Streetcar Line

Newtonian Politics

Conservatives should not give a fig for Gingrich.

By 5.19.11

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So there was Speaker Newt Gingrich, talking about himself as a "world historical figure," yet petty enough to say that he was now motivated to really stick it to President Bill Clinton because Clinton made him exit from the back rather than the front of Air Force One.

And there was Gingrich explaining that he had trouble negotiating effectively with Clinton because Clinton made him melt.

Then there was Gingrich strutting around like a puffed-up popinjay, saying that he would "never again, as long as I am speaker, make a speech without commenting on" the Lewinsky scandal, and ordering that TV ads be run about the matter, while having at another time said he would not use it to try to score cheap political points.

There was the Gingrich who led an "ethics offensive" against Democratic Speaker Jim Wright but who then himself was rebuked by the whole House for serious ethical misconduct. There was the Speaker Gingrich who established such a history of double-dealing and backstabbing that he was the subject of an unprecedented, mid-session coup attempt. There was Gingrich blowing the 1998 elections by overdoing his blood lust about the impeachment inquiry while completely capitulating on spending. There was Gingrich claiming that he was lured into an illicit affair because of "how passionately I felt about this country," which led him to have "worked too hard."

Gingrich is the kind of guy you can pick up at the airport for a fundraising event who will spend the whole 25-minute car ride talking about himself while failing even to ask for the name of one of the people picking him up -- or even pretending to listen when the driver tries to introduce Gingrich to his passenger.

There was the Gingrich who wisely insisted that Medicare revisions be kept separate from Appropriations negotiations that eventually led to the famous "government shutdown," and then there was the speaker who acquiesced to Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas's insistence that a minor Medicare fix be included, thus handing a huge PR victory to Clinton and leaving the entire GOP House communications apparatus on a limb, utterly unprepared. There was Gingrich eight years later strongly supporting the prohibitively expensive Medicare prescription drug entitlement.

While Gingrich was speaker, Republican congressmen and their staffs never could be sure from day to day what whim would send Gingrich running to the cameras with yet another world-changing policy proposal, or whether the new proposal would contradict what he had insisted what was near-holy writ just the day before, or maybe the week before. Staffers also never knew when, without ascertaining the facts, Gingrich would publicly throw them under the bus.

Meetings of various groups of Republican staffers were always quite a show when Gingrich was due to attend. There he would sweep in like an emperor, surrounded by a fawning retinue at whom he barked -- no, make that yapped -- orders as if they were chattel. More lunging than striding toward the microphone, he would launch into an over-decibeled lecture, absolutely full of (what he considered) his own unmatched wisdom, explaining what he said were frankly and fundamentally the essential insights into how, frankly, the world really worked at a fundamental level that despite its frank fundamentalness could not be understood by the peons in the room unless he himself laid it out for them in dialectic terms. Fifteen minutes later, having sufficiently impressed his subjects with how ignorant they would be if he weren't there to enlighten them, he would lunge out again, while renewing his yapping directives to his retainers.

There was the Gingrich who was for cap-and-trade before he was against it, but who now denies that he ever was for it. He was for intervening in Libya before he was against it. He was for Dede Scozzafava before he was against her (and he was flat-out insulting conservatives for opposing her before he sucked up to them for their insight in opposing her). He said his blast at Paul Ryan's plan was "responding precisely to how [David] Gregory asked the question," even though Gregory's question was in no way, shape, or form as hostile or challenging as Gingrich now claims, and even though not even Gregory came close to attaching any derogatory label such as "radical… right-wing social engineering."

Gingrich is a man with all the self-discipline of golfer John Daly, combined with the verbal incontinence of a Tourette's sufferer except without the actual medical malady as a valid excuse. He's a man who can't keep his mouth shut, his pants zipped, his ego in check, or his tempter restrained. He's as steady as a mechanical bull, as brilliant as a fallen star, as able to keep perspective as Dadaist art.

When the former Speaker stuck both feet and several other appendages into his mouth last Sunday on Meet the Press, it was a perfect manifestation of the essential Gingrich. His logorrhea is innate and apparently uncontrollable. Conservatives should trust him the way the frog trusts the scorpion.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.