, I was wrong and I figured it out. You were wrong and you didn’t.
SANTORUM: Newt, you held that position for over 10 years. And, you know, it’s not going to be the most attractive thing to go out there and say it took me 10 or 12 years to figure out I was wrong when guys like Rick Santorum knew it was wrong from the beginning.
No, it wouldn’t be pretty. But Gingrich has no clue that it would be problematic because his hypocrisy is so ingrained in him he’s amazed (another favorite Gingrich word) when people are horrified. This tells you much about his character and his political radar.