"Today I am announcing my candidacy for president of the United States," read Wednesday’s Twitter post from the former House Speaker.
"There’s a much better American future ahead with more jobs more prosperity, a better health system, longer lives, greater independent living and a country that is decentralized under the 10th Amendment with power once again back with the American people and away from the Washington bureaucracy," he chirped on a YouTube video that struck a Reaganesque post and concluded with the declaration. "We’ve done it before. We can do it again."
Then he went on Fox and attacked President Obama and the Democrats as "people who don’t mind if America becomes a wreck as long as they dominate the wreckage."
On message. According to plan. Yes, that’s Newt Gingrich.
Harold Stassen has been dead for a decade. The Republican Party needs another used-to-be-somebody, “big-ideas” candidate to fill out the primary ballot.
But that’s not fair…
To Stassen, a delightful man who actually contributed something of value to the United States as the “boy governor” of Minnesota, a delegate to the conference that established the United Nations, the president of the University of Pennsylvania and an able aide to President Dwight Eisenhower. He even tried to displace Richard Nixon as vice president in 1956, a project that had it succeeded might have saved the United States a world of hurt.
And there’s one other thing about Stassen: At one point, he really was a serious contender for his party’s presidential nomination.
That will never be said of Newt Gingrich.
Let’s consider the top-five reasons:
1. GINGRICH REACHED HIS SELL-BY DATE IN 1996: Born during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s third term, Gingrich would if elected next year assume the presidency on the cusp of his 70th birthday. And unlike the conservative movement’s favorite septuagenarian president, Ronald Reagan, Gingrich has been a political player for his entire adult life. Barack Obama was two years old when Gingrich went to work on his first national campaign.
There are natural trajectories for politicians. Gingrich’s had him running for president in 1996, as the dynamic conservative challenger to President Bill Clinton. That would have been a great race between a pair of similar southerners — smart, ambitious rascals with plenty of skeletons in their closets but also with real differences regarding the direction of the nation — but Gingrich deferred to the party bosses (and their corporate overseers) who preferred the predictability of Bob Dole.
Gingrich blinked. He missed his chance.
The same thing happened to Mario Cuomo, who should have run in 1992.
But at least Cuomo didn’t try to run in 2008.
2. GINGRICH IS A QUITTER: Stop making fun of Sarah Palin. Sure, she quit in the middle of her term as governor of Alaska, which was kind of pathetic. But Gingrich quit as Speaker of the House on the eve of the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Talk about “seduced and abandoned.” He set his fellow Republicans up for a fool’s mission, then he exited stage right.
Why did Gingrich quit not just the Speakership he had connived for a decade to obtain but his House seat. A looming scandal involving his own infidelity? Check. An inability to explain away the strategic missteps that led to the dismal finish of House Republicans in the 1998 election cycle? Check. But the real reason was that his fellow Republicans had lost faith with him as a leader.
That was a smart choice, rooted in actual experience and sincere concern about trusting the future of their party to a Gingrich. Why would Republicans abandon it now.
3. GINGRICH GOT HISTORY A “ROCKEFELLER REPUBLICAN”: In a party that checks conservative credentials more seriously than they would have border guards check immigration papers, Gingrich committed the ultimate sin. In 1968, Gingrich was a young Republican operative looking to get his start in presidential politics. He could have signed on with the “Draft Ronald Reagan” campaign of that year. That’s what a visionary conservative would have done. He could have worked for Richard Nixon. That’s what a cautious Republican careerist would have done. But no! Gingrich served as the southern regional coordinator for the campaign of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the most liberal Republican in the field — a big-government man who backed abortion rights, opposed the Vietnam War and provided right-wingers with their preferred term of derision ("Rockefeller Republican") for anyone who deviated from the ideologically pure path.
4. GINGRICH KEEPS GOING GREEN ON US: When he first ran for Congress in 1974, and when he ran again in 1976, at a point when the Republican right on the march (taking over the Republican platform-writing process and taking Reagan to the verge of the party’s presidential nod in the latter year), Gingrich did so as a moderate, maybe even liberal. As Ed Kilgore, who was a young Georgia political player in those years, has noted: "Gingrich returned to Georgia and launched his electoral career, running for Congress in 1974 and again in 1976. His incumbent opponent was John Flynt, an old-fashioned conservative Democrat best known for being on the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen” list of environmental reactionaries. Unlike many Georgia Republicans who sought to out-flank Dixiecrats by coming across as better-bred right-wing extremists, Gingrich ran to Flynt’s left, emphasizing environmentalist and “reform” themes, and enlisting significant support from liberal Democrats. Unfortunately for him, these were the two worst election cycles for Georgia Republicans since the 1950s (the Watergate election of 1974 and Jimmy Carter’s Georgia landslide of 1976), and he lost narrowly both times."
Environmentalist? Appealing to "liberal Democrats"? That was the old Newt Gingrich. He’s a conservative now. Sure, he was kinda green in 1976, but Republican purists can count on Newt now. Right? Well, er, um, he did appear three years ago with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an ad for Al Gore’s Repower American Campaign, an ad that saw Gingrich declare that, while he and the liberal Democrat did not agree on many issues, "we do agree our country must take action to address climate change." But that could not possibly trouble members of a party that has made denial of global warming one of its basic precepts. Could it?
5. GINGRICH CAME UP WITH THE LAMEST EXCUSE EVER FOR CHEATING ON HIS SEVERAL WIVES: To win the Republican nomination, a candidate needs to run well in Iowa and a whole bunch of southern and western states where evangelical Christians have been picking winners in caucuses and primaries for decades. These folks are supposed to take infidelity as seriously as they do banning abortion and denying rights to gays and lesbians. And some of them actually do.
So what will they make of the fact that Gingrich is on wife number three, and that he started dating her when he was still with wife number two, and that their affair played out at the same time that he was condemning Bill Clinton for Oval Office hijinks? And what will they think of Gingrich’s excuse? Here, from an interview this year with the Christian Broadcasting Network, is the excuse: "There’s no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.
A tough sell with those essential evangelical voters? Gingrich doesn’t think so. He thinks he can win the key caucuses and primaries. He thinks he can secure his party’s nomination. And he thinks the American people will be so bedazzled by his big ideas that they will choose him as their next president.
Then again, I interviewed Harold Stassen when he was making his sixth presidential run. He thinks he can win the key caucuses and primaries. He thinks he can secure his party’s nomination. And he thinks the American people will be so bedazzled by his big ideas that they will choose him as their next president.
It was a little hard to take Stassen seriously. He was a shambling, white-haired fellow who has not held elective office for years and who had a history that invited ideological derision — sort of like, er, um, Newt Gingrich.