Newt Gingrich’s angry concession speech in Iowa a few days ago brought him back to his ill-tempered persona from the 1990’s. No longer is he the elder statesman he pretended to be only a few weeks ago. It would appear that despite his occasional forced-smiles, Newt Gingrich has spent the last several weeks an angry man. The cameras didn’t show Gingrich’s hands while he made this speech, but if they had, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was rolling in his hands several Chinese Health balls, a la Captain Queeg, in the 1954 movie Mutiny on the Bounty, accusing people of hiding stolen strawberries.
And it is too bad, because as recently as November, Speaker Gingrich had so much promise. Talk about a bad six weeks!
The end of November saw Speaker Gingrich vault to the lead of the GOP field. Everyone noticed his great debate performances, answering questions with well-thought-out positions and the occasional barb directed at the moderator. Not only did he win the September 7 debate at the Reagan Library, it is fair to say that he owned it. He also did very well in the November 12 debate, in which he complimented other Republican candidates. Everyone thought that a new even-tempered Newt was upon us.
In early December, Gingrich declared that it was inevitable that he would win the GOP nomination. And he might have if only he had kept his tempter in check.
Other candidates, especially Mitt Romney, countered with negative campaign ads. Gingrich criticized Romney, charging that while at Bain Capital, Romney laid off employees. Here in California, Senator Barbara Boxer made the same argument in 2010 when she was challenged for re-election from former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. It didn’t sit well with California conservatives then and doesn’t sit well with American conservatives now. Businesses hire and lay off employees all the time.
By late-December, Romney made a very mild criticism, which should have been laughed at by Gingrich. Romney compared the Gingrich campaign organization to the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy frantically packaged chocolates. “I’d love to have him say that to my face,” Gingrich angrily replied. Apparently, the constant negative ads in Iowa were getting under Gingrich’s skin. Voters noticed, and Gingrich’s poll numbers plummeted.
Pundits began remarking at how obsessed Gingrich was with criticizing Romney. Jonah Goldberg’s pre-New Hampshire debate tweet was typical: “Gingrich’s opening line to Romney tomorrow? ‘Hello. My name is Newton Gingrich. You killed my presidential campaign. Prepare to die.’” Actually comparing the Princess Bride character Inigo Montoya to the current Newt Gingrich might make poor Inigo look bad.
And Gingrich didn’t disappoint in last Saturday’s New Hampshire debate. Visibly irritated at Romney, he called for Romney to drop the “pious baloney” regarding not being a career politician.
On the stump, Gingrich repeated his earlier criticism of Romney’s work at Bain Capital, when employees got laid off by companies being turned around by Bain. This has actually put Romney in the position of defending capitalism, which is a real gift in a Republican nomination contest.
But Gingrich didn’t care. The possibility of damaging Romney’s campaign seemed to be all that interested Gingrich. Columnist Charles Krauthammer compared Newt’s pursuit of Romney with Captain Ahab of the movie Moby Dick: “Ahab is loose in New Hampshire, stalking his great white Mitt.”
On the day of the New Hampshire primary, Speaker Gingrich appeared on the Today show, and agreed with an ad that described Romney as “a greedy, ruthless, corporate raider who slashed jobs for profit.” According to Gingrich, this ad was “based upon historical fact.”
The Club For Growth called these attacks “disgusting.” On his radio show Tuesday, Rush Limbaugh said that Gingrich’s candidacy is no longer a real campaign, but “payback time” for Romney’s negative ads in Iowa.
Bottom line: Newt Gingrich is not a presidential candidate who makes you smile. He has become someone you would not want in your living room by the TV news each night, as the old saying goes. In my case, I have a young child in our house and Newt Gingrich and his sour-puss expressions would probably frighten her.
Inevitably, Gingrich won a mere 9% of Tuesday’s vote in New Hampshire, but a recent New York Times blog put his chances of winning the up-coming South Carolina primary at 9%, not far from ahead of the percentage of Americans who believe the moon landings were faked.
In a November column I referred to Gingrich as “Dick Cheney without the Darth Vader music.” Now I think he is more accurately described as “Richard Nixon without the charm.” He truly has come full circle. The old Newt Gingrich is back.