There is no conservative more beloved and respected than William Bennett. His conservative credentials are impeccable, he’s been through all the political wars of the past 30 years, and his jovial demeanor earns him genuine affection. It is therefore significant, hugely so, that he brought Newt Gingrich on his radio show and in a very parental manner chided, lectured and ultimately shamed Gingrich.
It is essential to listen to the entire segment. The arc of the conversation is interesting to follow. Gingrich begins by denying he really criticized Paul Ryan. He then is forced to listen to his own words and tries to rewrite them, suggesting he wanted to improve on the Ryan plan. Bennett will have none of that and instructs Gingrich (who at this point seems an awful lot like a teenager in a heap of trouble) that no one could have understood him to mean that. Then Gingrich begins to backpedal furiously. He loves Ryan, loves, loves, loves him. And Ryan’s budget (which includes the Medicare plan) is swell. It is at this point that Bennett tells him his campaign is over unless he retracts and apologizes. For emphasis he shares a conversation with a Gingrich supporter who has the same take. As it wraps up, Gingrich issues a non-apology and then sheepishly admits Bennett’s advice may be wise.
It is a stunningly effective interview, revealing Gingrich to be both unprincipled and dishonest. In as pleasant a tone possible, Bennett undoes the former House speaker, eventually telling him he didn’t advance the cause of conservatism on “Meet the Press.”
Bennett was understandably not willing to write Gingrich’s epitaph. But he came close. And really, Gingrich did himself in, as he always has.