If the GOP presidential race did not already resemble a farce, we were reminded yesterday that Herman Cain is far from the only unintentional hilarious figure. Newt Gingrich, he of multiple marriages and an armful of ethics scandals, pronounced in defense of Cain: “He’s out there trying to help a country that’s in desperate trouble, and he has gotten more coverage over the last few days over gossip.” Free advice for Cain: Don’t call Gingrich as a character witness.
Gingrich has inched up in the polls and may be one of the beneficiaries of Cain’s troubles and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s belly flop. He’s also escaped much scrutiny. But his comment about Cain reminds us of some fairly loathsome behavior of his own — the serial infidelity (which he excused as part of his service to the country), the six-figure ethics fine, and the narcissistic speakership that brought down his party (and for a time, his career).
Peter Wehner wrote in May when Gingrich was savaging Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan and thereby (again) sabotaging his own party (at least all the House Republicans and a great number of senators who voted for it):
It would be one thing for Gingrich to say that he disagrees with the Ryan plan; that would, in my judgment, be a wrong but not particularly outrageous. But to use words like radical and social engineering to describe it is irresponsible, even for Gingrich. After all, Democrats — starting with the president — are conducting their own ferocious and dishonest campaign against the Ryan plan. For the former GOP Speaker of the House to use terms that the most partisan progressive would use (and now almost surely will use) to describe the Ryan plan is unsettling. If there’s one public figure in America you might think would resist the impulse to pursue a strategy of “Mediscare,” it would be Gingrich, who was beaten like a drum by Bill Clinton on this issue in the 1990s.
In a withering but in some respects prescient profile on Gingrich in 1984, a person who was once among his closest friends and advisers (before they had a falling out) said, “The important thing you have to understand about Newt Gingrich is that he is amoral. There isn’t any right or wrong, there isn’t any conservative or liberal. There’s only what will work best for Newt Gingrich.”
When it suits his career, he’ll sit on a couch and talk global warming with former speaker Rep.Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and then, when convenient, sign up with the global warming skeptics. When it suits him, he’ll play to the lowest common denominator in his Obama ruminations, and then lecture his party about getting mired in distractions. His personal life — irresponsible and self-absorbed — wouldn't matter so much if not for the way it reflects his public character.
In debates, queries about anything but a pure policy matter (and certainly efforts to elicit differences among the candidates) is met with a snarl from Gingrich. Who is the media, or the public for that matter, to question his character and judgment? Gotcha question! A plot by the mainstream media! Oh, puhleez.
Cain’s self-destruction may, in the short run, inure to Gingrich’s benefit. But it should also be a reminder that electing a president is not merely about choosing a tax plan. It is a selection of an individual whose character, temperament, experience and judgment we will have to rely on for four years.
Dumping Cain for Gingrich would certainly be the proverbial leap from the frying pan to the fire. In a real sense, the candidate who most resembles Cain’s tone deafness, self-absorption, lack of organizational skills and hostility to criticism is Gingrich.