The Spectacle Blog

Thoughtful, Non-Emotional Assessments of Gingrich

By on 12.9.11 | 7:57AM

Sometimes it actually pays to consider the assessments of people who do politics or write about it for a living and who have seen first-hand the people they deal with/write about. Anti-insiderism should not give way to a false elevation of all outside impressions over all expertise, experience, and professional knowledge.

In that light, it is worth collecting some measured, sober, thoughtful analyses of people, conservatives all, who worked with, closely tracked, wrote about, and otherwise professionally dealt with Newt Gingrich over his many, many decades as Washington maestro, player, manipulator, and wealth accumulator, during which he got too much credit AND blame for supposedly being the single driving force behind the mid-90s GOP resurgence, yet not enough appreciation for other, quieter accomplishments -- a number of which, by the way, I have repeatedly credited him for, when few others have done so.

Peggy Noonan's column today is superb, and this is a key section:

Those who know him fear-or hope-that he will be true to form in one respect: He will continue to lose to his No. 1 longtime foe, Newt Gingrich. He is a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, "Watch this!" What they fear is that he will show just enough discipline over the next few months, just enough focus, to win the nomination. And then, in the fall of 2012, once party leaders have come around and the GOP is fully behind him, he will begin baying at the moon.

Major Garrett at National Journal talks to lots of Newt's former colleagues:

Gingrich, credited with helping to produce the first GOP House majority in four decades, initially lorded over the "Republican revolution" as something like a sun king. But just two years into his reign, by January 1997, enough discontent had developed over his leadership that it wasn't clear that the rank and file would give him a second term as speaker. Galen remembers walking to the House from the Capitol Hill Club with fellow aides Joe Gaylord and Sam Dawson on Jan. 7, 1997, the day Gingrich was seeking reelection as speaker. "None of us were sure he had the votes," Galen said. Five Republicans voted "present," and four voted for others (including two members no longer in Congress). In the end, Gingrich beat Democrat Dick Gephardt with just three votes to spare. Only months later, the speaker faced an abortive coup from a renegade group of about 20 conservatives. Eventually, House Republicans forced him out as speaker after a backlash over President Clinton's impeachment unexpectedly cost the party seats in the 1998 elections. Republicans lost five seats after Gingrich predicted they might win as many as 40, and he resigned from Congress. As it turned out, Gingrich was better suited at plotting the Republican revolution than at implementing it.

Oddly enough, while it is the solid conservatives like Sen. Tom Coburn and like former Majority Leader Dick Armey who have been most critical of Gingrich (Coburn was even more critical when he was MORE of an outsider, back when he wrote his book about the lost promise of the Gingrich era), it is only the most liberal (i.e., on the overall political spectrum, centrist) former GOPers who, by and large, have come to his defense. People like Chris Shays and Mike Castle have been praising Gingrich; the only real conservatives who served with him who have said good things about him are a few of his personal friends like Bob Walker.

The always fair-minded, and wise, Brit Hume understands the politics of it all, with this little note being part of a longer interview where he elaborated on why the Dems are salivating over the idea of facing Gingrich.

Mark Steyn, always witty as can be, has other thoughts. In the post linked to just there, he re-posts back to something he wrote at the time, in 1998:

After last week's election, Republicans have now embarked on the time-honoured ritual, well known to British Tories and Labour before them, of bickering over whether they did badly because they were too extreme or because they were too moderate. In Newt's case, the answer is both. He spent the last year pre-emptively surrendering on anything of legislative consequence, but then, feeling bad at having abandoned another two or three of his ‘Fourteen Steps to Renewing American Civilisation', he'd go on television and snarl at everybody in sight. . . . For Republicans it was the worst of all worlds: a lily-livered ninny whom everyone thinks is a ferocious right-wing bastard.

Part of the "lily-livered ninny" rap came because he openly told people that Clinton made him "melt" and that he wasn't good at out-arguing him in person -- so much so that Dick Armey tok to insisting that he, Armey, accompany Gingrich on every trip to the White House to make sure Gingrich didn't capitulate too easily.

Finally, Yuval Levin, who actually worked for Gingrich, and who is perhaps today's leading intellectual proponent of serious conservative entitlement reform, has this to say, in measured tones:

What stands out about Romney and Gingrich, to me, is that they have in common a very unusual profile for a Republican politician. Both of them are fundamentally moderates: Very wonky Rockefeller Republicans who moved to the right over time as their party moved right and maybe as events persuaded them to move right, and they both still very much exhibit the technocratic countenance of the Rockefeller Republican-a program for every problem. Conservative humility about human nature and about the potential of technical solutions is not readily discernible in either one.

They're also essentially in the same place politically-I can't think of a single major issue on which Gingrich is more conservative than Romney, and with the possible exception of immigration (and perhaps Medicare reform, as I mention here, though it's hard to be sure) I can't think of one where Romney is more conservative.

All of which is to say that there is good reason for sober reflection here.

As for me, it still bothers me that Gingrich does NOT get credit for his signal contributions, along with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to getting control over, reform of, and the livability quotient up, of Washington DC, the capital of the greatest nation in the world. He and the GOP Congress never earned appreciation for their highly successful efforts in that regard (i.e., helping DC as a municipality recover after the Marion Barry era), which was a subject into which Gingrich actually put a fair amount of thought. Why mention this right now? Just because it occurred to me now and, as part of filling out the record, I wanted to write it somewhere while I was still thinking of it.

Fair is fair.

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