Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Don't dismiss Gingrich

As much as I hate to see it, it looks like my predictions about Gingrich being more than another flash in the pan candidate are proving to be accurate.

As some pundits begin to wake up to that reality, they're reminding us who this guy is. First of all, Josh Marshall.

To me it seems clear that Newt is wildly unsuited to be president...He’s the closest you get over the last half century to the guy who invented the brutally polarized politics of today (though it’s much deeper than any one person). He’s always been a highly mercurial and not particularly stable personality. That doesn’t even get into the ethical problems and outlandish positions.

And Paul Waldman.

His natural rhetorical style is one of extremity, in which good things are "profound," "transformative," and "fundamental," while bad things are not just bad but horrific, the worst things that have ever happened. That means that when he embraces a position, it's the greatest thing ever, and when he rejects a position, it's the worst thing ever, even if what today is the worst thing ever was the greatest thing ever yesterday. Consequently, Newt finds himself saying things like, "Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood." When questioned about a flip-flop, he's clever enough to find a vaguely reasonable-sounding answer — made more convincing by the fact that he says everything with the same emphatic certainty — but he'll probably give a completely different answer if you ask him tomorrow.

When Republicans worry that Gingrich is "undisciplined," they aren't just referring to the way he'll take off for a cruise to Greece in the middle of a campaign. It's this shooting-off-in-all-directions approach where everything seems improvisational, grand visions of his history-defining personality completely untethered to anything that resembles a concrete plan to get from here to there, whether it's in policy or in politics.

But I saved the best for last. The reason why I appreciate what Charles Pierce has to say about Gingrich is that he explains why for so long now, I've thought that we underestimate this man at our peril.

If Newt Gingrich really thinks he can win, then Newt Gingrich will do absolutely anything to accomplish that. He has no conscience in these matters, and he has no soul to speak of. He believes that the rules governing ordinary mortals in matters like public prevarication and gross public deceit do not apply to him, because he was blessed at birth to be the "definer of the rules of civilization."...

This is no longer a campaign. It is Newt Gingrich's last chance to define himself in history as the grandiose figure he sees when he looks in the mirror. It's not a book tour any more, or an elaborate form of negotiation aimed at jacking up his lecture fees. If he thinks he can win, Newt Gingrich is going to look at this campaign now as a grand opportunity to justify himself as a man of historical moment, a kind of supra-national figure whose like we will not see again. If anyone thinks he's likely to abandon that great quest just because he's fundamentally unprincipled, and because the image itself is a tinpot fraud, they're fooling themselves. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, Newt is fighting for his honor, which is probably more than anyone else has ever done for it.

While I've been fairly comfortable laughing off the candidacies of folks like Bachmann and Cain, I think we should take Gingrich very seriously. He's appealing to the worst in this country right now and they're eating it up. As I've said all along, a sociopath (which is what Gingrich clearly is) is much more dangerous than your garden variety crazy.

I'm not that nervous about Gingrich beating President Obama. As a matter of fact, I don't think there's a candidate out there who would make this more of a choice election than a referendum. I'm just saying that with every day that goes by, Gingrich is looking more and more like a possible contender. And I really hate what that says about our country.


  1. I really hate that we might have to look at him and Scary Barbie™ for the next year. Could the contrast be any stronger between that couple and the First Couple? Can't even begin to imagine who he would pick as his VP candidate.

    Thanks for warning us, Smartypants.

  2. Tien Le - I'd love to know what folks like Rove are thinking right now. I'm sure we'll see the result of him weighing in before all this is done. If he's threatened at all by Gingrich, it should be the battle royale of sociopaths.

  3. In some ways this is more ironic than I can express. The GOP & Rove & Kyl & Mitch deserve this circumstance more than any thing. Add Cain and it becomes delicious. Mitch is watching his chance to be Majority Leader slip through his fingers and Boehner's Speakership evaporate.

    I think, maybe, the sane voters of America will flock to the polls in numbers rivaling 2008. At any rate, if Newt (the lizard) really does become the GOP nominee, Rove will probably kill him.

  4. I've had a particularly bad feeling about Gingrich ever since reading a post about him by Al Giordano. I went and looked it up tonight:

    Part of my mind still wonders why anybody in their right mind would want to go back to the 1990s, and Gingrich made himself notorious and hated even then. But I'm also extremely wary of the kind of far right rhetoric he can throw around, and the way he race-baits President Obama.

    I also found this altogether too prescient post by Giordano:

    In general I think that Romney is the Republican candidate to be most concerned about, because people think he's moderate and maybe not like those "other" Republicans they hate. In general, I think a candidate that is hard right and draws a sharp contrast with Obama is better from the Democratic point of view.

    But there are two GOP candidates that I hesitate to "support" in this way, I have a feeling that's hard to express that it would be dangerous if they became the nominee because people might just take them seriously. Palin is one. Gingrich is the other.

    This post helps me better put into words what troubles me so much about Gingrich.

  5. Laura - I think you really nailed it with your comment.

    And thanks so much for the Giordano link. I haven't read that one and always love to hear what he has to say.

  6. That Newt is even a factor in this race shows how ... incredibly strange ... the Republican Party has become. Do I think he's going to go "all in" if he does well in the upcoming caucuses and primaries? Yes, and he won't care how much damage he does along the way to get it. That's been his pattern, even as Speaker, and I don't see any changes.