Newt Gingrich has a lot going for him in his quest for the presidency — a famous name, plenty of inside-Washington friends, lobbyists and allies giving him untold millions in now-unlimited-by-Citizens-United money, nearly four decades of being a Washington D.C. politician for which he claims makes him and “outsider,” a lifelong history of adultery, deceit, financial opportunism, criminal convictions, ethics violations and unmitigated hypocrisy, and just the right amount of sub-dermal racism that appeals to his party’s longing-for-the-days-of-Dixie, all-white-all-the-time, faux-evangelical base.
It’s almost enough to make you forget his central handicap; the fact that he is Newt Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich — by any stretch of logic, pragmatism and intelligence — has a better chance of succeeding Ashton Kutcher on “Two and a Half Men” than he has to succeed Barack Obama in the White House.
Gingrich’s primary problem (pun intended) isn’t that his marital record is a consistent marry-cheat-marry broken record. It isn’t that he’s a permanently entrenched Washington politico *AND* lobbyist who thinks telling people he isn’t will make it true. It isn’t that he’s been the architect of the most divisive political campaign strategies in history. It isn’t even that he’s just a bloated, two-faced, pompous ass.
No, Gingrich’s problem is that he exults in being those things, but demands apologies from anyone who points out that he’s being them.
Gingrich was one of the leading megaphones in the cries to have Bill Clinton hanged – or at least impeached – for having extra-marital affairs while president. And yet Gingrich dismisses any and all claims that his lifelong habitual adultery is anything less than a side-effect of his “deep passion for America.” He loves the country so much that he just can’t resist the desire to have sex with women other than his wife. Oh … and the fact that Gingrich was having an affair DURING the Monica Lewinsky witch hunt … well, you’re just supposed to overlook that because he was “working for America’s interests.”
While berating Mitt Romney for his multi-million-dollar salary and bonuses while being CEO of a company Gingrich claims helped create the country’s financial crisis, Gingrich was collecting multi-million-dollar paychecks from Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac as a “political history consultant,” all the while defaming the housing market manipulation that created the country’s financial crisis.
Gingrich is a demagogue, and demagogues don’t get elected President of the United States. They get on TV a lot, they live opulent lifestyles, they get fat paychecks from Rupert Murdoch, they even win the occasional primary. But they don’t win the presidency. Their sole function is to make the election process so dismal, distorted, redirected and unappealing that only the most extreme right-wingers or leftists will want to participate. It makes pushing all those non-political “hot buttons” like abortion, and gay marriage, and Socialist pay and benefits for teachers, and inverse tax structures, all that much easier.
The presidential historian Richard Norton Smith says demagoguery can be defined as “extremism married to flamboyance, and it helps if you have delusions of grandeur.” Throw in piousness, arrogance, hypocrisy and a core being that seeks only unilateral power, self-aggrandizement and self-wealth, and you have the recipe for Newt Gingrich.
Other demagogues — at least as, but never more exemplary of the term – have aspired to the White House and found their general election results ranging from disappointing to humiliating.
- Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who railed against “anarchists” and “pseudo-intellectuals,” championed African-American suppression and segregation, all while threatening treason charges against anti-Vietnam protesters in 1968. Wallace took down 13 percent of the vote and carried five Southern states. His effective results north, west and east of those states; el grande huevo. Gingrich said in an interview on “60 Minutes” in 1983 that Wallace’s efforts were “genuinely American, just poorly executed.”
- Pat Buchanan ran in 1992 and 1996 on a platform consisting primarily of xenophobic isolationism and a personal vendetta against homosexuals and atheists, never made it to the Oval Office so he could implement his plan to build an impenetrable concrete dome over the United States of America. In a Washington Post interview in 1993, Gingrich called Buchanan “one of the great misunderstood genius visionaries of our time.”
- Reverend Jesse Jackson tried to make it to the White House riding a wave of nothing but “black power.” His vote results were more of a milk-toasty transparent light grey. In a Fox News interview in 2000, Gingrich called Jackson’s 1998 presidential campaign “a pathetic waste of time for people who have better things to do than to listen to another African-American preacher try to play politician.”
The Republican Party, for all its claims of conservatism, family values and moral superiority, has consistently passed up actual principled conservatives in favor of corporate puppets, religious zealots and insipid candidates who were – from the onset – so patently unqualified and intellectually deficient (Alaska’s half-governor, anyone?). This past week, Gingrich said Sarah Palin is “definitely, without question, one of the people I would go to for advice as president” and danced around the prospect of Palin having a cabinet position in his administration.
Throughout his career, Gingrich has done his best to ingratiate himself with the most rabid ideologues in the GOP. In 1990, he advised fellow House Republicans to refer to Democrats with such words as “sick,” “pathetic,” “destructive,” “anti-family” and “traitors.” Gingrich personally authored and at-first secretly distributed the infamous “Language” memo to Republican party officials in which words such as “welfare,” “despicable” “inhuman,” “anti-American” and “Communist” were not only suggested, but advised and required, as part of any Republican’s public oratory when referring to Democrats. In literally every instance in which a Republican’s provocative or controversial statements were factually tied back to his “Language” memo, Gingrich has harumphed and attributed the suggestion to “more evidence that the liberal media will try anything to make Republicans look bad.”
For example, during a November 1994 appearance on “Nightline,” Gingrich called Bill and Hillary Clinton “counter-culture McGoverniks.” He first indignantly insisted that he had been misquoted, claiming that he “used the term McGovernite, not McGovernik” and dismissed the charge as “one of those things that the Washington Times picked up and therefore it’s now history.” When shown on-camera that at least four different newspapers, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, all quoted Gingrich as calling the Clintons “counter-culture McGoverniks,” Gingrich dismissed the evidence and attributed it to “the liberal media covering for each other through selective reporting,” and then declared that he wouldn’t discuss that particular issue anymore during the program.
Gingrich is a poster child for bombast, vitriol and shameless invention. He says Obama “doesn’t even have the courage to tell the truth about who wants to kill us” and accuses him of “pandering to radical Islam.” He claimed that Obama’s December 2010 approval to extend the Bush tax cuts, “the economy improved overnight … literally.” In February 2011, when shown a video clip of him making that statement and then a Wall Street Journal analysis showing an economic plummet since the tax cuts were extended, Gingrich asked his interview if he “had any questions that genuinely warranted an answer, instead of liberal tricks with charts and graphs.”
There is no claim too inflammatory, reckless or implausible for Gingrich to make, and always with a smug, “to hell with you” air of abject certainty. That’s the true mark of the demagogue. He is incapable of measured judgments, and he is unable – and unwilling – to admit to even the potential for being wrong, let alone admit when he is.
Gingrich can’t simply something is “X’ or “Y.” He has to throw in some extreme adverbs to emphasize how right he thinks he is. Obama’s national security policy isn’t a mistake, or just risky, but “enormously dangerous and potentially the final nail in America’s coffin.” People who disagree with him aren’t guilty of hypocrisy but of “utter total hypocrisy.” Obama’s refusal to rubber-stamp the approval of Republicans’ Keystone XL pipeline bill isn’t “unfortunate,” but “an example of Obama’s grotesque and pathological need to destroy America.”
Gingrich laughed at Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge to set the minimum wage to $9.50, and called Obama “some kind of Socialist Dudley Do-Right.”
Well, keep laughing, Newt. Come November, you’ll see what it’s like to be “Snidely Backlash.”