The one incident from Newt Gingrich’s speakership that stands out in most people’s minds is the pout-a-thon concerning Air Force One. Howard Kurtz and Lois Romano recall:
Newt Gingrich was walking out of Washington’s Sheraton-Carlton in the fall of 1995 when he turned to his press secretary and said, “I guess I’ve given you a problem for the rest of the day.”
Tony Blankley conceded that it would be “tricky” to defend him. After all, Gingrich had warned a roomful of reporters that his spokesman would kill him for voicing a complaint that the House speaker himself admitted was “petty.”
Gingrich and his fellow Republicans had just shut down the federal government in a dramatic spending showdown with Bill Clinton, and now he was carping that the president never talked to him during a 25-hour flight on Air Force One and had him “get off the plane by the back ramp . . . Where is their sense of manners?” The next morning, when New York’s Daily News depicted Gingrich as a bawling, diaper-clad baby, House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt arranged for a giant reproduction to be unveiled on the House floor. Republicans called an unprecedented vote that forced the Democrats to take the poster down — but they were furious with their leader for creating the distraction.
This is quintessential Newt Gingrich — thin-skinned, self-absorbed, destructive and, yes, “petty.” He excels in converting his own missteps into tales of martyrdom. All of this has manifested itself in the campaign in big ways and small.
He whined that the debate audience wouldn’t be able to cheer him. He then grumped that audience was stacked against him when it didn’t cheer him. He spends endless hours complaining about Mitt Romney’s ads and debate triumph — lies, lies, all lies, he tells us. His spokesperson R.C. Hammond, like his boss, labels opponents “liars.” Gingrich complains that he failed in his debate because his principal opponent — you guessed it — was telling untruths. (Not a very good debater then, is he?) He says that he’ll trail President Obama demanding his Lincoln-Douglas-style debate, but his campaign flunky freaks out when a Romney surrogate quietly stands in the back of Gingrich events quietly observing the opposition.
When Gingrich experiences the normal rough and tumble of a campaign, Sarah Palin (another perpetual mainstream media exploiter) claims that the attacks are “Stalinesque.” From her house she might see Russia, but her understanding of Stalin is nonexistent; Stalin, of course, prevented free elections and the robust expression of free speech.
Gingrich boasts of his association with Ronald Reagan and then becomes unhinged when Reagan’s former advisers beg to differ about Gingrich’s fidelity to the president. He goes bonkers, accusing them with no facts whatsoever of being part of a grand scheme. The notion that respected conservatives would simply be fed up with his puffery and concerned he might actually win and thereby ruin the party and the conservative movement is foreign to him. Once again, he’s the victim when in fact he’s simply been caught misbehaving (in this case, in excessive opportunism).
Gingrich’s defenders are as careless with the truth as he is. Rich Lowry eviscerates one such attempt to smear a Gingrich critic:
Jeffrey Lord manages a two-fer in this piece: he slyly smears Elliott Abrams for allegedly prostituting himself for a job in a Romney administration on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. And he misrepresents the Newt speech he defends. . . .
Elliott didn’t write the piece for us at the request of the Romney campaign. He wanted to push back against Gingrich’s exaggerations. Elliott worked closely with congressional Republicans in this period and knew Gingrich wasn’t a go-to guy on this stuff and occasionally directed his vitriolic rhetoric at Reagan, something he never mentions on the campaign trail. You can read it in all its glory here. (I suspect Newt’s fans will find it unerringly brilliant, while others will roll their eyes.) Gingrich spokesman Joe DeSantis called on . . . [National Review] to retract Elliott’s piece. In light of all the above, I call on Joe DeSantis to retract his call for a retraction.
Bravo, Rich! As Mitt Romney figured out in the last debate, one Romney confidante explained to me, “The way to deal with a bully is smack him in the face.”
But in Gingrich’s book he is ever the persecuted one. I suppose Reagan chronicler Peggy Noonan is also in on the “plot” when she confirms that during the 1990s “he concluded the growth area within the party was a critique of Reaganism from the right, and sometimes the left. So that’s where he was. . . . [T]he point is Newt senses the lay of the land. If a new and modern strain of Rockefeller Republicanism looked like it was about to take hold, he’d see the virtues in that. Right now the growth area looks like it’s in opposition to elites and establishments. So that’s where he is.”
The delicious irony this weekend is that in the midst of the Gingrich camp’s serial complaints and accusations, a character witness stepped forward, the imprisoned former congressman Duke Cunningham, for whose corruption Gingrich was “the prime enabler . . . among many, many enablers.” Meanwhile, the vast number of Gingrich’s unimprisoned former colleagues back other candidates and/or have set out to warn us about the perils of Newt.
So, you see that nothing about Gingrich is new at all. He remains the same erratic and undisciplined character he has always been, employing exaggerated outrage and baseless accusations to distract from his own failures (e.g., a truly rotten debate performance) and flaws (e.g., opportunism on a grand scale).
Judge him by the quality of the company he keeps (e.g., Palin, Herman Cain, Cunningham, Texas Gov. Rick Perry) and the critics he attracts. Gingrich has divided the party between the kids and grown-ups, the embarrassing and the presentable, the preposterous and the sober, the bomb-throwers and the policy wonks. (This has nothing to do with ideology; There are many sober, presentable grown-ups who are very, very conservative.) Judge him by his own conduct and the defenses he concocts. But mostly, consider the prospects of a president who regards critics as conspiratorial enemies and himself as a historic figure of epic proportions. (Oh wait. We have one of those already.)