Paul Greenberg

By now Mr. Gingrich, never short of explanations, has produced several to cover his tracks. For example, he was no lobbyist, he just offered "strategic advice over a long period of time." What's more, it was very good advice. We have his word for it, even if those who received that advice, and paid a couple of million for services rendered, may dispute that contention.

Whatever the $1.6-million truth, Newt Gingrich is now campaigning against the interlocking Washington culture of lobbyists, politicians and sharp operators in general. This is the man who's going to clean up that culture? Heck, he is that culture.

It's one thing to be the Prodigal Son who comes home after his wastrel years to find a warm welcome and a fatted calf waiting. But as the scandals in this one's record are examined again, the suspicion grows that Newt is aiming to be a perpetual prodigal. No problem: He's always prepared to explain away any old moral or fiscal failures. He's very good at it, and why shouldn't he be? He's had so much experience at it.

Wasn't there a time when character was the meme of Republican presidential nominees? They may have been dull, their politics may not have appealed, they may have lacked that clintonesque adroitness when it came to dodging tough questions, but candidates like Bob Dole and John McCain had character. Their military records were a testament to it. Is this the party that is now going to nominate a Washington fixture like New Gingrich for president because he gives stirring speeches about clean, lean government?

If only Newt's fine words were borne out by his record. They aren't. To call that record checkered would be an understatement. It's scandalous. But we're told he's a sharp debater, an uncontested distinction that won't be completely satisfying until some way can be found to have the man debate himself. That would be a show. But only a sideshow. Unlike electing a president of the United States, which ought to be a serious business for serious candidates.

Like every other non-Romney who's led the GOP field -- for a while -- Newt Gingrich's principal function in his party's presidential race has been to make Mitt Romney look like not just the inevitable Republican choice for president but the soundest one the GOP could make.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.