Huffington Post

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Newt Gingrich

[My latest for The Huffington Post.]

Conservatives have rummaged their way through the primary clown car and landed back on the generous lap of Newt Gingrich. The approximately 45-day pattern of elevating a candidate, then watching as that candidate melts down has apparently lapped itself, since Newt Gingrich has already been elevated and subsequently disintegrated back in May and June, following the 45-day rise and fall of Donald Trump.

The old meme about how conservatives don't have any memory of events prior to January 20, 2009 can be recycled for Newt Gingrich because they evidently don't remember anything before June when Gingrich's campaign all but collapsed under the mildest scrutiny. Now they're taking another look -- or, with a short-term memory lapse, a look for the first time. It's not unlike laundry day when you're out of underwear, so you gnash your teeth and find a pair from the hamper that's the least filthy, but, in this case, conservatives are looking at the stinky hamper flotsam as if it's a dryer-fresh pair.

Newt Gingrich is a student of history, so here's some history. Just a few of the things conservatives appear to have forgotten about Gingrich.

First, a brief review of his past. Gingrich has exemplified the sanctity of marriage by divorcing twice (once sending divorce papers to his wife while she recovered from cancer) and marrying three times. He allegedly cheated on his first two wives with the subsequent wife. In the shadow of various congressional ethics investigations and following the over-the-top impeachment process against President Clinton as well as the dismal Republican showing in the 1998 midterms, Gingrich was forced out as speaker by other Republicans including John Boehner. Not only did he step down, he also resigned from Congress. His former congressional staff reportedly referred to Gingrich as a "sociopath."

It's also worth noting for the benefit of strict constructionist tea party people who cherish the original intent of the founding documents, that Gingrich isn't too fond of the Constitution when it comes to national security. In late 2006, Gingrich famously repeated the fear-stricken far-right refrain, You can't have a Constitution if you're dead, when he said he'd restrict free speech rights in order to fight terrorism. Recently, Gingrich said he would ignore the Supreme Court on matters of security, thus exceeding the executive powers enumerated in Article II. If you're a tea party member and you claim to be a constructionist, these remarks ought to knock your tri-cornered hat clean off your skull.

Now, Gingrich's campaign for president has been a slow-motion disaster. It's difficult to know where to start his 45-day flame out from early May through late June, so let's rewind to the beginning of the intervention in Libya.

At first, before the president acted, Gingrich said he would set up a unilateral no-fly-zone over Libya. Then, as soon as the president intervened, Gingrich said, "I would not have intervened." Interesting. While it was a great example of how Republicans choose their positions based on doing the opposite of the president, it didn't really help to establish important presidential qualities like integrity and consistency.

As the Gingrich campaign revved up, reporters began to look at his positions on issues like cap-and-trade -- a policy proposal most Republicans hate, but only since the president and the Democrats adopted it from the Republicans and included it as part of their plan to restrict carbon emissions. In 2007, Gingrich supported cap-and-trade and even appeared in an Al Gore-sponsored television commercial seated next to Nancy Pelosi. The topic of the commercial was, naturally, fighting the climate crisis through bipartisanship. Fast forward just a couple of years and Gingrich changed his position on cap-and-trade, while calling global warming an "artificial energy crisis."

Peppered throughout Gingrich's time as the flavor of the month were bits of the Southern Strategy. Gingrich is a well-known demagogue who, like Lee Atwater and Frank Luntz, is a master of Orwellian language and dog whistles. (In 1994, Gingrich authored a memo for GOPAC titled Language: A Key Mechanism for Control. You might recognize many of Gingrich's suggested words used in Republican talking points even today.) As such, he's been known to pop off very well calculated bursts of subtle race baiting. For example, in May, Gingrich said, "President Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history." Hmm. Earlier that month, he compared the success of the mostly white Texas with the failure of the mostly black Detroit. There's also that time in late 2010 when Gingrich invoked Birtherism, saying that President Obama has a "Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview." Later, Gingrich expressed support for a Jim Crow style law requiring an American history test before being allowed to register to vote.

There was also the time in early May when Gingrich told the Christian Broadcasting Network that his love of country forced him to do things that "weren't appropriate," and led to his two divorces. Yes, he loved America so much he just couldn't keep his pants on.

In June, Gingrich and his third wife Calista bugged out on a luxury Mediterranean cruise around Greece. This immediately followed his formal announcement to run for president. Yes, Newt Gingrich is a guy who knows how to bear down and get to work. What's more incomprehensible about this garish excursion was the fact that Gingrich had previously suffered yet another scandal when reporters learned that he had racked up $500,000 in credit debt at Tiffany's. That's a lot of debt for a guy who claims to be a fiscal conservative. Speaking of which, news broke in late June that Gingrich's campaign was $1 million in debt with donors rapidly jumping ship (pun intended). Maybe Gingrich should have been more frugal with his war chest and not paid cash money for his Twitter followers, and then publicly bragged about how many followers he had accumulated.

Oh, and amidst all of this, his campaign staff quit. Twice.

Perhaps the biggest pile of elephant crap he stumbled into was when he referred to Paul Ryan's dismantling and privatization of Medicare as "right wing social engineering." Whoops. Everyone in the Republican Party knows you don't pick on Paul Ryan because Paul Ryan is awesome. Talk radio, and especially Rush Limbaugh, jumped all over Gingrich for this fatal trespass. Paul Ryan said, "With friends like that, who needs the left?" Then, when ads went up using Gingrich's quote against him, he inexplicably said, "Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood." In other words, I didn't say what I clearly just said, so don't use it, liar.

There you go. The Gingrich campaign during a span of around 45 days.

I'm not sure what conservatives expect to discover about Gingrich this time around the horn. As far as I can tell, Herman Cain and Rick Perry, the previous two clown car passengers to endure their messianic 45 days, merely stumbled over some words and blanked out on live television, respectively. But Newt Gingrich is a full-on disaster from top to bottom. He flip-flops on the issues like Romney, he shoves his foot in his mouth like Cain and Perry, he says fringy things like Bachmann and Santorum, but he also has money-management problems, marital fidelity problems, ethics problems, resigned-from-office-in-disgrace problems and constitutionality problems.

The question is, other than his ability to string words together to form complete sentences, what does Newt Gingrich have that's not a total liability? Come to think of it, with the tea party's history of championing semi-illiterate candidates, the complete sentences thing might be a problem, too. So what's left? He's white and he has a pulse. I guess that's enough to make him a frontrunner in the modern Republican Party.

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