Now approaching his 69th birthday, it is fairly safe to assume that Newt Gingrich is finished, for good, with presidential politics and is most likely finished with government entirely. Where would he go? He certainly would not be offered a job in a Romney administration, any more than G.W. Bush was going to bring him back from exile during the eight years he was in the White House.
A lot of people in the national media (call them the “liberal press” if that makes you happy) are having a lot of fun kicking Newt now that he is down and ready to get out. Why not? This guy represented a one man wrecking crew for the nation. The negative impact Gingrich had on the country, and on how politics is conducted, is not merely a matter of perception. His efforts to become president helped the wreck the presidency of Bill Clinton and launched the current era of hateful, angry politics where little can be accomplished and even less agreed upon, except the need to keep fighting. Even those who support Republicans should understand the heavy cost of winning the Gingrich way: if one party vows to wreck the system if they can’t get their way, the other party can do the same when roles are switched. The idea of “my way or the highway” only works if one party is able to get total power and hold it for a long, long time. In a democracy, both are unlikely.
Gingrich arrived in Congress following the 1978 Congressional elections. He looked around upon and arriving and asked: Where can I create trouble? His style, if you want to call it that, was in your face, intentionally disruptive and bombastic. He won the label “bomb thrower” almost from the moment he arrived in Congress.
Aside from daily speeches to an empty House floor that C-SPAN carried live to the nation, his first notable act was to file ethics complaints against the Democratic Speaker of the House, Jim Wright. These complaints, which by House rules have to be investigated by the Ethics panel, eventually produced enough smoke that Wright resigned his position and left the House.
This is a highly unusual method of self advancement in Congress, especially when viewed in context. That time period can be viewed as the tail end of the “get along to go along” era in Congress. Gingrich would have none of that. He was happy, it seemed, to be hated by the Democrats. In fact, he seemed to view it as part of his job description. His desire to cause trouble came back to haunt him when he became Speaker himself and Democrats filed numerous complaints about his own conduct. These complaints eventually caused Gingrich to be fined $300,000. by the Ethics Committee and he became the first Speaker in history to be reprimanded by the House.
Eventually, Gingrich was forced out as Speaker following the unsuccessful attempt to remove Bill Clinton from office through impeachment. The vote by the House on impeachment, controlled by Republicans, was largely a gross political power move at the start. Absent some startling revelations, the Democratically controlled Senate was not about to remove the president from their own party. As a political tactic, it was successful. Former Minority Leader Dick Armey, now involved deeply in the tea party Republican efforts, was quoted years later as saying the impeachment “worked” because the Republicans got back the White House in 2000. That seemed to be the main purpose all along.
One doesn’t have to view the impeachment through a partisan perspective to see that there was damage to the nation and the presidency by those events. America’s reputation around the world was certainly affected and, in the name of protecting the country from the loose behavior of the president, the entire nation, from grade schools, middle schools and high schools, got a national lesson in oral sex. It was presumed by many that the late 1990s were a time when it was okay to disrupt a presidency. We now know, of course, that Bin Laden and others were using this period to plan a deadly, vicious attack on us. No one knows what might have been different if the duly elected president at the time might have been able to give more attention to his actual job, instead of trying to fight off being forced from office.
Aside from that, an impeachment that could not succeed, one that was based on rumors and lurid personal details about a president, raised the prospect that all presidents in the future might be subjected to such action when the House of Representatives was controlled by an opposing party. That has not happened, at least not yet, in part because most people believe government can’t be saved or improved through constant disruption. Gingrich, however, has pursued the idea that whomever is blocking his way must be taken down, whatever he sees in front of him as an obstacle must be destroyed so that he can position himself as the person who can return it to viability. Indeed, that could be seen as his ultimate strategy to try to become president, an ambition that now will have to be put to final rest.
Gingrich now has a series of explanations as to why he has not won the nomination. He blames Fox News for favoring Romney (Santorum has the same complaint). He blamed the Super Pac ads on television in the early primaries for creating a “negative” image of him. He gave a backhand compliment to Romney for “working for six years” and building a bigger, better organization to run his campaign (Gingrich, in contrast, was busy enjoying his new found wealth, buying jewelry for his wife Callista and vacationing in the Greek Isles when his campaign was just getting started).
Gingrich now finds himself at the end of a long and rather tortuous road, his campaign deeply in debt, his national reputation as one of the saviors of the Republican party in tatters, his for-profit organizations established when he left the Speakership abandoned and foundering. This defeat, only now finally being accepted, is more complete, more final than when he was kicked out as Speaker of the House. He will not be invited back to the bright lights and fat paychecks of Fox News, because he has attacked them as hard as any political opponent and Roger Ailes, the former Republican political operative who runs the place, doesn’t forget, ever. He will turn 69 years old this summer and has no where else to go.
Gingrich could be seen as an American tragic figure, but he is entirely an unsympathetic one except to those who cheer him and accept the idea that harsh disruption and even harder, destructive conflict, is necessary to win power. Perhaps it is, but, historically, the “bomb throwers”, the rabble rousers and instigators, whether in elected politics or some other form of public battle, are not usually around to collect the rewards when the day of victory comes.
Those who are constantly putting their nose and their face into the most severe conflicts, and, in Gingrich’s case creating them, are often pushed aside by more calm and calming figures who have stayed back or who were too young to participate. Obama is an example: America didn’t elect any of the bold Civil Rights era leaders to national office to be the first with African heritage to occupy the White House. We elected someone removed from those fights who took his cool personality to Harvard law instead. “Polarizing figures” usually get polarized to the sidelines. This kind of informal rule even applies to the rise of the very rich to public office: it is usually the second or third generation, not the first, which gets the chance.
Gingrich clearly thinks of himself as a brilliant man. His method of getting power, however, was simple and the essence has changed little from his earliest days in Congress: search and destroy, then feast on the aftermath of destruction. He didn’t have the money, the campaign or the message to do that to Romney in 2012. If he had been aided by another candidate stronger than Santorum, and if he had been able to catch the wave of the tea party Republicans in 2009 and ‘10, it might have worked. Instead, Gingrich was outdated entirely by the time that movement came along and he was busy living in Gingrich World, making money, making speeches and writing books, when that movement rose to the crest with opposition to Obama’s health care changes. Gingrich sat out the tea party eruptions and placed entirely too much faith that he could win the nomination almost on his own with a small staff and “big ideas”.
In becoming successful as a right wing, ideological entrepreneur , he built a tender trap out of money and small bore fame for himself from which he could not escape to become a truly viable candidate. Gingrich, in the simple matter of his resume profile, was, for that matter, never a serious presidential candidate anyway. Who elects a president who has been forced to resign from a leadership post by a revolt of his own colleagues? Or someone, in the age of evangelicals, who has been married three times, carrying on the last affair for six years while he tried to remove a president from office for personal “indiscretions”? Who’s earlier history of open erotic encounters was reported in a documentary on PBS?
That Gingrich was treated seriously for a time was a measure of the desperation of some people to find a path to win and a lasting testament to seeing failings in others (Democrats) and overlooking them in those they support. He has run, too, on sheer ego, getting people to support him because of his bloated sense of self. This often can be successful, for a time, in many fields, but when people finally realize what they have been lured into, they frequently turn on the person who once seemed so seductive.
Doug Terry, 4.26.12