As the GOP presidential nomination campaign begins to heat up, I continue to be fascinated by the Newt Gingrich candidacy. What began as seemingly an attempt to merely get some face time to promote some ideas and, conceivably, his consulting business has gradually emerged into a legitimate chance of capturing the nomination. Heading into a South Carolina foreign policy debate today, he is either 1st, 2nd or 3rd in every poll.
Perhaps “meteoric” is a bit too strong a term to describe his ascendancy toward legitimacy; Herman Cain’s rise was more of the meteoric variety. Gingrich’s ascension has been more the result of a methodical, deliberate and steadfast approach, coupled with a much softer, less self-promoting style that has won over many potential GOP voters.
During the early debate season I pointed out that Gingrich seemed to be the only candidate on the stage who was not citing his resume and who also was offering gratuitous compliments to his competitors. I, evidently like many others, found this to be especially refreshing relative to the bickering (Perry-Romney) and experience touting (Bachman-Santorum) displayed by the field. In essence, Gingrich’s approach was more similar with Ron Paul’s: no sugar-coating, tell it like it is, don’t worry about the consequences. Yet Paul, who will simply never be able to win over mainstream Republicans due to his non interventionist foreign policy views, remains in low single digits, where Gingrich began. Evidently Newt did take a momentary respite from the soft Newt 2.0 in a chippy exchange with CNBC debate moderator Maria Bartiromo. Otherwise he’s portraying a different persona from the demonized, acidic, abrasive (though acerbic) Gingrich we came to know during the ’95 and ’96 budget battles with President Clinton.
When Newt first announced his presidency, he was hammered from the Right Wing media over his global warming PSA with Nancy Pelosi. He now concedes that it was a huge mistake. However, it should be noted that during the time since Gingrich resigned as Speaker of the House he has been committed to promoting bipartisan solutions; specifically, ideas with poll support of 80% or higher. That explains the Pelosi ad.
Other than that, the perceived bugaboo that would hold back any shot of a Gingrich nomination was his “personal peccadilloes” - to use the term many pundits applied to Bill Clinton’s alleged persona as sexual predator. In Newt’s case, the peccadillo was merely falling for a younger woman while still technically married to his wife, thus, like Clinton, being an adulterer. Needless to say, the religious Right will hold such an act against a GOP candidate more than the Left will do toward a Democrat.
But you know, I found out something interesting while listening to Sean Hannity the other day. He cited the widespread narrative that Newt was such an evil man that he “divorced his first wife while she was dying of cancer.”
Indeed, I can remember people parroting that narrative. What I didn’t realize until the other day when Hannity (he and Newt go way back to Hannity’s Atlanta talk radio days) mentioned it is that Gingrich’s first wife is still alive! Go figure. I mean the divorce was, what, a decade ago? She was dying of cancer but she ultimately pulled through. Maybe divorcing her was the best thing he could’ve done for her. Now he’s on his second marriage which seems to be thriving. Reagan, same thing. Yes, some Conservative politicians do get divorced. Everyone gets a do-over apparently. Based on Gingrich’s performance in recent polls, he’s getting one as well. And, if you take away the personal issues – much like what Rudy Giuliani had to battle when he ran for the nomination four years ago – then based on experience, intelligence, and common sense ideas, Gingrich is clearly your best GOP candidate.
The revelation that his first wife still lives really put things into a different light for me. I too was somewhat holding it against him. But now I can rethink it a bit. Perhaps the “death bed” characterization was exaggerated by a enemy media. After all, not many people ever get up from that bed.
One other point on this: reporting the bad Newt news while not providing the postscript is part of the media playbook. That his first wife survived his death bed divorce is one example where you had to follow Right Wing media to hear that postscript is one example. A second and even more significant example was the trumped up ethics charges against then Speaker Gingrich, for teaching a history class at a university while being employed as a US Representative.
This was headline news. I will never forget Tom Brokaw one night on NBC news telling us, “It’s big trouble for the Speaker.”
Many months later, Gingrich was exonerated of any ethics violations, but this did not make the headlines.
Anyway, though there doesn’t appear to be any live TV coverage of tonight’s foreign policy debate, one in which I’d expect Newt to do well, I’ll be looking forward to the news and sound bytes that derive from this event. At this point you can’t count out Gingrich. And let’s face it, if the media narrative is that the GOP field has imploded and no one has a shot at beating President Obama next November, then whom – perhaps besides Ron Paul – would you rather see debating the President next year? That would be must-see TV for sure.