Largely because I used to be politically involved with Newt Gingrich, readers often chide me for supposedly boosting him as a presidential candidate.
It's more accurate and pertinent to say that I view Gingrich as a likely, viable candidate for president in 2008 simply because I know how he thinks. And he thinks brilliantly.
But I see another side to Newt. That's a reason that always made me the friend he least likes to talk with regularly.
This is the version of Newt that listens to advice from people he thinks are geniuses, but who do some of the dumbest political things imaginable.
Both to those keeping my e-mail inbox stuffed to overcapacity with expressions of their support for Gingrich for president in 2008, and to the many more who have doubts, I owe complete frankness on this subject.
At the same time, it's also fair to everyone, including Gingrich, that I reaffirm that I'm his loyal friend. In fact, Gingrich could probably disclose the depths of that loyalty better than I. The point is that this isn't a hit job on him. To the contrary, it's a plea.
Let me explain. The news is out that Gingrich's new political "527" group, American Solutions for Winning the Future, received its first significant early contribution of $1 million from the head of a Las Vegas gaming and hotel empire. This knocked me down with shock.
For once, Newt, listen to those whom you know have political sense. Give the money back, now.
I'm sure the donor is honorable and has good intentions, but this generosity unfortunately comes in the wake of an entire year in which Republicans have been pummeled for their ties to the gaming industry. Remember Jack Abramoff? Ralph Reed?
Newt's ability to raise funds is legendary. His concept of researching new ideas for America and sharing them with any and all takers -- including presidential contenders -- is laudable. But these strong points of Gingrich's will be a secondary consideration by potential supporters of his potential candidacy if he continues to operate with a Vegas high-roller image.
I think he should run for president and that he has a stronger chance of making waves than pundits give him credit for. But not if he travels this road. It's madness.
Most frustrating to me is that this is a repeat of a decades-old pattern of Newt's. He's prone to thinking those he surrounds himself with are infallible.
They're good people with good ideas. But they're not always right. Especially when it comes to money.
Remember GOPAC? It was a sincere effort to expand the Republican grassroots effort across America. That is, until greed and sloppy accounting led to trouble.
Next came Gingrich's teaching of a series of college courses -- again, brilliant -- that were broadcast across America by a satellite hookup. The university involved was accused of political favoritism. Again, poor planning left mud on Newt's face.
The list goes on.
Here's the key, and the secret. Few if any of these ideas that go awry come from Newt. Almost always it's a sincere Gingrich "insider" who persuades him that some new idea is the best ever. The problem is that if it isn't, it's Newt who takes the heat.
A million dollars is a million reasons to convince yourself that the donor is an honorable citizen who has every right to give.
That's true enough. But it won't solve the problem of the "527" group now looking like a front for gaming interests. Or worse, a loud echo to the Abramoff scandal.
There's no wrongdoing here, just political misjudgment.
Of course, some surrounding Newt may say, "Who cares about the presidency?"
That's the same logic used when Gingrich needlessly gave up the U.S. House speakership when he had the votes to stay in power.
Gingrich is uniquely qualified to turn this nation around as its president. I believe that.
I don't believe this 527 slot machine will pay off.
Newt, take the best advice I ever got from someone in Vegas: Leave town with the same bankroll you arrived with. It's the only way to win on the strip.
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