The other Newt showed up a day later during a televised debate on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Eyes narrowed, brow knitted, Gingrich accused Mitt Romney of “pious baloney” for claiming not to be a career politician. He mocked his rival, belittled him and called him a liar.
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The tale of two Newts is more than a parlor game for politicos. It has become an emblem of a politician who is acting as his own senior adviser — to a candidate who can be his own worst enemy.
While Gingrich’s rhetoric has always been both a strength and a weakness, the liabilities have been amplified by his budget-strapped presidential campaign. On-the-ground operations are virtually nonexistent, leaving the campaign with little more than a candidate and his words to propel itself forward — and not much of a team to keep him on track.
Unlike in his days as speaker of the House, when strong advisers helped him win a series of strategic victories, Gingrich now operates with no such figures by his side.
The strength of his personality-driven efforts may explain how he has stayed in the race despite an early mutiny by staff members, a struggle to raise money and a fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.
But now, the limitations of a campaign with a zigzagging candidate as its lone asset are starting to show.
“You can never say ‘linear path’ and ‘Newt Gingrich’ in the same decade, much less the same sentence,” said Rich Galen, who was a press secretary to Gingrich when he was House speaker. “I would have thought he understood that he had to keep ‘Angry Newt’ in the box.”
Gingrich has no one around to help him do that, Galen and others said. Several former associates said they were reminded of that this weekend with the death of Gingrich’s longtime former spokesman and strategic adviser, Tony Blankley.
“Newt is just a total contradiction,” said one close friend, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk freely. “As long as I’ve known him, he’s always had a fascination with management gurus and prides himself on tapping into that world. But he cannot delegate to a structure in any meaningful way. So he ends up surrounded by largely young people who are mesmerized by him. Over time, people around him realize there are real limitations there, but he doesn’t have anybody who can do that sorting out right now.”
‘A sense of purpose’
One adviser countered that Gingrich’s tendency to strike out at Romney one day and be “nice” the next shows the former speakers’s ability to read different moments and different crowds.