If Republicans, in their fervor to rid the White House of Barack Obama, are yet again experiencing The Temptation of Newt, then Democrats have only one illogically rational response in this modern American political hall of mirrors.
They should bring back Bill Clinton.
Of course, the law prohibits the Comeback Kid from coming back to serve a third term, and Obama might not go for it, but only old-school twits would let any of that get in the way. The Constitution and its amendments are so 18th, 19th and 20th century. The notion of persuading good ol’ Joe Biden to step aside in favor of Hillary as vice president is not sufficiently grandiose when it comes to going after Gingrich. As the former speaker his ownself might declare, Democrats frankly must unequivocally and eloquently undertake fundamental change so extraordinarily revolutionary that America will not be the same again.
Enter the Big Guy.
It is tit for tat all the way when it comes to those two. Still sick, after all these years, of Clinton and his melodrama? Who can say that with a straight face and not be equally tired of Gingrich? Still feeling queasy about the character questions surrounding the Arkansas traveler’s sexual behavior? How does that hurt him in a world where Pope Limbaugh pronounces that it was a “mark of character” for Newt to ask his second wife for permission while cheating on her. If nothing else, Clinton vs. Gingrich might banish from campaign rhetoric all pious baloney about sex. Not a word could be uttered about Clinton’s impeachment, not with the hindsight that the married Javert of the House was at the same time fooling around with an aide named Callista down at the agriculture committee.
That would reduce it to mano a mano. Gingrich longs to roam the country for months and engage his opponent in three-hour Lincoln-Douglas-style debates. Repress, for the moment, the realization that Gingrich must see himself as Lincoln in these historical re-creations — though he looks more like Douglas — and consider the idea on its merits. Gingrich is verbose and cunning; he can deploy words like lethal weapons. But Clinton, who was born talking and never stopped, can match him word for word, hour after hour, until the last dog flaps its ears down. It would be a blabfest for the ages, and my money, based on my study of the two Hall of Fame gabbers, would be on Clinton.
Gingrich and Clinton share a propensity to think they are the smartest person in the room. When they were in rooms together, in the mid-1990s, Clinton dominated. He knew Gingrich’s vocabulary, he understood how to outwonk him, and the result was that the president mesmerized and overwhelmed the otherwise-cocky House speaker. “I’ve got a problem, I get in those meetings and as a person I like the President,” Gingrich acknowledged during the era, when I was reporting on the “Republican revolution” with my colleague Michael Weisskopf. “I melt when I’m around him. After I get out, I need two hours to detoxify. My people are nervous about me going in there because of the way I deal with this.”
That confession came during the battle over the government shutdown in late 1995, a variation of the confrontations Obama had with House Republicans last year. Clinton ate Gingrich alive back then. There is no reason to believe he has lost that magic spell. I sense that would become obvious by hour three of one of their great debates, if anyone still happened to be listening.