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Ichabod... Or The Decline Of Newt

Let us put aside Gingrich's marital woes.  I want to push back against the idea that Gingrich is, in the present, the "idea factory" for Republicans.  Gingrich is not the ideas guy in the Republican Party and he hasn't been that guy for a long time.  Check out his "Nine Acts of Real Change That Could Restore the GOP Brand" from 2008.  It turns out that one of those acts of real change was cutting the budget of the census.  There is the change we need.  Compare that 2008 list to the 1994 Contract With America or the Ryan Roadmap.  The most important word in Gingrich's 2008 plan is "brand."  This isn't being an ideas guy.  This is being a hustler who gets by on the ideas guy brand. 

The problems with Gingrich don't end there.  There was his demagogic ethanol speech.  I don't especially mind Gingrich supporting ethanol.  Most presidential candidates (excluding John McCain and Bruce Babbitt) end up spouting some nonsense about national energy security and family farms as a way of getting votes in Iowa.  But there was something ugly about Gingrich's cynical moralism about big city folks wanting to kill ethanol because "it works."  Then there was Gingrich's (clintonian?) evasion about his ties to the ethanol lobby.  He then tried to paint Obama as mental alien/not-really-American until he was trumped by Trump (who argued that Obama was an alien at birth.)

Let's get some perspective.  Paul Ryan is an ideas guy.  John Kasich is an ideas guy.  Mitch Daniels is an ideas guy.  Gingrich has degenerated into a narrative spinner whose policies are marketing props.  He can tell a story about how a conservative future will arise out of a broken liberal past.  This invites comparisons to the vision of Ronald Reagan and the wonkiness of Paul Ryan.  The problem is that on inspection he lacks the virtues and abilities of those men.  Unlike Reagan, Gingrich has never shown appeal beyond a subgroup of the conservative electorate.  He has never held an elected executive position and he resigned in confusion less than four years into his speakership.  His recent sloganeering about acts of "real change" (like banning earmarks for a year) are a poor contrast to the real risks that are being taken by politicians with jobs to lose.   

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 15 Comments

+1

Ummm . . . devastating. And, unfortunately for Gingrich, seemingly true. He is a man of real talents but he seems, for whatever reason, not to be able to appreciate what those are or to put them to good effect in a way that he can find satisfactory. I cannot trust anyone with this much zeal to be President. Ambition (even to the point that silly people will call you arrogant and think that's a serious critique) yes. But obsession? No.

I think Newt understands something that you clearly don't, Pete: Politics is a symbolic game, not a game of exact policies. "Brand" is exactly right, that's what we are trying to sell. We need people like Ryan and Daniels, but their "visions" are far too utilitarian to appeal to most Americans.

BTW, the Democrats agree with you on Daniels...he's the guy to beat. They would LOVE to run against him.

Newt argues that Republicans should find 80% issues--issues that 80% of Americans agree on--and advance on those. Does this differ from demagoguery? I suppose it can, but, as Pete points out, this is not a leader for hard times, as his ethanol conversion reflects.

Redwald, how did the symbolic branding politics of earmark moratoriums work out for McCain (in this case "real conservative Gingrich and "RINO" McCain are peas in a pod)? Who but an idiot thinks that talking up Obama's alleged "Kenyan anti-colonial" worldview will do anything to win over "most Americans" (as opposed to getting attention and maybe donations from a minority fraction - and it might have worked too if it wasn't for those meddling kids...er... Donald Trump)? I don't know what is too "utilitarian" about policies that might increase worker disposable income. What do you call policies and political strategies that aren't relevant to most people's everyday lives AND don't help you win elections? Worthlessitarian?

I think you're wrong about what opponent the Democrats would want, but I also don't think that matters. I'm not one to trust the political instincts of the Democrats in picking their opponents. If most Democrats were given a choice of opponents between Daniels, Pawlenty, Romney and Gingrich, I'm pretty confident most of them would prefer to run against Gingrich. But I don't care what they think.

Most Democrats in 1980 probably thought that Howard Baker would be a stronger general election opponent than Reagan. They were of course wrong. By 1980, Reagan had a history of winning over large populations of otherwise Democratic-leaning voters en route to winning two terms as governor of America's most populous state. The Gingrich of 2011 is not the Reagan of 1980. He isn't even the Gingrich of 1993-1996.

"Vision" is far and away the most important thing about electoral politics for the POTUS (holding charisma constant, of course). People want a leader, not a technician.

I doubt Newt will be the nominee, much less the next POTUS. Nonetheless, I fail to understand this hostility toward him. As for demagoguery, I think he understands that you have to run on popular issues -- wedge issues will not get you elected (e.g., abortion). He's a realist, and that's what gave us the first GOP-dominated HofR in 40 years back in the 1990s.

As for his "anti-colonial" talking points, I think he's right about that. Occasionally Newt says things for their intellectual value rather than their instrumental value. So let's beat him to death over it!!

"People want a leader, not a technician."

I dunno, maybe something like working as an executive alongside the legislature in order to cut spending, improve public services, balance the budget and reform health care? Or like Pawlenty standing up to the spending interests and a legislature dominated by the other party in order to control spending and balance the budge?. Maybe demonstrating durable appeal to a statewide electorate while sticking by your policy priorities? Or maybe real leaders flip-flop on Libya depending on what Obama happens to be doing at any moment.

My objections to Gingrich's actions and what they indicate about his desirability as a candidate and a President are what I've said. I don't want him beaten or dead. I wish him prosperity and happiness - just not in the oval office.

You are right that Gingrich well understood the political moment of 1993-1994. Though it is anyone's guess why he thought that, months into a recession (but before the financial crisis), cutting the census bureau and an earmark moratorium made sense as either politics or policy. It has been a long time since he has demonstrated understanding of the moment. Though I give him credit. Getting it that right even once and seizing the moment is a real accomplishment. He was once truly consequential and that now makes him a little sad.

"Occasionally Newt says things for their intellectual value rather than their instrumental value."

If you think Gingrich said "What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?" and "That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior." then we really need to rethink his reputation for intelligence (really? the surge in Afghanistan and Obamacare as Kenyan anti-colonial behavior? so Joe Lieberman is a Kenyan anti-colonial? that's almost as crazy as those explanations of how his birth certificate was faked.) I continue to think that Gingrich is quite smart, but lacked the discipline to resist the chance to try to paint Obama as an alien to that minority of the public who loves to hear that sort of thing.

Behavior like sending the bust of Churchill back to England. Behavior like apologizing around the world for America. Behavior like setting a end-date for the Afghan campaign. In short, stupid behavior that suggests a worldview steeped in Marxist and Leninist understanding.

I suspect Newt is one of the smartest people in the GOP, and millions share my opinion. Is he Presidential material? I don't know, but this overt hostility to someone who really does at his core believe what we believe is inexplicable to me. I for one look forward to hearing what he has to say on the campaign trail. As for these technicians, they'd better scrape up some real vision and charisma or they are dead at the gate.

Redwald, "That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior." If you believe that... That doesn't mean that there aren't particular actions that a very hostile observer can torture to fit that interpretation. I suppose Joe Biden is a Kenyan anti-colonial because he wanted a near-term large scale drawdown in Afghanistan?

So a Marxist-Leninist (or someone who was "steeped in that understanding") would commit to the Petraeus strategy in Afghanistan. and follow the parameters of the Bush negotiated drawdown in Iraq. Come to think of it, the Bush agreement with Iraq had target dates for withdrawal. Who knew that Bush was a Kenyan anti-colonial? The things you learn.

Few doubt that Gingrich is intelligent, but let's keep some perspective. Ryan, Daniels, and Romney (just off the top of my head) are probably just as smart as Gingrich and seem much more disciplined to boot.

Obama came to office as a community organizer with an extensive education in Leftism. Do you deny it? Many of his actions, particularly early in his term (before the need for compromise became overwhelming) belied his "moderate" image. I think Newt spoke the truth.

As for "target dates," Bush didn't say "we leave on this date."

So, would you like to elaborate on why you suffer from "Newt derangement syndrome?"

The Bush negotiated framework with Iraq established a date for the withdrawal of US troops in Iraq. It was hedged as being subject to conditions and further negotiations. Just like Obama's speech announcing the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. Look up the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq. So I guess you are going to have to expand your definition of Kenyan anti-colonial to include Rice and Bob Gates and.. oh who cares?

If you wanted to say that he was more liberal than he came off during the campaign (where he made some promises he could not possibly have all kept) then that would have been something else. Though no one gets much attention for pointing out something so obvious.

I don't for the life of me see how thinking that someone is unfitted for a particular office demonstrates any great hostility. I don't remember pretending to believe that Gingrich is a Kenyan anti-colonial. I can think of close (virtually speaking) examples of pathological political hatred.

Perhaps the difference is that no one took Bush's deadline seriously, whereas they did take Obama's seriously.

Pete, you have a funny way of obsessing about small things that really don't matter. Newt is qualified to be President as much as any of these people are. I think all this wonky "analysis" of yours has gone to your head. You now seem to think you are the final arbiter of who is and is not "fit" to be the POTUS.

Redwald, maybe that is a difference (though Obama administration officials have been clear that any Afghanistan withdrawal will be conditions-based and US troop numbers in Iraq started to decline in 2008) I don't know how anyone gets Kenyan anti-colonial out of that speculative difference about the intentions of two very similar policies That is unless one really, really wants to. The good news about your approach is that any policy similarities between Obama and Bush can be wished away the exact same way.

Stow the final arbiter drama. We are both (relatively) obscure people sharing our opinions. I agree that Gingrich is just as "qualified" to be President as Obama, Daniels, Palin, Romney and probably you. That doesn't mean that I have to put him near the top of my list or refrain from giving reasons he would be a weak general election candidate or a perhaps a deeply problematic President. One doesn't need to be wonky to see the problems with Gingrich. Just looking at the things he has said and done in the last few years is enough. Though as Reihan Salam says, I never think that I can convince anybody of anything.

I agree that Gingrich is just as "qualified" to be President as... Daniels, Palin, Romney

No.

His executive experience is nil. He was a college teacher prior to entering politics. College teachers seldom have more than one or two temporary employees working under them.

He does know how to work Congress. Please recall, though, that his character and personality defects were what persuaded his colleague William Paxon to find another way of making a living. One might suggest that he resigned as Speaker because he had worn out his welcome.

Dr. Gingrich's general intelligence likely exceeds the incumbent, Gov. Daniels, Gov. Palin, and perhaps even Gov. Romney. The three most superlatively intelligent men to occupy the White House since the end of the long 19th century would be Messrs. Wilson, Hoover, and Nixon. Maybe that is not the best criterion of evaluation.

AD, please look back at the entire sentence to see what I was driving at. Though I agree with your point about executive experience. I am not nearly as convinced of Gingrich's intelligence as many people. Don't get me wrong, I think he is very smart, but I doubt he is smarter than high end smart politicians. He does (did?) have a greater interest in the relationship between ideas, public policy and public relations than most politicians and this served him and (for a time) the country pretty well.

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