Last night the Des Moines Register gave its endorsement to Mitt Romney. As important as the endorsement itself was the rationale, which stressed his business experience, sobriety and good judgment. (“Rebuilding the economy is the nation’s top priority, and Romney makes the best case among the Republicans that he could do that.”) Throwing in a pointed dig at Newt Gingrich is a welcomed bonus for the Romney camp. (“Newt Gingrich is an undisciplined partisan who would alienate, not unite, if he reverts to mean-spirited attacks on display as House speaker.”)
To the degree this high-profile endorsement reinforces the growing narrative, it is good news for Romney and bad for everyone else, but especially Gingrich, who is undergoing a full-scale assault from all quarters.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is continuing to pummel him. I asked her campaign about Gingrich’s repeated accusations in debates that Bachmann had her facts wrong. Spokeswoman Alice Stewart called Gingrich’s behavior “dismissive and condescending to a substantive charge against his record by a serious candidate.” As for Gingrich’s own selective memory about his ethics problems, Stewart was blunt that this proves Bachmann’s point: “Speaker Gingrich consistently tries to rewrite history, and, while he is entitled to his own opinion, he’s not entitled to his own set of facts. The fact is that each charge Michele leveled against speaker Gingrich has been followed up with supporting documentation.” In other words, Gingrich is not only a jerk but a self-deluded jerk.
That conclusion seems to be permeating the once-friendly conservative media, which seems to be on the verge of making peace with Romney. If Rush Limbaugh is saying nice things about Romney’s debate performance, things are looking up for him and not so good for Gingrich. The base may not love Romney, but perhaps it has come to appreciate him at least in comparison to Gingrich, upon whom every corner of the right-leaning media is firing.
National Review is devoting an entire issue to ragging on him. “Inside the new December 31, 2011 issue is Mark Steyn’s ‘The Gingrich Gestalt,’ Kevin Williamson’s ‘How Speaker Newt Balanced the Budget, And Why President Newt Would Not,’ Kris Kobach on how Gingrich’s amnesty plan would reward criminals and make the law arbitrary, and Jonathan Adler on Newt’s ‘longstanding love-hate relationship with environmental reform.’ ” I’m not sure if there is something in there about serial infidelity, but you get the idea: The conservative punditocracy feels compelled to derail Gingrich before his candidacy gains any more steam.
And it does seem that Gingrich is catching up with Gingrich. The smart, conservative lawyers at National Review’s Bench Memos are raking Gingrich over the coals for misapplying legal history (a frequent Gingrich habit.) Matt Franck explains: “He apparently wants to abolish . . . [the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit] and then recreate it in some fashion, with new vacancies. That’s cheating on the Constitution’s rules for the removal of judges one doesn’t like. If the problem is the judge (not the court), then the Constitution provides for impeachment. That’s difficult, both procedurally and in terms of the standards to be applied to justify removal. But it’s difficult for a reason. I have often said that judicial independence is something we could stand to have a lot less of. But there are right ways and wrong ways to bring activist judges to heel. This is a very badly wrong way.” (The entire dialogue between Frank and Ed Whelan is worth a read.)
The Wall Street Journal echoes similar criticism of Gingrich’s ideas for abolishing the Ninth Circuit and “subpoenaing justices he disagreed with before Congress and impeaching those whom he believes render ‘radically un-American’ opinions.”: “Mr. Gingrich criticizes judicial activism, but it seems what he really wants to do is expand his own authority to bully and undercut judges who disagree with him. That sounds awfully dictatorial and radically un-American.” And not in the least conservative. Even Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter called him out on this one.
Elsewhere, the Journal’s editorial board bashes Gingrich on how his Freddie Mac lobbying (with attendant lack of candor) reveals his “soft spot for big government when he can use it for his own political ends”:
As late as Thursday night’s debate, Mr. Gingrich was still defending his Freddie ties as a way of “helping people buy houses.” But that is the same excuse Barney Frank used to block reform, and the political pursuit of making housing affordable is what led Freddie to guarantee loans to so many borrowers who couldn’t repay them. [The] SEC lawsuit against former Fannie and Freddie executives for misleading investors about subprime-mortgage risks only reinforces the point.
On matters of personal finance and policy, more recognize he is somewhat of a fraud. As to the first, we learn: “Newt Gingrich earned some $600,000 as a consultant to a major ethanol lobbying group, not the $312,500 that the organization, called Growth Energy, disclosed last spring.” He now bizarrely insists that all that money from Freddie didn’t really go to him. “We had a company. The company had three different offices. We were paid annually for six years, so the numbers you see are six years of work. Most of that money went to pay for overhead, for staff, for other things that didn’t go directly to me.” What’s worse — his lack of personal accountability or his ignorance of the axiom that money is fungible?
And as for policy, it seems what he “knows” is largely wrong. Take this, for example: “Gingrich made an egregious factual error that needs to be corrected. This would be his outrageous assertion that the nation’s thousands of credit unions are ‘government-sponsored enterprises’ akin to the disgraced Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.” His lack of understanding of the essential difference between financial entities guaranteed and sustained by taxpayers (Freddie and Fannie) and one owned by private shareholders (credit unions) is telling.
Not unlike Herman Cain, Gingrich has given conservatives both character and policy reasons to dump him. In Cain’s case he knew too little; In Gingrich’s case his knowledge is faulty and his policies run toward radical power grabs.
As the avalanche of bad coverage continues to fall on Gingrich, Bachmann is enjoying some positive consideration following her debate performance. The Des Moines Register reported, “The 99-county Iowa tour presidential candidate Michele Bachmann embarked on [Friday] is off to a flying start. . . . All three stops — and presumably all the 97 to come — were short and sweet but not completely devoid of presidential policy talk. At heart, though, they were pep rallies aimed at ginning up excitement for the candidate and rallying an legion of phone-bankers and get-out-the-vote volunteers to drive turnout on Jan. 3.” That excitement and organizational oomph will be necessary to boost her into contention. Spokesman Alice Stewart reflected the campaign’s determination and renewed sense of optimism. “We intend to win Iowa and will go on to compete in New Hampshire, South Carolina and the remainder of the early primary states, “ she told me.
In sum, the only thing conservatives seem to agree upon is the danger associated with a Gingrich nomination. Other candidates are more ethical, disciplined, conservative and/or electable. Unless Gingrich does something to recapture the momentum, his presidential plans will, like so many of his schemes, be unfeasible.