Monday, December 05, 2011

Outsiders vs. Insiders on Newt Gingrich

Byron York details the insider-outsider divide over Newt Gingrich. Those that know him best, Republicans who have worked with him or journalists who have followed his career for years, all seem to agree that he's an undisciplined and arrogant blowhard. Republican voters are more forgiving.
"There are all types of leaders," Coburn continued. "Leaders that instill confidence, leaders that are somewhat abrupt and brisk, leaders that have one standard for the people they are leading and a different standard for themselves. I just found his leadership lacking and…I will have difficulty supporting him as president of the United States."

Gingrich has also taken flak from another former colleague, Rep. Peter King. "The problem was, over a period of time, he couldn't stay focused," King said of Gingrich a few days ago. "He was undisciplined. Too often, he made it about himself."

It's more than just former colleagues. If one were to survey politicos, journalists and others who lived through Gingrich's years as speaker in Washington, there would likely be a near-consensus that Gingrich will blow up his candidacy through some mixture of arrogance and indiscipline. Those insiders simply don't believe there is a New Newt. Old Newt, the Gingrich who alienated many of his colleagues back in the 90s, will reassert himself soon enough, they believe.

Those opinions are colored by personal experience with Gingrich during his years as speaker. That's not the case for most voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and the rest of the primary and caucus states. While insiders remember Gingrich's low points from the 90s, outsiders remember his triumphs. They remember a Gingrich who had the vision to imagine a Republican takeover of the House when no one else could, and the skill to make it happen. And when outsiders think of the two greatest policy achievements of the Clinton years -- a balanced budget and welfare reform -- they know Gingrich can legitimately claim a lot of credit for both. So what if he was abrupt with colleagues? Or, for that matter, if he was the target of a Democratic-driven ethics attack? As far as the 1990s are concerned, outsiders remember Gingrich's high points.
Insiders who are dumbfounded that we are the point that Newt Gingrich seems to be running away with the nomination must be tearing their hair out. It was one thing to think that the GOP was going to have to settle for an unexciting Mitt Romney, but Newt? Geesh!

Politico notices
that there has been somewhat of a silence from some of Gingrich's former allies-turned critics on Newt today.
Even by the standards of politics – where partisans know better than to throw rocks at their prospective presidential candidate – the muffled voices of the no-Newt chorus are breathtaking.

This is a man who led the push for Bill Clinton’s impeachment even as he carried on his own extramarital affair. He was fined $300,000 for obstructing a House ethics probe against him. He spearheaded the 1995 budget showdown with Clinton that led to two government closures and a resurgence in Clinton’s popularity despite the “Republican Revolution” the year before.

But it was more than that. Gingrich’s ego made him want to be constantly at the center of all the action. He was thin-skinned and arrogant in dealing with the press and critics in both parties. He dismantled the House seniority system and accrued power in the speaker’s office, a trend that continued under his successors. And his lack of discipline often resulted in a morning strategy that was discarded by day’s end if not noon, much to the dismay of his own caucus.

Gingrich has fresh problems, too. Despite well-received performances in a long series of Republican primary debates, the familiar grandiosity that made Gingrich an easy caricature for political opponents has re-emerged with his surge in the polls. He credited himself with winning the Cold War and predicted he’ll be the Republican nominee.

He recently referred to himself as a “celebrity” in defending against charges that he shouldn’t have taken $1.6 million in fees from embattled home mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Gingrich argued that he didn’t need the money because he made $60,000 per speech — more than most American households earn all year. He also offended many when he suggested that poor kids should take up janitorial work at elementary schools.
As one commentator said this weekend, it's only a question of whether Newt will implode before or after he gets the nomination. The Obama team must be thrilled. Whether there is a new Newt or an old Newt, they can combine their criticisms of both Newts as soon as he becomes the nominee.