Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Presidential" Newt and the Futuristic Novel Vacation

Note: I'm scheduled to appear on the Ed Schultz radio show today at 12:05 central time, talking about my 1996 book Newt Gingrich: Capitol Crimes and Misdemeanors (now available on Google Books). Please tune in.

Who won the debate last night? From a purely technical standpoint, Rick Santorum won the debate, but it may be too late for him to be taken seriously. Mitt Romney got his hits in, but Newt Gingrich looked like the frontrunner, he acted like the frontrunner, and he didn't get knocked down.

On NBC, Andrea Mitchell and other analysts were talking about Gingrich looking “presidential,” essentially because he didn't act like Newt Gingrich. Whenever the words “presidential” and “Gingrich” occur in a sentence that's not the punchline to a joke, it's a victory for Newt.

Romney lost his one advantage on the far right he had, on immigration, by agreeing with Newt on the Dream Act and by talking about the rather ridiculous idea of “self-deportation.” Appearing more moderate on immigration might help in Florida, but it will hurt Romney with Republicans elsewhere. It shows that Romney is desperate to win in Florida.

Of course, everything Romney said about Gingrich is completely true. Gingrich was in fact a lobbyist, and Gingrich has been “influencing peddling” his entire career.

In fact, Gingrich began influence peddling before he ever won an election. One of my favorite stories from my 1996 book Newt Gingrich: Capitol Crimes and Misdemeanors is how in 1977 (after two failed attempts at Congress), a group of Gingrich's donors gave him $15,000 (that's over $50,000 in today's dollars) for a family vacation in Europe. They did it under the guise of Nomohan, Ltd., a limited partnership created solely to invest in Newt's proposal to write a futuristic novel which he would “research” in Europe. That's a lot of money for a vacation, especially for a man who never made more than $15,400 a year teaching at West Georgia College. The man who organized Gingrich's novel vacation deal, his friend Chester Roush, received more than $12.6 million in federal subsidies for his real estate ventures, and Gingrich twice intervened with federal officials to make personal appeals for his friend to receive government money.

So when Romney accuses Gingrich of “influence peddling,” it's not a futuristic novel, it's history—not the kind of “history” that Freddie Mac pays you $1.6 million to discuss, but real history.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Rise of Newt

Newt Gingrich resurrected his political career in South Carolina last night, and he did it by returning to his roots. Gingrich is one of the greatest negative politicians ever to hold power in Washington. As I noted in my 1996 book, Newt Gingrich: Capitol Crimes and Misdemeanors (available on Google Books), Gingrich rose to power based on his C-SPAN attacks on Democrats in the 1980s, and used the hatred of corrupt Democrats to accomplish the Republican Revolution in 1994. Gingrich was the expert at the smear campaign.

Newt's success in the Republican debates had little to do with any skill at debating. Gingrich doesn't win debates with sound arguments; he does it with easy applause lines before solidly conservative audiences, by denouncing the “elite” media. Public Policy Polling found that 77% of South Carolina Republicans had an unfavorable view of the media, compared to only 14% who had a favorable view. Instead of attacking his rivals, Gingrich attacked the media, and he won voters by seeking to appease the conservative base.

Gingrich called his victory “humbling,” which is exactly what Gingrich says when he's not humbled in the least. Gingrich wasn't humbled when confronted about his thinly-disguised racial language. He delighted in the attacks, playing the race card by lecturing African-Americans about work habits and denouncing Obama as a “food stamp” president, then angrily feigning racial innocence.

Gingrich still faces an uphill fight to win the Republican nomination. Romney has a huge advantage in fundraising and organizing. If Gingrich is as bad at running a campaign as he was at running the House, he may still lose. But if Gingrich can consolidate the anti-Romney conservative vote, no amount of money and establishment support can give Romney the nomination.

Back in 1996, I regarded Gingrich as the pseudo-intellectual on the fringes of the far right, an accidental Speaker whose political incompetence eventually brought him down. As the Republican Party has lurched even further to the right and became even more anti-intellectual, Gingrich has struggled to find an identity. His early failure to appease the far right (by criticizing Paul Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare) and his rambling speeches on the future gained little support. But Gingrich returned to his roots: he denounced liberalism and attacked the media, using the debates as his platform for a revival once the rest of the not-Romneys failed.

Gingrich is living his dream again, using harsh attacks on liberalism to secure his place at the top of the conservative movement. Gingrich's personal baggage, nasty personality, and far-right ideology will bring him almost certain defeat against Barack Obama. But that won't stop Tea Party Republicans from picking him over Mitt Romney. Gingrich helped to create the far right wing that has taken over the Republican Party, and now he may reap the benefits of the movement even while he leads it again to electoral defeat.

Crossposted at DailyKos.