There is one good thing we can say about Newt Gingrich: he can play to a crowd. This makes him an effective politician. But on the eve of the South Carolina primary, where Gingrich is either beating Romney by 6 (PPP [pdf]), down by 10 (Gallup), or more or less in a dead heat up by 2 (Ramussen), I don’t think we have reason to fear that Gingrich will be the nominee. That’s because he’s evil.
Gingrich became the Speaker of the House after the republican takeover in 1995. He had helped engineer this takeover with the Contract with America and figured centrally, along with President Clinton, over the government shutdown that year, where federal workers were furloughed over budget intransigence. This wasn’t the first government shutdown, but it was the most widely felt and most politicized, and the republicans ended up taking the blame, aiding in costing the republicans the presidency in 1996. Oops! But Gingrich actually broke laws in addition to being a lousy speaker: he was the first speaker in history to be assessed a fine over an ethics probe and eventually was forced to resign the speakership by his own party after poor showings in 1998 election.
Then we have Gingrich’s poisonous racial and anti-poor views: riding the Reagan-esque rhetoric of “welfare queens,” he helped pass the stringent (and reviled) welfare reform of 1996 which obviously targets racial minorities disproportionately, and he recently defended his offensive declaration that black people ought to “demand jobs, not food stamps.” He has repeatedly called Obama a “food stamp president” since about 15% of Americans now use them, but doesn’t acknowledge the role that the economic collapse and rising poverty might have played: for Gingrich, it is enough just to connect Obama to this statistic. But amazingly, Gingrich himself is the welfare queen: in 2003, he played a major role through vocal advocacy in passing Medicare Part D, the expensive prescription drug benefit that helps explain the yawning federal debt. Welfare for old white people is — of course — a fine thing; it’s when the welfare targets young black people that problems arise.
But Gingrich’s most damning behaviour centers around his views on marriage. Newt publicly supports “traditional marriage” between one man and one woman, including support for DOMA, which he helped to pass as Speaker in 1996 (and a constitutional amendment if DOMA is found to be illegal, and condemnation for Obama’s failure to defend it); opposes adoption of children to gay and lesbian couples, citing religious interests; and, famously, lead the charge to investigate President Clinton for his own marital infidelities shortly before resigning the speakership over that aforementioned ethics problem.
That last issue has had a resurgence in the media after the shocking revelation that Newt apparently sought “an open marriage” with his second wife while he was cheating on her with his third and current wife. It’s no secret that Gingrich has had three wives, and even converted to Catholicism to get with Callista, who is 23 years younger than he. He divorced his first wife, Jackie, while she was recovering from cancer after having an affair with his second wife; and he divorced his second wife, Marianne, after failing to get that open marriage thing to cover his affair with Callista. What’s amazing is that, to gain conservative support for his presidential run, Newt now cites his influential support of DOMA while failing to mention he was cheating on Marianne while lobbying for that bill. Furthermore, he is rewriting history about the Clinton impeachment to try and cover the inherent hypocrisy of vilifying the president for virtually the same thing he was doing at the time. His defense for all this: passionate patriotism drove him to base behaviour, which he regrets in retrospect. Lolwut?
Understandably, all this deserves some media attention as Gingrich courts the GOP presidential nod, and it has commanded attention for years even before the revelations of the second wife. The moderator of the most recent republican debate, the last one before the South Carolina primary, thought the same, and opened the debate with a question about this bombshell. The question was perhaps a poor choice though for an opening question, since it allowed Gingrich to reply thus: “I’m appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.” Despite the obvious utility of the question, the relevance of the hypocrisy it exposes, the questions of character it raises, the fact that this is the 20th-or-so debate the GOP has engaged — when can this kind of question be posed if not after hours and hours of televised discussion of the ‘real issues?’ — Newt was able to fire back against the “elite media” in a way that resulted in a majority of conservative pundits calling the debate for him. Look at how skillfully Gingrich can play the crowd!
But my first point, that we have no reason to fear a Gingrich general campaign, is supported by all this. Gingrich has his supporters, but he could not muster a winnable campaign for president. He is too vulnerable to attacks from the GOP on welfare and marital hypocrisy, and from the general electorate on popular issues like gay marriage due to his marital hypocrisy. He is basically unlikable. It seems to me that decent people can only conclude that he is some kind of evil. The republican establishment will not allow him to win the nomination, just as they won’t let Paul win it. The only sober analysis remains, despite ongoing and desperate mainstream media hype trying to suggest otherwise, that Romney is the inevitable candidate. Gingrich might win South Carolina tomorrow, a Southern red state sympathetic to his brand of white racism and male privilege, but I don’t believe it will translate to a mandate for opposing Obama in November.
UPDATE: The always-excellent Charles Blow of the New York Times had a column today that echoes many of these points, and also drives home the point that Gingrich cannot be an effective opponent for Obama in the general election. It is for this reason that Gingrich will not win the nomination; the anxiety he causes his party as a result of his fringe views and tepid personality is simply insurmountable.