Last Crazy Standing: Is it Newt Time for the GOP?
by Bennet Kelley
November 11, 2011
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History can be savagely poetic and may be on the verge of doing so again. As the Republican Presidential Circus reaches the doorstep of the Iowa Caucus, Newt Gingrich is inching up in the polls ready to emerge as the right wing’s flavor du jour. Who better to be at the helm of the GOP to endure what may be a backlash against Republican extremism and obstructionism, than the one candidate most responsible for both.
Elected to Congress in 1978, Gingrich believed that Republicans must fight the Democrats “with the scale and duration and savagery that is only true of civil wars.” Gingrich relentlessly attacked Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright as the “least-ethical Speaker” of the century with countless charges that even his fellow Republicans dismissed as baseless. Nonetheless, the media prefers conflict over policy and Gingrich quickly became a Beltway star.
Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough, who served with Gingrich, said his modus operandi is to “smear any public figure who fails to share his worldview. His insults are so overblown and outrageous that after the rhetorical dust settles, the reputation most damaged is his own.” Newt’s famous smears include calling Clinton Democrats “the enemy of normal Americans,” blaming Columbine on the Democrats and claiming that President Obama has a “colonial world view.”
Gingrich also attacked Republican Congressional leaders who viewed Congress as something more than “a forum for partisan warfare” and actually cooperated with Democrats to get something accomplished; famously calling Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole “the tax collector for the welfare state”.
Republican Mickey Edwards, who also served with Gingrich, explains that Gingrich “aggressively pushed Congressional Republicans in a direction in which the pursuit of power trumped all other considerations.” Gingrich became the leader of what conservative columnist George Will described as “ideologically intoxicated” Republicans who believe that “Democrats are not merely mistaken but sinful” or as one Republican conceded to journalist Elizabeth Drew, simply feel that “they were totally right and the other side was totally wrong.”
As Speaker, Gingrich issued his famous guide to Republican candidates that merely contained a list of approximately 70 insults to hurl at your opponent (e.g., “corrupt” or “traitor”) but which said nothing about policy or effective governing. This was Gingrich’s style, as John Feehery, a former aide to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, noted “Gingrich likes to make sweeping generalizations in ways that are needlessly polarizing and often irresponsible . . . as his white hot rhetoric is spoken to inflame rather than inform.”
As a Presidential candidate, Feehery believes Gingrich is trying to convince “the hard-right . . . that he is as crazy as they are.” Mickey Edwards dismisses Gingrich’s candidacy stating “at some point, people will learn to stop taking Newt Gingrich seriously, (since) Newt is utterly unconcerned with the welfare of the country…He cares about (a) Newt and (b) power for Newt.”
Congress is now full of ideologically intoxicated “Newtants” who have no qualms about tanking the economy for electoral advantage or bringing the country to the brink of a financial crisis rather than yield on an ideological point. That is why disapproval of Republicans in Congress is at record levels (76 percent disapproval) and half of the country now believes that the Republicans are intentionally sabotaging the economy for political gain.
If these numbers did not concern Republicans before, the election results on Tuesday showed an emphatic rejection of Republican extremism with the recall of anti-immigrant Senator Russell Pearce in Arizona and the overwhelming defeat of Republican initiatives in Mississippi and Ohio.
Republican primary voters clearly have gotten the message and have, instead, chosen to double down on crazy as Gingrich is now in a three-way dead heat with Herman Cain and Mitt Romney.
Today’s voters are angry and want candidates they can measure by results not insults. Were he to emerge victorious from the Republican Convention in Tampa it is inconceivable that Gingrich would be able to restrain his penchant for bombast. As a result, Gingrich’s final march would only further fuel the current backlash and make him the mascot for everything Americans hate about politics today.
While Gingrich has compared himself to Napoleon and Churchill, it is fitting that his political finale may not be the Commander-in-Chief position he has long coveted but rather as Piñata-in -Chief, making Seis de Noviembre a joyous fiesta for Democrats.