The Day of the Newt

There will be a presidential election in 2012 and the Republicans will have to run somebody, and the Tea Party base of the party, and the evangelicals and every Republican in the South, and everyone west of there, who want anyone even vaguely Mexican taken out back and shot, despise Mitt Romney. He’s too reasonable, or too Mormon, or something. They don’t trust him. His heart doesn’t seem to be in militant take-no-prisoners conservativism that will have nothing to do with gays or women’s rights or science or any kind of social safety net for the pathetic losers who want nothing more than to be handed everyone else’s stuff, for no good reason. Sure, Romney now and then says the right thing, but he’s often enough said the opposite. They don’t trust him, to put it mildly. More accurately, to them, he represents all that’s wrong with America. He might listen to the other side and work out compromises on issues, just to keep the nation functioning. That won’t do. The only thing that keeps his candidacy alive is his support from the Republican establishment – the big money guys, the millionaires and billionaires just like him. He would be good for business.

This is a problem, and of course the party has been trying to find an alternative to Romney, acceptable to all. But that’s been hard. Michele Bachmann wasn’t it – she was just too strange. Donald Trump flirted with the idea of running, but decided against it, as did Chriss Christie, as did Sarah Palin. Rick Perry was then to be the alternative to Romney – but Perry turned out to be a mixture of goofy and lazy and kind of dumb. Oops. Then it was Herman Cain, the former CEO of the pizza chain, who turned out to be an embarrassment. He has never held public office before, and he simply doesn’t know the issues – so he’s running on that. What this country needs is someone with no experience who doesn’t even know what’s what. After all, those with experience, who seem to know what’s what, are the ones who got us into this mess. As he says, this nation needs a leader, not a reader – as it seems you can’t have both. That sort of thing – all the stuff he just doesn’t know, and now says he is proud he doesn’t know, was slowly sinking him – along with all those sexual harassment settlements from his past. And now with a woman claiming a thirteen-year affair with him, it seems Cain may be packing it in – and Andrew Sullivan puts it nicely:

There are only so many lies a man can tell in public, and his previous lies keep requiring him to tell more. Only Palin gets away with that kind of thing. Currently, Cain is at 15 percent. Give much of that to Gingrich – as has been happening so far – and Newt becomes the immediate front-runner, with support in the 40 percent range to Romney’s ceiling of 25. That changes the whole dynamic.

And Romney is faltering:

There are 13 places PPP [Public Policy Polling] has polled the Republican race in October or November where it also did a poll sometime between January and March. In those places Romney’s net favorability has dropped by an average of 15 points over the course of the year.

On average Romney’s favorability with primary voters was 54/25 in these 13 places at the beginning of the year. Now it’s only 50/35. His problem is partially that his positives have gone down but more than that it’s that as his name recognition has increased, most folks moving off the fence have gone into the negative column.

And Sullivan senses what is going on here:

I felt the wind behind Romney disappear in the last debate, and re-emerge behind Gingrich. Now Newt gets the Cain Bounce. And Romney may drift lower. No one likes him. And the more they see him, the less they love.

So now it’s Newt Gingrich – who will tell you he’s the smartest man in the room. Anyone who questions that – as most of what he says turns out to be nonsense or flat-out lies and it’s easy enough to question him – he will say is obviously dumb as a rock and he’ll have nothing to do with such lesser men. He is a bit of a clown, with a nasty past – the messing around and many divorces, and a few years back being forced out as speaker of the House over some serious ethics issues. That’s called resigning in disgrace. But he says of all that, God has forgiven him – and if you cannot understand that, well, then you truly must be dumb as a rock, and godless to boot – and he’ll snort derisively and dismiss you.

Yes, there’s still the ultimate libertarian, Ron Paul, and the ever-odd Rick Santorum, who wants to outlaw birth control because people should never just enjoy sex – it’s nasty. And there is Jon Huntsman, who is quite normal – or relatively normal here – so he polls dead last. He doesn’t have a chance. So it’s Newt. He’s the candidate who is not Romney.

And what are we to make of him? Robert Paul Wolff read Gingrich’s entire PhD dissertation and offers this:

You will want to know right away whether this bit of juvenilia, as it were, shows signs of the mature Newt in full bellow, bombastic, pleased to the point of ecstasy by the sound of his own voice, a Larry Summers without the becoming modesty, if I may put it that way. Not a bit of it! The dissertation is written in a pedantic, serviceable prose, giving no evidence of the Newt that was to emerge as a fully formed Toad. Although the dissertation is written entirely in English, the footnotes give evidence that Gingrich had a quite adequate command of written French.

Newt has an adequate command of written French? So did John Kerry. It would probably be best to keep that quiet.

Yes, there is Newt in full bellow, bombastic, pleased to the point of ecstasy by the sound of his own voice – a clown really – but the likely nominee – unless the big money boys in the shadows can get their man Mitt nominated.

But Newt does well with the base, and for those wondering why that is so, there is this piece by Ben Adler at The Nation:

The answer lies in what many in the mainstream media tend to perceive as a weakness, rather than strength, of Gingrich’s: his over the top rhetorical condemnations of Democrats and liberals. Gingrich’s various pronouncements that strike moderates and liberals as odd are actually effective dog whistles. Here are some examples:

In September, 2010 Gingrich told National Review that Dinesh D’Souza’s widely mocked Forbes article on President Obama provided him with the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama… 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]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

In an October, 2011 presidential debate Gingrich, responding to why no one on Wall Street executives was arrested after the financial crisis, said, “If you want to put people in jail, you ought to start with Barney Frank, Chris Dodd.”

Gingrich has repeatedly denigrated the Occupy Wall Street movement with language that oscillates from dismissive to paranoid. On November 20, he instructed them to “Go get a job, right after you take a bath.” Just a few days earlier Gingrich had decried “the destructive, hostile, anti-civilization of the so-called ‘Occupy Wall Street’ crowd…. They want to tear down our country.”

To most people these sorts of comments seem divisive, foolish and un-presidential. To a movement conservative, though, they hit the sweet spot.

And Digby carries that forward:

This is what the hardcore base craves now more than ever and Newt can give it to them. In fact, it’s the only thing he has to offer. His organizational abilities are nil, his only example of leadership as Speaker of the House ended with a failed coup from his own lieutenants and eventual resignation. He has caused endless headaches among the establishment elders and his ego is so inflated that it threatens to explode him at any given moment.

But when it comes to an overarching theory of conservative righteousness and snarling contempt for liberals, he’s the only politician in the party who can do it with the kind of panache the folks usually only get from wingnut giants like Limbaugh and Coulter. He just sounds like one of them. He’s the original Glenn Beck, but smarter and without all the Mormonism and kooky conspiracy mongering.

The base wants someone to tell them a story, or maybe a fable, about how they are mankind’s saviors from the enemy of all that is good and decent. (That would be liberals.)

It’s their own version of that ode to American narcissism: “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Nobody delivers that better than Newtie. Perhaps his time really has come.

For more on this man’s unique appeal, Digby recommends this piece by Elias Isquith on how Gingrich “gets” it:

As a recent Times report makes plain, Newt knows how to talk to these people with an uncommon authenticity and intimacy. He effortlessly weaves winks and nods toward the far-right id into his pronunciations, and taps into enduringly powerful themes that make-up the GOP base’s worldview.

But there is something more here, related to that now famous David Brooks column on the current Republicans Party:

Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.

The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name. Economists have identified many factors that contribute to economic growth, ranging from the productivity of the work force to the share of private savings that is available for private investment. Tax levels matter, but they are far from the only or even the most important factor.

And Brooks goes on and on, although he has calmed down since he wrote those words in July. But Steve Benen offers this:

This is especially true of Newt Gingrich, who likes to think of himself as his own scholar and intellectual authority. Indeed, the disgraced former House Speaker has a bad habit of destroying important institutions that provide credible scholarship, but which interfere with his larger agenda.

Benen cites Gingrich’s attack on the federal agency in charge of medical effectiveness research – that would be the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research – a group of twenty-three experts who back in 1993 drafted guidelines to help doctors figure out how best to treat low back pain, created in 1989 during the first Bush administration. Its mandate was to come up with evidence-based, clinical-practice guidelines that would help physicians sort through the conflicting data that existed for low back pain, and also for other common treatments and tests. Inappropriate use of unnecessary or useless treatments is damned expensive. And you do want to improve the quality of health care by helping to ensure that doctors give patients the treatments they really needed – and not give them care that could harm them. But that agency said, in the one case, most surgery for lower back pain didn’t do much of anything, and Gingrich was livid. Who is the government to decide that? It was socialism!

And Gingrich spearheaded the elimination of Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment in the 1990s – the office that said stem-cell research might save lives and cure many diseases. Gingrich would have none of that. Even if that was true, he’d keep people from knowing it was true. It was the moral thing to do. Stem-cell research was murder, and the murder of small bundles of unformed cells was still murder.

And now Gingrich has announced his intention to eliminate the Congressional Budget Office – he calls the non-partisan budget office a “reactionary socialist institution” — and conservative Republican former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin had this to say:

I think if you parse that phrase carefully, he got one out of three right. I do agree it is an institution. If you’re playing baseball, that’s a decent batting average.

And Jonathan Bernstein adds this:

Well, Newt does love his words, doesn’t he? And as has been the case for over thirty years, his standard operating procedure is to find institutions to tear down so that he can inherit the mess. Those conservatives who are foolish enough to go along with his joke of a presidential campaign, beware: he’ll turn against your institutions, too, if he thinks there’s short-term advantage (or cash) to be had from it. And he’s not even an especially good judge of that, either. Well, maybe the cash part; I don’t really know.

And there is Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Reagan and a Treasury official under the first President Bush, offering this context:

Mr. Gingrich’s charge is complete nonsense. The former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, now a Republican policy adviser, labeled the description “ludicrous.” Most policy analysts from both sides of the aisle would say the CBO is one of the very few analytical institutions left in government that one can trust implicitly.

It’s precisely its deep reservoir of respect that makes Mr. Gingrich hate the CBO, because it has long stood in the way of allowing Republicans to make up numbers to justify whatever they feel like doing.

And Benen chimes in:

In much the same way Dick the Butcher wanted to kill all the lawyers in Henry VI to promote lawlessness, Gingrich wants to scrap independent budget analysts who’ll get in Republicans’ way. Washington should simply rely on the real expert – Newt Gingrich – and not on those alleged wonks sitting around with calculators.

It’s part of a long-standing pattern for Gingrich, who seems to go out of his way to target legitimate authorities who stand in his way.

And Bartlett looks back on Gingrich’s past:

Mr. Gingrich did everything in his power to dismantle Congressional institutions that employed people with the knowledge, training and experience to know a harebrained idea when they saw it. When he became speaker in 1995, Mr. Gingrich moved quickly to slash the budgets and staff of the House committees, which employed thousands of professionals with long and deep institutional memories.

Of course, when party-control in Congress changes, many of those employed by the previous majority party expect to lose their jobs. But the Democratic committee staff members that Mr. Gingrich fired in 1995 weren’t replaced by Republicans. In essence, the positions were simply abolished, permanently crippling the committee system and depriving members of Congress of competent and informed advice on issues that they are responsible for overseeing.


This anti-intellectualism, alas, is now a standard approach to expertise in Republican circles, who necessarily assume that those with objective knowledge might interfere with GOP policies, and should therefore be discredited, fired, and/or ignored. This is not a healthy attitude when it comes to quality policymaking.

No, it’s not. But Gingrich, as much as he may not really impress the big money boys, does speak to the Tea Party core of the party. And he will tell you he’s doing that because he’s the smartest man in the room, except he isn’t:

Support for the Tea Party – and with it, the Republican Party – has fallen sharply even in places considered Tea Party strongholds, according to an analysis of new polls.

In Congressional districts represented by Tea Party lawmakers, the number of people saying they disagree with the movement has risen significantly since it powered a Republican sweep in midterm elections; almost as many people disagree with it as agree with it, according to the analysis by the Pew Research Center.

Support for the Republican Party has fallen even further in those places than it has in the country as a whole. In the 60 districts represented in Congress by a member of the House Tea Party Caucus, Republicans are now viewed about as negatively as Democrats.

The analysis suggests that the Tea Party may be dragging down the Republican Party heading into a presidential election year, even as it ushered in a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives just a year ago.

Oops. No, that’s Rick Perry’s word. But it could be Newt Gingrich’s word soon enough.

On the other hand, he’s not Mitt Romney. And the party has to run someone in the next election. And he may have to do. And Obama smiles.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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