Op-ed in today’s NY Post from John Podhoretz on the Sudden Rise of Newt Gingrich.
One of the pithiest quotes in American history may also be the dumbest: “There are no second acts in American lives.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald said it and promptly died before he could have a second act — but he would have had one, because that’s what tends to happen to famous and accomplished people in the United States. It’s happening to Newt Gingrich right now.
For those of us who live and breathe politics and make our livings in and around it, the words “Newt Gingrich” mean something entirely different than they do to the Republican primary voters who are now shifting over to him in droves.
We’ve made the Fitzgerald mistake: Once again, we forgot that the United States is either an uncommonly forgiving or uncommonly forgetful place.
We remember Gingrich well. Too well. We should; we’re paid to. But we failed to take into account that most people who vote aren’t paid to and have other things to think about.
We remember him going through one of the great political flameouts of our time — first helping to engineer the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress, then resigning after the 1998 midterms.
We remember the brilliant political design of the Contract with America — and how little of it actually made it into law. That would prove to be very much the pattern with Gingrich, who loves to think in grand terms but who tends toward not grandeur as a result but grandiosity, instead.
We remember how he tarnished his own “Republican revolution” even before it started between the 1994 election and the swearing-in of the new Congress by getting himself a $4.5 million book deal (that would be $6.5 million today) — a PR blunder and possible ethics violation that backfired so badly that he had to forswear his advance.
We remember the wildly wrongheaded conviction some of us shared with him that he was powerful enough to go mano a mano with Bill Clinton in 1995 — because he and we hadn’t taken account of the fact that in his races for his House seat, he’d get 100,000 votes while Clinton in 1992 got 40 million.
We remember how that conviction led to perhaps the greatest political blunder of our time — the showdown over the budget in October 1995 that led to the three-week government shutdown and the subsequent GOP cave-in that brought the “Republican revolution” to an end only nine months after it began.
We remember how, by 1997, Republican members of Congress who had once believed they owed him everything actively plotted a coup to remove him from the speakership.
We remember the fact that he led the moralistic charge against Clinton in 1998 — notwithstanding the fact that he himself was having an extramarital affair at the time.
And we remember things from after his time in office, like how he opposed the 2006 “surge” that turned around the Iraq war.
Truth to tell, there are so many things to remember that it’s hard to remember them all. But the GOP primary voters who are considering plighting their troth to Gingrich didn’t live and breathe every moment of his time in the sun the way we did.
They know him mainly from Fox News. They know he got a Republican Congress elected, which they like the sound of. And they’ve watched him playing the debates like a piano and enjoyed themselves enormously in the process.
The point about Newt, and the point about all Americans who disprove Fitzgerald’s crack, is this: He stuck around. He uprooted himself from his power base in Congress in 1998 before he could be uprooted — and then, as a private citizen, he just kept on going.
He wrote books, and he co-wrote novels, and he gave speeches, and he made videos, and he said smart and interesting things, and he said ridiculous and embarrassing things. But he never stopped, not even when his campaign staff resigned en masse this year.
The problem is that there are still all those things to remember and that when you use glue and tape and paste all those things together to form an overall portrait of Gingrich, you’re looking at someone who is probably unelectable as president.
The question now is this: Will Mitt Romney be able to get Republican primary voters to see that portrait? Or will the task fall in the general election to President Obama — who will use the $750 million-plus he’s sure to raise and aim like thousands of heat-guided precision missiles at an undeniably easy target?