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The Sound of Newt Choking and Spluttering

Not choking in a life-threatening way of course.

IF this latest poll is accurate, showing Hoffman now leading the three-way race in New York’s special congresional election, then Newt Gingrich, Pete Sessions, John Boehner, and all the party hacks, including the NRCC staff who reportedly helped talk the local New Yorkers into endorsing Dede Scozzafava, will be eating so much rancid crow that they are bound to cough and choke and splutter. And they will deserve every bit of it. And this is before news of Scozzafava’s latest ethical questions had any real chance to permeate the consciousness of voters. Frankly, Newt Gingrich should be ashamed. He has been Beltwayed.

I say this with mixed feelings. Gingrich always has been a great “big picture” guy, but despite all of his outsider rhetoric, he has a tendency to be overly taken with the personal concerns of the congressional GOP and with tactical considerations that put him at odds with the broad centre-right that he claims as his main audience. He did it back in 1998 when he pushed rules for impeachment proceedings that were way too stringent, without necessity. Of about 12 procedural items put forth in Dick Gephardt’s proposal that Gingrich rejected out of hand, about 10 of them were utterly fair and ENDED UP BEING USED ANYWAY after the GOP lost ground in the fall elections. The main thing to which Gingrich objected was a deadline for deciding on impeachment — and then, lo and behold, having rejected Gephardt’s deadline as part of the rules, they rushed to beat the deadline de facto anyway. What happened was that in order to hold the moderates in line on the punitive impeachment rules (when less punitive rules still would have done the job), Gingrich agreed to cave on the spending fight with Clinton and give the moderates all their pork. Result: Disgusted Perot voters were doubly angry: First, because they were turned off by the maniacal impeachment focus (yes, Clinton should have been impeached, but it should not have been made to look like a personal vendetta, which is how Gingrich let it come across); and second, far worse, because they resented the capitulation on spending. Meanwhile, demoralized conservatives stayed home, and the GOP lost seats.

Why is all this relevant now? Because once again Gingrich has lost touch with the concerns of the people he should be listening to. Right now the broader public, not just hardline conservatives, are in an anti-establishment mood. Yet Gingrich has sided with the establishment, and with a professional politician, against a self-made outside businessman getting into politics due to principle. The public is more pro-life now than it has been in decades of polling, yet Gingrich is with the winner of the Margaret Sanger award. The public is overwhelmingly against eliminating the secret ballot for union elections, yet Gingrich is with the ally of the union bosses. The public —  not just right-wingers — are furious about bigger and bigger government, and opposed the stimulus package, but Gingrich is with the support of the stimulus. Plus, Gingrich is with the candidate dogged with ethics questions and with siccing the police on a reporter. And so on.

It is appropos that Doug Hoffman was comptroller for the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. Speaking purely as an observer, not an advocate, one does not have to strain to make the analogy that posits Hoffman as the U.S. hockey team, while Gingrich sticks with the Soviets.

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