Newt Ginrich has been around politics a long, long time. He was first elected to the House of Representatives way back in the late 1970s. That’s about as far as you can go these days, excepting a few people who have been in Congress most of their adult lives. (The lifers are generally gone, however, from Congress now). One would think that after all that experience, he would know how to start his presidential campaign without shooting off his own nose, right?
What happened? Well, his attack on his fellow far rightwingers was pretty much the kind of thing Gingrich has always done: put down some explosive, interesting talk and then try to surf on the waves. Problem this time is that all the waves, big ones, were heading into his face after he said he doesn’t believe “right wing social engineering” is any better than “left wing social engineering”. Could anyone imagine bigger bomb for the first week of a presidential effort? Well, at least he didn’t stay at the Sofitel in New York.
Gingrich thinks he’s pretty smart. This is a dangerous assumption for anyone dealing with words and politics and the desire to formulate a sharp statement on the fly, as he seemed to be doing on Meet The Press last Sunday. The people who run for president, get the nomination and win the office are people who know how to be cautious, measured and, for the last few decades, carefully managed by consultants and speech writers plus a whole slew of other hangers on. Gingrich wants to run the message himself. Obama, another smart guy, is also smart enough to read words written, and carefully checked, by others. He prepares carefully with multiple aides before making public remarks. Gingrich, it seems, looks in the mirror and goes out swinging.
There’s no doubt, he’s always trying to prove he’s the smartest guy in the room. He’s intelligent (to a point) and he wants the world to know he’s intelligent. It is his calling card. He wants you (anyone) to back up and take notice and sit quietly while he speaks, as a student in a classroom would. He thinks he knows more about everything than anyone else and he wants to prove it. And prove it again.
Gingrich is running for president to, once again, prove how smart he is. When he came to Congress, he found himself as an ex-professor among lawyers and former small time office holders who did not have any sort of historically rooted analysis of where the country was and where it should go. He decided he would provide that for all who would listen. He’s still doing it. This is not a good method for being elected president, however.
He also seems out of touch with the Republican party he is trying to lead. The party has moved on and to some degree out from under him in the years since he was forced out as Speaker of the House and then resigned from Congress way back in the Clinton years. It has been a long, long time and although Gingrich has been running around acting important for all of those years, he hasn’t been winning office or running for anything, except trying to set up this year when he would announce for president.
Part of the problem is developing one set of methods and values, that of a professor, and then applying those without care or modification to a different and often conflicting role. Over more than the last decade, Gingrich has been doing what he now says he was doing as Speaker when he talked to the media: acting as an analyst instead of a government official. He seems to want to be liked by the people in the news media, to be a trusted, buddy-buddy source. Doesn’t work, although others, like John McCain, have managed to straggle that fence for a time.
Gingrich shows every sign of being a crash and burn presidential candidate. Someone might pick him as a vice-presidential nominee, an office for which he would be entirely unsuited, but that has happened many times before, hasn’t it? The Republicans and the tea potters are pursuing an orthodoxy in America, 2011 and 2012. They smell blood. Gingrich, the thinker, says this is the best chance the right has since 1932 to “break the left”. They will either achieve their goals, or some of them, or push themselves backward by three decades or more. They will likely do it, either way, without Gingrich showing them the truth and the light.
Doug Terry, 5.20.11