Gingrich Returns Again
He’s back, like Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, and with a brand new book, Understanding Trump, his 28th or so, and hard on the heels of his two 2016 thrillers, Duplicity and Treason (written with Pete Earley). Newt Gingrich – one of the three amigos, along with fellow failed politicians Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, who hitched their wagons to the star from Queens during his campaign for president, all three desperately jockeying for the position of vice president or secretary of state, only to be spurned and humiliated – is back in the mix.
Gingrich has described himself as President Trump’s ‘informal adviser’ and ‘strategic planner’, and he is indeed out there, doing his thing in the tweet-o-sphere, on cable news, chiefly Fox, and radio chat shows, in a way that Giuliani and Christie are most decidedly not. The Newt always bounces back, like a cartoon character that has been stomped on, bulldozed and blown to smithereens, only to return to form, good as new. Trump’s ‘ideological opponents continue to be viciously dishonest’, he writes on page 1 of his new book. ‘They are either clueless or lying. Ignore them.’ He goes on to compare Trump with Lincoln. The foreword is written by Trump’s son Eric: ‘As to my father, there is no greater man. He is compassionate and caring. He is brilliant and strong. More than anything else, he loves our great country.’
You might have thought Gingrich was done for in 2012, after Mitt Romney savaged him in a primary candidates’ debate in Florida. It wasn’t just Romney who was panicking then. The Republican establishment felt that Gingrich, who was doing alarmingly well in the polls, was too ‘erratic’ and carried too much ‘baggage’ to be electable. They were also worried he wouldn’t do as he was told should he actually win the nomination and prevail over Obama in the general election. Sounds familiar? They trotted out their surrogates in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, on TV and radio, even digging up Bob Dole, to suggest that Newt was, well, nuts. It worked, as far as it went. Romney won the Republican nomination by a landslide.
It may have seemed it was all over for the Newt. But it is never all over for the Newt. Like a long dormant virus, he was always somewhere out there, threatening to bloom when the nation’s immune system was challenged.
The hateful atmosphere and gridlock in the American body politic is Gingrich’s legacy. He’s certainly had help, but he was the one who really got the ball rolling in the ‘swamp’. Like his new hero, there is nothing to recommend in his character. My father, who enjoyed his visits to the South, used to describe a certain rather successful kind of Southern chancer as a ‘shit-kicker in a Brooks Brothers suit who, if while driving down the road, saw an alligator sunning itself on the verge would slam on the brakes, jump out the car, and try to fuck it’.
Unlike his onetime nemesis Bill Clinton, the Man from Hope, whom he most closely resembles among contemporary politicians, Gingrich isn’t a pure Southerner. He was born in Pennsylvania to teenage parents, and raised as an army brat (his stepfather was an officer), moving around from here to there, but he finished high school in Georgia and has been based there ever since, a congressman for twenty years representing the 6th Congressional District, stretching from Atlanta’s southern suburbs to the Alabama border.
The great battles between Gingrich and Clinton in the 1990s defined the political careers of both men. The who-blinks-first drama of the government shutdown and the drawn-out squalor of the Monica Lewinsky impeachment hearings proved to be the end of Gingrich, who was forced out of government in humiliation. His bullying and gamesmanship backfired, not just on himself but on the Republicans, who lost their control of Congress.
The two men, through it all, and to this day, seem to have genuine feeling, however mixed, and regard for one another, particularly Gingrich for Clinton. He pays Trump the ultimate compliment in his new book, remarking that no one reminds him so much of Trump as Bill Clinton: both will look you in the eye and make you feel like you’re ‘the only person that matters’. They’re much the same man, Newt and Bill, with much the same background: self-made, highly intelligent, they succeeded against large obstacles, raised by abusive step-fathers and rueful mothers. They are both irrepressible, possessed of lunatic energy and appetite, completely undisciplined, amoral, brilliantly talented at what they do, and deeply annoying. I’m not sure Clinton will ever return to form. But the Newt, the Newt is for ever, like the cucaracha. He wears his depravity with a conscienceless ebullience, the opposite of the man whose leadership skills he is pleased to explain to us. I can barely wait to see what he transmogrifies into if and when Trump goes down in flames. In the mean time, the president has shown his appreciation for Gingrich’s loyalty and good works by nominating his third wife, Callista, as US ambassador to the Holy See, pending Senate confirmation.