The assessments excerpted below serve as something of a GOP primary Rorschach test. If you're a Gingrich supporter (as a great many Republicans are), you'll be inclined to cast this editorial gang-beating as a coordinated attempt by the Beltway establishment to puncture and deflate Newt Gingrich's swelling support. If you back another candidate, these unsparing appraisals will be welcomed as the sagacious admonitions of influential conservative stalwarts. Regardless of which interpretation one embraces, it's clear that a wave of anti-Newt commentary -- from the Right -- is building (a trend that Carol briefly notes below). Will it be enough to engulf his campaign? Voters will settle that question; although small signs of slippage have begun to emerge after a previous round of conservative castigation, spearheaded earlier this week by Fred Barnes, Brit Hume, and Charles Krauthammer. Today, another center-right triumverate unloaded on the Republican frontrunner:
We fear that to nominate former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the frontrunner in the polls, would be to blow [the opportunity to win the White House]. We say that mindful of his opponents’ imperfections — and of his own virtues, which have been on display during his amazing comeback. Very few people with a personal history like his — two divorces, two marriages to former mistresses — have ever tried running for president. Gingrich himself has never run for a statewide office, let alone a national one, and has not run for anything since 1998. That year he was kicked out by his colleagues, the most conservative ones especially, who had lost confidence in him. During his time as Speaker, he was one of the most unpopular figures in public life. Just a few months ago his campaign seemed dead after a series of gaffes and resignations. That Gingrich now tops the polls is a tribute to his perseverance, and to Republicans’ admiration for his intellectual fecundity.
Both qualities served conservatives well in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Gingrich, nearly alone, saw the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress and worked tirelessly to bring it about. Even before the takeover, Gingrich helped to solidify the party’s opposition to tax increases and helped to defeat the Clinton health-care plan. The victory of 1994 enabled the passage of welfare reform, the most successful social policy of recent decades. Gingrich’s colleagues were, however, right to bring his tenure to an end. His character flaws — his impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas — made him a poor Speaker of the House. Again and again he combined incendiary rhetoric with irresolute action, bringing Republicans all the political costs of a hardline position without actually taking one. Again and again he put his own interests above those of the causes he championed in public.
Newt Gingrich — the friend of his detractors, to whom he offers serial vindications — provided on Monday redundant evidence for the proposition that he is the least conservative candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination: He faulted Mitt Romney for committing acts of capitalism...This departure from his pledge that his campaign “will be relentlessly positive” represents the virtue of recycling applied to politics. Gingrich is reusing the attack honed by Ted Kennedy in 1994, when Romney suffered a 17-point loss in attempting to take Kennedy’s Senate seat.
Romney surely anticipated that such an attack would come — but from Democrats, in the general election, not from a volatile Republican. He now understands Rep. Paul Ryan’s response when Gingrich attacked his entitlement reform as “right-wing social engineering.” Said Ryan: “With allies like that, who needs the left?”
Try as he might, Gingrich cannot change the fact that, as rival Ron Paul has pointed out in a TV spot, his reported net worth went from $10,000 when he entered Congress in 1978 to $7.5 million when he left Congress in 1998. And remember, it was only then that he began making millions by selling access to his vast networks of influential Washington contacts to clients like PhRMA and Freddie Mac. Combined with his rhetorical unpredictability and short-fuse temperament -- he is like an exploding cigar, waiting to be lit -- Gingrich's insider status makes him a symbol of congressional back-scratching and an easy target for Obama's political hit squads.
It is not unusual in politics for voters to project their hopes and dreams onto a fresh candidate. But Gingrich is hardly a blank slate. It should be remembered that he is the only Speaker ever to be reprimanded by the House of Representatives, and was ordered to pay $300,000 in penalties because of his ethical transgressions. It also needs to be remembered that he was engaging in an adulterous affair with a twentysomething aide (now his wife) even as he was preparing the impeachment of President Clinton for having an adulterous affair with a twentysomething intern. Republican voters seem to be engaging in willful amnesia about what is euphemistically called Gingrich's "baggage." They shouldn't: It would be used against him in ugly ways in a general election campaign.
National Review's Jonah Goldberg offers a dissenting view, arguing that Newt is immune to the commentariat's barbs because his flaws have been widely disseminated for many years:
First, what are you going to say about the guy that people don’t already know? Just as it’s okay to speak openly about the fact that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, Gingrich’s backstory provides no spoilers. Herman Cain was undone because people were still forming their first impressions of him. Everything bad about Gingrich — the flip-flops, the wives, the ego — is known. Once voters have convinced themselves they can overlook that stuff, it’s hard to change their minds simply by repeating it. Moreover, conservative voters distrust the conservative establishment — variously defined — almost as much as they distrust the liberal establishment. (That’s why David Brooks, the notoriously moderate New York Times columnist, leveled the most vicious charge he could against Gingrich: He touted their similarities!)
...Moreover, the times may be ripe for precisely the sort of vexing, vainglorious, and all-too-human revolutionary Gingrich claims to be. That’s the argument a few people have been wrestling with (most notably John Ellis for RealClearPolitics.com and Steven Hayward for National Review Online). Gingrich, after all, is the only candidate to actually move the government rightward. While getting wealthy off the old order, he’s been plotting for decades how to get rid of it. To paraphrase Lenin, perhaps the K Streeters paid Gingrich to build the gallows he will hang them on?
I highly encourage you to click through and read all four pieces in their entirety. I disagree with several of the arguments advanced -- including NR's suggestion that certain other candidates, like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, be "excluded" from consideration, and the Examiner's fawning portrayal of Mitt Romney as a Reaganesque conservative champion -- but they're all worth your time. As my own editorial placement indicates, I'd recommend reading Jonah's column last; it's by far the funniest and posits insightful counterpoints to the other three pieces. I'll leave you with two observations from the road here in Iowa:
(1) If my experience listening to talk radio during my travels are any indication, tomorrow night's debate in Sioux City could get rather heated. Rick Perry is running brutal radio ads in Iowa, skewering Newt and Mitt as "bad" and "worse" on healthcare. Gingrich's recent sneering at Romney's private sector record belies his pledge to run a "relentlessly positive" campaign. Romney ticked off a list of Newt's heresies to Sean Hannity this afternoon, ripping the former Speaker for the Bain attack. Newt childishly has fueled the silly narrative about Romney's $10,000 "out of touch" bet moment. Romney has fired back by dredging up the Newt/Callista/Tiffany's non-story, and has seemed rather petty in the process. As I said, tomorrow might get ugly.
(2) Many Iowans remain undecided. Of the two dozen or so voters I've spoken to at any length, well over half have not settled on a candidate yet. They may be leaning, but ever so cautiously. In other words, there are many votes yet to be swayed, and today's polling may not amount to a hill of beans on January 3rd.
UPDATE - Enter Ann Coulter. Oof:
It's true that Newt has had some good ideas -- but also boatloads of bad ones, such as his support for experimentation on human embryos, cap and trade, policies to combat imaginary man-made global warming, an individual health insurance mandate, Dede Scozzafava (Romney supported the tea party candidate), amnesty for illegal aliens, Al Gore's bill to establish an "Office of Critical Trends Analysis" to prepare government reports on "alternative futures" (co-sponsored by Gingrich), and thinking he could get away with taking $1.6 million from Freddie Mac without anyone noticing.
During the ethics investigation, the committee also found among Newt's personal papers a sketch of himself as a stick figure at the center of the universe. On one page, Newt called himself: "definer of civilization, teacher of the rules of civilization, arouser of those who fan civilization, organizer of the pro-civilization activists, leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces." This is not a small-government conservative talking. It is not a conservative at all.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography