Newt Gingrich knows how to amuse and throw red meat to a crowd. But his performance at the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) presidential forum was a vivid display of many of the traits that would make him a disastrous nominee. It came on a day in which a former colleague, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), blasted his former speaker. Huffington Post reported:
He’s too self-centered,” King said. “He does not have the discipline, does not have the capacity to control himself.”
King did say that Gingrich is a “tremendously inspirational person, as far as rallying troops,” and that he would prefer Gingrich to Obama in 2012. If Newt were to take the presidency, though, King predicted “the country and Congress would be going through one crisis after another.”
Gingrich at the RJC showed some of that lack of discpline and raging ego, and also had the misfortune to follow New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who not only was infintely more skilled and likable, but (I assume unintentionally) mocked some of the rhetoric that Gingrich used.
Gingrich, for example, in his over-the-top style called this election the most important since 1860. Christie at lunch had mocked the elf-importance of those who say such things. Gingrich at one point declared that he’d need not just eight years but solid majorities in the Congress. Christie had chided pols who are obsessed with the time in office rather than the progress they make on big issues. Gingrich explained how he couldn’t get anything done without big GOP majorities. Christie had spoken about how a leader can pull in Democratic support.
The speech certainly revealed Gingrich’s exaggerated regard for his own intellect, his tone deafness, his penchant for self-delusion and his serious handicap in reaching voters beyond the GOP base.
Much of what Gingrich says, with plenty of “fundamentally” and “dramatically” and “personally” adverbial adornments, is painfully obvious. We should, he declares grandly, tell Hamas to give up violence. (By gosh, had we only known!) We should, he pronounces, realize that the State Department is flawed (fundamentally, of course) and not very entrepreneurial. This is big thinking? And when he does think big, it is often in cliches. Of the first four presidential candidates to speak, he was the only one to make the trite and never-kept promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Yes, the crowd loves it, but this is not deep or honest thinking. He did have one good idea: former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton for secretary of state. But does the GOP need Gingrich to get Bolton?
When not predictable, Gingrich’s ideas can range from irresponsible (go see his website for the list of tax cuts, but no talk of spending cuts) to the crazed. He was at it again hawking his idea about inner-city kids working with janitors in schools. He seemed to have figured out that 14-year-olds actually can and work, so now he explicitly focuses on the younger set. (Is there a gap in janitorial work experience for 8-year-olds?) He’s got it all figured out. Schools will hire a janitor, an assistant and some part-time kids. (Is he aware this sort of stuff usually isn’t the purview of the federal government?) He’s defiant that the left-wing meia got his idea all wrong, but in fact they had this one right. He is blissfully unaware that it sounds ludicrous. He has no conception, it seems, that to even many Republicans this sounds nuts. Judge for yourself:
You can see the Obama ad now.
Ah, but he assured the voters that he has the electability thing all taken care of. He will solve that by following the president around the country daring him to undertake Lincoln-Douglas style debates. Obama won’t be able to avoid him! Well, he either will or he will decide letting Gingrich vent his crazy ideas is jsut the thing to cinch his re-election. And is the problem with Gingrich’s electability going to be solved by this sort of desperation?
The question-and-answer period was certainly revealing. When asked about his ethics problems, Gingrich insisted it was all a Democratic scheme by Nancy Pelosi (weren’t Republicans in the majority?) and that he was exonerated on all but one charge. Yeah, that thing about lying to the ethics committee. And the $300,000 fine he received was a record. Not only does this emphasize a liability (his character), but it refutes the argument that he has learned from past errors. In fact, he’s deep in denial and once again reconstructing his past to make himself out to be the martyr.
If you compared Christie’s speech, which was a clarion call to put action above rhetoric, with Gingrich’s white-hot rhetoric and lack of workable solutions, you would conclude that Gingrich is entertaining but Christie might get elected and accomplish something. Christie isn’t running, of course. So one of Gingrich’s actual rivals will have to call out Gingrich, expose him as a charlatan and make the case that the GOP is heading for a trainwreck if Gingrich is the nominee. Is there someone able to do all that? Stay tuned.