Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Last Friday, this space was dedicated to the problems of Newt Gingrich coming “home” to address a Georgia GOP base that has changed significantly since he last served as Congressman and Speaker. That night, he addressed convention delegates as the headline speaker at their dinner, and was greeted somewhere between politely and enthusiastically. The headlines coming out of the convention dealing with Presidential candidates, however, gave the edge on intensity to relative newcomer Herman Cain.
The main need cited here last week for Gingrich was to demonstrate in the face of his many missteps from his earlier political career that he find an ability to quit showing voters what he knows, and demonstrate what he has learned. Gingrich has long prided himself on his reputation as an idea factory. There is no problem that can be thrown at Newt where he can’t respond with an off-the cuff stream of consciousness which will no doubt include a historical reference, a citation of Alvin Toffler, an appeal to “outside the box thinking”, and at least one sometimes-subtle-but- sometimes-not challenge to accepted conservative conventional thinking to demonstrate that he is a thought leader and not just citing partisan talking points.
Since Friday, we’ve learned a lot about what Gingrich hasn’t learned, as his being slightly upstaged by Herman Cain at the Georgia GOP convention may have been the highlight of his week. Sunday Morning, Newt appeared on NBC’s Meet The Press to denounce Paul Ryan’s budget plan as “right wing social engineering”, earning immediate and uniform scorn from GOP elected officials and DC pundits alike.
He was greeted by a Republican activist in Iowa who angrily asked “why don’t you get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself?” He was blasted by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for “cutting Ryan off at the knees.” Others made it clear that he had just given Democrats across the board in 2012 a sound bite that will keep on giving. Gingrich’s response was to issue a quixotic proclamation that he would be happy to cut an ad for anyone whose Gingrich’s quotes were used against, seeming to totally miss the point that the last thing a candidate being attacked with a Gingrich quote may want to associate themselves with is …Gingrich.
Gingrich further knee-capped himself with his excuse that he felt the format was a series of set ups by Meet the Press, as if he was unfamiliar the a program that has been on the air longer than his political career and that he has appeared on more than thirty times. A candidate that mastered the use of the media against his political opponents when in the House minority was reduced do whining about liberal media after self inflicting wounds. Hardly Presidential.
Gingrich’s extemporaneous intellectualism has long been his strength, but one that was formerly used on a very different playing field of the legislative branch. Gingrich has now entered a contest for the chief executive of the United States, where skills of self discipline and consistency and firmness in decision making are valued over thinking out loud.
Gingrich has earned a revered place in the history of Republican politics for his past contributions. As the architect and leader of the congressional Republican Revolution in 1994, Gingrich delivered the promised land to his people. Yet Republicans also must add the uncomfortable memory to the picture that Gingrich did not leave office at the hands of Democrats, but by being forced out by members of his own party. It is very difficult for those who lead Revolutions to govern afterward, and Gingrich was proven no exception to this rule.
Republicans now seek another trip to the majority, and have hopefully learned from their mistakes the last time they held the White House and Congress that will not be repeated. Gingrich’s first week as a Presidential candidate has, unfortunately, demonstrated how much he has not learned. The man that knows too much has learned little. As such, Gingrich’s return to Georgia may be a shorter trip than planned.