Not Newt: Eight Reasons Conservatives Can Do Better than Gingrich November 19, 2011, Matthew Cochrane
In this topsy-turvy primary season, Republican voters are looking for a competent and authentic conservative in hopes of not having to settle for Mitt Romney as the party’s nominee. The auditions for the “anti-Mitt” or “not-Mitt” candidate have been vigorous and competitive. First there was Michelle Bachmann. When she didn’t work out, Texas Governor Rick Perry was given a shot to audition for the role. When he couldn’t nail down the script’s lines (almost literally), Herman Cain was given the part. Now it appears GOP primary voters are giving former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich a hard look.
In these perilous times, it has fallen on me to bring my conservative brothers and sisters an important message: Stay away from Newt! It is not my place to question the task I have been given, only to faithfully carry it out. So here it goes…
First, let me state that, for the record, I understand why conservatives have fallen in love with Newt over the past several weeks. I get it. In many ways, Newt is our movement’s greatest communicator since Ronald Reagan. Even while acknowledging that the competition for that spot has been a little weak, Gingrich deservedly earns praise for his crisp and clear communication of conservative ideals.
Gingrich mostly dazzles in debates and interviews. He’s smart, intelligent and isn’t afraid to intellectually smack down a reporter or two who asks a biased or stupid question. Conservatives, myself included, eat that stuff up. We’ve been watching liberal reporters lead and trap our seemingly-hapless political candidates for years. For the past twelve years we’ve had to deal with two men, George W. Bush and John McCain, who were honest and sincere but a bit slow-footed in debates and on the stump. In 2008, conservatives were treated to the interview we dare not mention by name. This year we’ve had to deal with two other candidates, Perry and Cain, stumble over themselves in debates and interviews.
Against this backdrop, Gingrich emerges as a public speaking tour de force. After each and every GOP presidential debate this year, conservatives went to bed dreaming about Gingrich debating President Obama next fall. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg adds:
Watching Gingrich walk onto the debate stage, it’s like seeing a great beast returned to its natural habitat. They should play “Born Free” whenever he comes out from behind the curtain.
The tactic works because the unifying conviction among hard-core Republican voters is that Obama is both overrated and full of it, a man pretending to be presidential and intellectual rather than the real thing. (Ironically, Gingrich has long been the subject of similar criticisms, mostly from the left.) Gingrich’s promise to goad Obama into a fair fight is beyond tantalizing.
Talk to rank-and-file conservatives about such a matchup and they grow giddy, like nerds asked if they’d like to see a battle between Darth Vader and Gandalf the wizard. Ask them if they’d like to see an Obama versus Romney debate (the thrilla with vanilla!) and they shrug. Meanwhile, if you nominate Gingrich, you’ll get a ticket to the fight of the century.
The prospect is making conservatives too giddy, however; we are letting it cloud our better judgment. We can do better. Gingrich is neither the most electable candidate nor is he the most conservative. Nor is he a happy medium. In other words, he is the worst of both worlds. Lists and lists of reasons can be given as to why this is so but, for our purposes, let’s just stick with the eight biggest:
1)Freddie Mac. What triggered the economic recession we are currently suffering through? Most Americans would say the housing crisis. Most Americans would be right. For three years, conservatives have been preaching that it was not a lack of federal regulation – as liberals like to proclaim – but governmental overreach, primarily through risky mortgages underwritten and approved by the GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that caused the crisis. I wholeheartedly believe this to be true myself. As it turns out, Gingrich was given approximately $1.6-1.8 million over an eight year period to act as a consultant for Freddie Mac:
Newt Gingrich made between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in consulting fees from two contracts with mortgage company Freddie Mac, according to two people familiar with the arrangement.
The total amount is significantly larger than the $300,000 payment from Freddie Mac that Gingrich was asked about during a Republican presidential debate on Nov. 9 sponsored by CNBC, and more than was disclosed in the middle of congressional investigations into the housing industry collapse.
Gingrich’s business relationship with Freddie Mac spanned a period of eight years. When asked at the debate what he did to earn a $300,000 payment in 2006, the former speaker said he “offered them advice on precisely what they didn’t do,” and warned the company that its lending practices were “insane.” Former Freddie Mac executives who worked with Gingrich dispute that account.
In other words, if Gingrich is the nominee we will have to endure months of commercials highlighting Gingrich’s rich contract with the infamous GSE asking what Gingrich advised the organization to do. Did Gingrich even see the crisis coming when he was working for Freddie Mac? According to an interviewwith Greta Van Susteren, he did not:
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, in terms of Freddie Mac, though, did you spot what was coming in terms of the housing industry crisis? Did you tell them, you know, Look, you know, this is a real problem? You know, this is about to blow up on the nation. Did you see that coming?
VAN SUSTEREN: And did you warn them?
GINGRICH: Look, you could see in conversations, particularly by 2007, that the loan standards were becoming absurd. That was just — that was patently obvious…
I don’t think anybody, whether the chairman of the Federal Reserve or the Council of Economic Advisers or other folks — there were very few people who saw the intensity of the housing problem as it broke loose.
That’s a pretty resounding “No.” While Gingrich was working closely with Freddie Mac, giving them counsel, the Republicans were working to reform the GSE’s. They never got it done. The rest is history.
Furthermore, how do you think this will play with the public if Gingrich is nominated? Think this will play well to the American public who will be looking for someone who can turn the economy around? Making millions from one of the key organizations that caused the housing crisis? Or that he didn’t have the foresight to predict the problem? Sure, there are lots of people who could be found guilty of the latter charge, but how many were so closely related to the process and made so many millions from one of the integrally-involved organizations.
2)The Paul Ryan Putdown. This should be the unforgiveable sin. As a basic litmus test for all Republican candidates, conservatives should have them support Paul Ryan’s Budget to Prosperity. It has been the only serious attempt by a politician in Washington, D.C. to fix our debt crisis and get our budget deficits under control. Yet this past May, in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Gingrich called Ryan’s plan “radical” and an example of rightwing social engineering. As Paul Ryan said the very next day, “With a allies like that, who needs the Left?” Here’s Charles Krauthammer slamming Gingrich for his comments the very next day, calling Newt’s comments a “capital offense”:
Krauthammer wasn’t the only conservative pundit offering Gingrich scathing criticism. Rush Limbaugh also jumped into the fray:
Not only was this comment about as far from conservative orthodoxy as one can get, it was also incredibly tone deaf. This is the great communicator we want going up against Obama?
3)Dede Scozzafava. Remember her? About one year after Obama was elected there was a special Congressional election in New York. Due to special circumstances, there was no Republican primary runoff and the local party officials nominated she-who-has-a-long-and-unpronounceable-last-name. Scozzafava was pro-choice. She supported the stimulus. Yet all of that paled in her support for Obamacare, which was then riling up Tea Party conservatives across the nation. Democrats were frantically trying to gather up the necessary votes for the measure in the House, making the special election in upper state New York especially important.
The voters of NY-23 would not stand for having to choose between two candidates who supported Obamacare. In response, businessman Doug Hoffman ran on the Conservative Party ticket, quickly winning widespread support and endorsements from conservatives across the country like Sarah Palin. Hoffman quickly surpassed Scozzafava in the polls, and was gaining on Hoffman in the final weeks leading up to the election.
A few days before the election, an unexpected endorsement came in for Scozzafava, making her a more palatable choice for many.
“Our best chance to put responsible and principled leaders in Washington starts here, with Dede Scozzafava.” – Newt Gingrich
I can never forgive Newt for what he did to Doug Hoffman in 2009.
While thousands of grassroots conservatives all across the country were doing all they could to elect Hoffman in the NY-23 special election, Gingrich spent three weeks telling everybody that Dede Scozzafava was “our best hope.” He kept going on TV to repeat the counterfactual assertion that Dede was the unaminous choice of Republicans in the district, while suggsting that Hoffman — a mild-mannered accountant — was some kind of wild-eyed extremist, and that those of us who supported Hoffman were ignorant of the realities in the district. Of course, Newt himself never even bothered to visit that district, and was just repeating what he had been told by the clueless hacks in the New York GOP leadership and at the NRCC.
When push came to shove, as we all remember, Dede quit on Halloween — the Saturday before Election Day — and endorsed the Democrat on Sunday, which was just about the only thing she could have done to prevent Hoffman from winning. In the end, Bill Owens won by less than 4,000 vote out of more than 150,000 votes cast in the special election, with Dede leaving her name on the ballot to collect some 8,500 votes, which was greater than Owens’s margin of victory.
It was Dede Scozzafava, not Doug Hoffman, who was the marginal “spoiler” candidate in that election, a role she played with Newt’s wholehearted support.
4)Ethanol subsidies. One reason Gingrich is doing so well in Iowa? He’s about the only Republican left on the planet that still supports ethanol subsidies. Even Romney believes they should be phased out over time. Not Newt. Despite their direct link to increased food prices and being an affront to a little thing I like to call the “free market”, Gingrich still supports the earmark. In this time of renewed focus on fiscal responsibility, it looks even worse. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journalnoted, “Even Al Gore now admits that the only reason he supported ethanol in 2000 was to goose his presidential prospects, and the only difference now between Al and Newt is that Al admits he was wrong.” Yes, Gingrich is sufficiently to the left of Al Gore on ethanol subsidies. Coincidentally, Gingrich has also been paid lots of money from the ethanol lobby.
5)Global warming. Yes, yes, I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating: Newt Gingrich co-starred in an ad calling for government action on global warming with…Nancy Pelosi. You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried:
I mean, seriously? This is the best conservatives can do? Come on!
6)Medicare Part D. Question: What is the biggest entitlement ever passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by a Republican president? Answer: Medicare Part D. Did Gingrich support this? Yes. Yes, he did. But, wait, it gets better. Not only did he support the measure, he convinced Republicans to scrap a scaled down version that was only going to give the benefits to “poor” seniors who qualified for them, in favor for a bill that gave the entitlements to all seniors. In other words, thanks to his lobbying and support, the entitlement grew exponentially before it was ever enacted. But, wait, it gets even better. Gingrich originally only supported the scaled-down version. What changed his mind? A little talk with the drug and pharmaceutical lobby. Hmm, imagine that. The Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney expounds:
But there may be much more to Gingrich's advocacy work than has been reported so far. For instance, a former employee of the nation's biggest drug lobby told me Gingrich was being paid by the drug industry during the 2003 debate over the Medicare prescription drug benefit.
While the Bush White House and the Republican congressional leadership supported a bill creating a new entitlement for all seniors, Washington conservatives mostly opposed the bill. Gingrich went around Washington at the time plumping for the bill to free-market groups and activists.
"In the height of the debate," one conservative opponent of the bill told me, "Newt was calling around" selling the bill as a great conservative measure even though it was a new federal entitlement.
Bob Moffitt of the Heritage Foundation, another veteran of the Medicare drug battle, tells me that early in the debate Gingrich favored a Medicare drug benefit only for the poor. The drug lobby, however, had settled on backing a drug benefit for everyone on Medicare. Gingrich soon changed his tune, and began pushing the universal benefit.
7)The individual health care mandate. Yeah, he supported it back in the 1990’s but does he still support it? Quite possibly. National Review’s Karina Trinko unearths that in his 2008 book, Real Change, he writes, “Finally, we should insist that everyone above a certain level buy [health-care] coverage (or, if they are opposed to insurance, post a bond).” Er, what? Then in the Meet the Pressinterview mentioned above, he again supports the idea of the mandate. That was in May. Six months ago. During the GOP presidential primary. If that’s what he’s saying now, what will he do or say in the general election?
8)Personal baggage. Gingrich is on his third marriage. In his first marriage, he cheated on his first wife with his second wife. Wife #1 gets cancer. After he divorced wife #1, he married wife #2. Here’s where it gets salacious. During the Clinton impeachment trials over…marriage infidelity…Gingrich cheats on his second wife with wife #3. Wife #2 gets cancer. Gingrich divorces wife #2, marries wife #3. Follow all that? Don’t worry, if Gingrich wins the nomination, Americans for Personal Character, or some other 501(c) group, will replay the ad about 500 times in the weeks leading up to the general election. The end shot will be President Obama lovingly holding his two little daughters. About the only positive thing Obama has left is his personal image. Nominating Gingrich invites these types of attacks and plays into Obama’s strength.
Just wait until the press interviews his former wives. Yes, Gingrich should be forgiven. I believe in forgiveness. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be real life consequences for his actions or that conservatives should abandon the notion that “personal character matters.” It does. Personal uprightness, character, and integrity are also all electable traits.
To be fair, Gingrich has walked back and/or flip-flopped on many of these issues over the course of his campaign. That being said, his many changes of heart make Mitt Romney look like a rock of consistency by contrast. If we must vote for a candidate who has flip-flopped on numerous positions, I will take the politician who did most of his switching seven to eight years ago; not the controversial candidate who has had to walk back several positions since the start of his presidential campaign earlier this year! Conservatives need to think long and hard before voting for Newt Gingrich this primary season. We need to do better if we want to defeat President Obama at the polls. We need to do better if we want a strong, principled conservative in office.
Update: Two things about Gingrich’s personal life. First, it was his first wife who had cancer, not his second wife as I originally stated. Second, Gingrich has largely debunked the account that he divorced his wife while she was in the hospital suffering through cancer. I knew this and meant to point it out earlier. My point in bringing it up is that Gingrich has been fighting this vicious rumor his entire career and the rumor still persists. It will be omnipresent during a general election matchup and hurt Gingrich’s chances as he has to explain – over and over again his past infidelities. That being said, I should have been more careful to include this information in the original post.
And your alternative? Surely you haven't forgotten Mitt's laundry list of liberalism? Are we to support Rick Perry as he learns how to speak? How about gaffe-prone Cain? A wasted vote on Santorum? Bachmann? I've thought a lot about this election. Most of my thoughts are typically that I wish we had a principled politician like Ryan or Rubio. Once I get beyond them, I am left with a menu of candidates, and all of the frontrunners seem to bear mortal wounds. Into this dark political abyss, I have concluded that I want the candidate that can best communicate conservatism. For me, I am losing hope of winning in 2012. But I will die on the field with someone who can perhaps communicate persuasively. It's frustrating as hell, but our 2012 decision is not about excitement, but pragmatism. I still lean toward Newt.
- Sam K (11/19/11 11:31 AM)
Yes. Newt is the only way to get our basic ideals out there this time around unfortunately. Sorry, you are wrong here.
- Paul (11/19/11 12:37 PM)
This has definitely been one of the most interesting primaries in some time. As you point out, the "base" has moved from one candidate to the next to the next and so on. There are good reasons for this and they are all good ones. This seeming fickleness of the electorate is nothing more than a healthy result of the natural vetting process of a hotly contested primary. In turn, the voters have flirted with Bachman, perry, Cain and, now, Gingrich. As they find politically fatal flaws in these candidate they move on. This is exactly how it should be, don't you think?
I think there are lots of people like me who gave been drawn to Gingrich by his obvious strengths. He has shown a thorough command of the numerous issues required of a president that is unmatched by anyone else. He has shown a natural leadership that has attracted a large following and, so far at least, has managed to keep that following. Yes, I think by now everyone is fully aware of Newt's personal and professional failgs; they are numerous and public. But, still, people are willing to forgive him and trust that the natural talents that they se in him will carry the day.
Is this wrong? I don't think so. It's interesting to note that all the candidates you mentioned at the beginning of your article have seen their fortunes rise and fall as voters condidered their various sttrengths and weaknesses and found them wanting. Others, like Santorum, never really got off the gound due to a lack of communicative skill, lack of charisma or even a lack of the leadership needed to propel then into the top tier. Two others, though have stayed relatively flat. Ron Paul has his devoted followers but he really hasn't broken out of the bottom tier and has stayed somewhere around 10% at best. Romney, also, hasn't managed to increase his support and has stayed below 30% the entire time. This certainly shows us that there's plenty of room for a candidate like Newt to come in and take the lead as he seems to be doing now.
Not too long ago I wrote Newt off as a fringe candidate and gave him no chance to take the nimination. Now, I have come full circle and I plan on voting for him unless a better candidate comes along. That "better" candidate had better hurry, thiough as the first primaries are only weeks away.
- Verbatim (11/19/11 9:05 PM)
Who do we support? They are all losers!
- Anonymous (11/19/11 11:02 PM)
Only need one reason to vote for Newt...the not Romney alternative