I was covering Congress full time as a reporter for local television stations across the US when Gingrich first bounced into the House in late 1978. He arrived asking only two questions: how much trouble can I cause and where do I go to cause it? He discovered the joys of extended remarks, delivered to an empty House chamber, and led his like minded colleagues into daily speeches that were sent nationwide on cable by the open camera/open mic C-SPAN (the actual cameras are controlled by Congress, the national feed is sent out by C-SPAN). Later, Gingrich thanked C-SPAN by saying he doubted the Republicans would have come back into the majority in the House without it.
Then, he discovered the House Ethics Committee and how any member could bring any charge against any other member. In time, he used this process to bake, fry and slice up the career of the Speaker of the House, Democrat Jim Wright. Eventually, this led to Gingrich becoming Speaker himself for a brief, four year period before his colleagues tossed him out.
I have never believed that one could get where Gingrich wanted to go by the means he employed. A man with a lesser sense of self regard (there are many in Congress, believe it or not) might have tried to transform himself mid-way through into a faux statesman like figure and, in the process, have earned the respect and gratitude of his party members in the House. Gingrich would have none of that. Instead, he set about, daily and hourly, alienating the Republicans whom he would need to reelect him as Speaker. Only Nancy Pelosi has come anywhere close in recent history to being a Speaker colleagues love to hate (and she didn't get that close: no one, so far as we know, ever threatened to vote in an opposite party representative, as a group of Republicans did with Gingich in his last days).
Despite the bombast of his campaign ad-libs and the barbed sharpness of his attacks on just about everyone, Gingrich this year and last has seemed like a man who out lived his times. It was, after all, a decade plus three years since he had been in a leadership position in an actual public office. If any small tidbit, an opportunity, had been offered to him during the presidency of G.W. Bush, it is not on the record.
He was a man without a plan, a man, really, without anything after he was kicked out of Congress. Casting about for something to do, he was for a time one of the highest rated volunteer book reviewers on Amazon.com. Later, he found work with much higher pay, but which provided no anchor for seeking high office, other than getting his name in the media and on Fox News.
Gingrich seems to have believed that he could fight his way to the presidency by burning every village in his pathway. With a better funded and organized campaign, and an earlier jump into the tea party eruption, he might have done so. Instead, Gingrich held back, enjoying his new found wealth, producing propagandistic documentaries, writing books and buying jewelry for his bride of the frozen smile. Gingrich waited too long in two different senses: too long while he let the angry fires of his ouster from Congress cool and, then, too long to start his actual campaign for 2012.
He tried to gear up his campaign for the White House long after he had seeped into being a senior policy wonk, constant speaker and non-lobbyist. The glow, to whatever degree there had been one, was long gone. He seemed, and ultimately was, a figure from another era, the 20th century.
His martial and personal pursuit of erotic encounters, if one is to believe a documentary on FRONTLINE in the 1990s, was far more extensive and potentially shocking than even his three marriages and six year affair with Calista. Carrying on the latter, while seeking the impeachment of a sitting president for his own inability to rein in his personal habits, was disqualification enough for many people. Now, we get the long goodbye, but no one is waving back. They've mostly turned and headed homeward long ago.
Doug Terry 3.29.12