Remember Newt Gingrich’s college course? The one his enemies called a tax scam? Now that the IRS has cleared him, will those enemies admit they were wrong? No way. But Gingrich could still have the last laugh.
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Gingrich has declined to speak to reporters about the IRS report. When the news was announced, he issued a brief statement.
“I consider this a full and complete vindication,” he wrote. “I urge my colleagues to go back and read their statements and watch how they said them, with no facts, based on nothing more than a desire to politically destroy a colleague.”
If any Democrats followed Gingrich’s advice, they kept it to themselves; no one who accused the speaker of wrongdoing has publicly expressed any second thoughts after the IRS decision. David Bonior’s office did not return five calls seeking comment.
A spokesman for John Lewis said simply, “The congressman has no comment on the matter.”
That’s not a surprise; how could they possibly benefit by admitting that Newt Gingrich was right and they were wrong? But one might expect a more thoughtful reaction from the other players in the Gingrich affair—the journalists who followed events closely and reported them to the nation.
On January 18, 1997, the day after Cole presented his report to the Ethics Committee, the Washington Post’s front-page banner headline was “Gingrich Actions `Intentional’ or ‘Reckless’: Counsel Concludes That Speaker’s Course Funding Was ‘Clear Violation’ of Tax Laws.” That same day, the New York Times ran eleven stories on the Gingrich matter, four of them on the front page (one inside story was headlined, “Report Describes How Gingrich Used Taxpayers’ Money for Partisan Politics”). On television, Dan Rather began the “CBS Evening News” by telling viewers that “only now is the evidence of Newt Gingrich’s ethics violations and tax problems being disclosed in detail.”
Other networks and newspapers covered the story in a similar fashion. But the intensity of their coverage was noticeably absent when the IRS report was released.
Remember the more than 10,000 references to the Gingrich ethics fight at its most heated moments? Another database search reveals a few more than ioo references to the IRS report. The Washington Post ran a brief story on page five. The Times ran an equally brief story on page 23. And the evening newscasts of CBS, NBC, and ABC—which together had devoted hours of coverage to the question of Gingrich’s ethics—did not report the story at all. Not a word.
Had the IRS ruled against Gingrich— had it found him guilty of tax fraud—it is safe to say that any future political plans Newt Gingrich might have been cherishing would have been effectively destroyed. But that is no longer a worry, and it may turn out that the IRS clearance was the first step of Gingrich’s political recovery.
The report has given new momentum to a comeback scenario that has been circulating among Newt-watchers. The scenario, best expressed in a column by the Washington Post’s David Broder, is the following:
Gingrich is down and seemingly out now, but so was Richard Nixon after his losses in the 196o presidential race and 1962 California governor’s race. In fact, Gingrich has not suffered nearly as much.
“The defeats Nixon suffered in 1960 and 1962 were far more damaging than Gingrich’s abandoning the speaker’s chair to atone for Republican midterm election losses,” Broder wrote in a column last November. “And yet Nixon came back to win the presidency in 1968.” That is an understatement to some Gingrich partisans.
“He went into voluntary exile because his third victory in a row wasn’t as big as people thought it would be,” says one confidant. “Gingrich’s position is far stronger than Nixon’s.”
But Gingrich is radioactive now, just as Nixon was in 19 64. And a Republican victory in the presidential race might well destroy his chances by establishing a new party leader. But if the GOP loses, Gingrich could position himself to become a top contender for the 2004 nomination.
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H/T to National Review Online