Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Newt's weaknesses exposed

Newt Gingrich released a report yesterday to try to show that he was not a lobbyist for Freddie Mac. He's relying on a technicality that he never registered as a lobbyist.

But the witness that he had testify for him, as Timothy Carney pointed out, was the head of Freddie Mac's lobbying operations.
pecifically, the Freddie Mac executive who hired Gingrich was not the CEO, nor the VP for operations, nor the VP for communications, but Craig Thomas, the VP for Public Policy -- that is, the head of Freddie Mac's lobbying operations. Thomas was a registered lobbyist at the time.

So, Gingrich may or may not have made lobbying contacts on Freddie's behalf, but it appears he was being paid to aid Freddie Mac's lobbying agenda. Say Gingrich was providing memos to Thomas on how to lobby (and given Thomas's job as top lobbyist, what else would he be helping Thomas with?), that counts as "Lobbying Activity" according to the law.
So why was he being hired by Freddie Mac's chief lobbyist if he weren't assisting in lobbying.

I guess it all depends on what the meaning of lobbying is. And Gingrich is too Clintonian by half. In fact, Rich Lowry sees a strong parallel between Gingrich and Clinton following Gingrich's rise in the polls in South Carolina by attacking Brian Williams and ABC for the Marianne Gingrich story about his adultery in his second marriage.
Only one other politician in America could have played the victim card so expertly when confronted by the story of a wronged woman. Only one other politician would have thrown out so many obfuscating “facts,” or turned his lavish anger on and off so quickly. Only one other politician would have dared hope to turn such an embarrassing imbroglio to his advantage. If he was watching the debate somewhere, Bill Clinton must have chuckled in admiration and thought, “Well played, my friend. Well played.”

Newt is the Republican Clinton — shameless, needy, hopelessly egotistical. The two former adversaries and tentative partners have largely the same set of faults and talents. They are self-indulgent, prone to disregard rules inconvenient to them, and consumed by ambition. They are glib, knowledgeable, and imaginative. They are baby boomers who hadn’t fully grown up even when they occupied two of the most powerful offices in the land.
The technicality that Gingrich might be hiding under is that he was also doing other things so he didn't have to register as a lobbyist.
But to be forced to register under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act and to lobby aren't the same thing. The LDA merely requires that anyone who spends more than 20% of his or her time on "lobbying activities" register.

The LDA defines “lobbying activity” as “any efforts in support of such contacts, including preparation or planning activities, research and other background work that is intended, at the time of its preparation, for use in contacts and coordination with the lobbying activities of others.”

Many of Gingrich's activities -- producing public reports, testifying on behalf of policies -- amount to lobbying; they may not have consumed 20% of his time.

And the reason you bring in an expert on the complicated law isn't to avoid influence-peddling. It's to avoid having to register.
As Maggie Haberman points out, calling on an expert on lobbying to explain his contract tells us something about what Gingrich was doing.
Gingrich — adamant that he wasn't a lobbyist as he explained why he only released one year of his Freddie Mac contract, which dated to 1999 (he uttered something about going through a confidentiality process) — volunteered that at his firm, they brought in a "lobbying expert" to explain to his team what qualified as lobbying and what didn't.

That expert "is prepared to testify," Gingrich said.

Romney didn't pounce. But why one would hire a "lobbying expert" other than to explain to staff how to walk up to the "bright line" Gingrich described, but not legally cross it, was not clear.
This is going to be a problem for Newt Gingrich. He tried to get away with claiming that he was being hired as a "historian" for Freddie Mac. That was laughable. But it was also indicative that he knew that having worked to advance the interests of Freddie Mac was going to hurt him among Republican voters. And, as John Podhoretz writes, Romney demonstrated that he was willing and able to take on the man who just embarrassed him in South Carolina on Newt's past.
Did Gingrich lobby for Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage business that paid him $1.6 million as it was helping to destroy the housing market? If not, why did Freddie Mac pay him $1.6 million? Gingrich denied it huffily, but had no answer when Romney pointed out that the money was actually paid to Gingrich by Freddie Mac’s chief lobbyist.
And then Romney charged that Gingrich had to resign in disgrace. Newt tried to deny that, but his excuses were exposed by Ron Paul who pointed out the exact truth that Gingrich had to resign as Speaker because he had lost the confidence of the Republicans in the House and knew he wouldn't be reelected as Speaker. He resigned rather than facing that humiliation. John Pitney reminds us of that history. Gingrich wanted to be reelected Speaker after the 1998 elections revealed that the GOP had lost seats, but retained control of the House. It wasn't until later that week in 1998 that it became clear that he didn't have the votes to be reelected Speaker. Ron Paul knew it and anyone who was following politics back in 1998 remembers that. It tells us a lot about his leadership in the House that his own co-workers, who should have been his strongest supporters, didn't want him to be their leader any more.

One of Rick Santorum's strongest reasons not to support Newt is that, if he were the nominee, the general election campaign would be about him, not Obama. That is true, to some extent about any GOP candidate. The Democrats know that they can't win an election that is about Obama and his record. They'll try to turn everything to be about whomever the Republican nominee is. It's just that, with Newt, they have such a rich storehouse to draw from. We're seeing now what happens when Newt is being attacked from the right. When the general starts, we'll revisit how the Democrats took him apart when he was Speaker. And he helped them. The man who said he "melted" when around Bill Clinton doesn't deserve to claim that he is the only one who can lead the conservative charge against Obama.

Quin Hillyer
explains why he thinks that Newt Gingrich is "the Bill Clinton of the right with half the charm and twice the abrasiveness." Rick Santorum was right that Newt Gingrich is taking too much credit for the victories of the Republicans in 1994. Yes, he did play a big role in recruiting candidates and setting the goal of winning back the House. But few historians think it was the Contract with America that did the job. Mostly, it was the unpopularity of Clinton's first two years plus the House Banking scandal that opened voters' eyes to the corruption that had accompanied the Democrats' 40-year control of the House. And Newt wasn't the leader using the Banking scandal to bring down the Democrats, because he had his own history of bouncing big checks on the House bank. The GOP also benefited from the redistricting that had been done after the 1990's census when a lot of minority-majority districts were created according to the way the Voting Rights Act had required when it was renewed in 1982. Such districts packed minority voters into districts to create a majority of minorities. That worked to accomplish its goal, but it also diluted surrounding districts of Democratic voters. That helped Republicans in both 1992 and especially 1994 when they weren't being dragged down by an unpopular incumbent George H.W. Bush.

As Hillyer outlines, Newt doesn't deserve all the credit he's claiming for conservative successes in the 1990s. In some instances, he weakened that success.
Meanwhile, Gingrich consistently claims far too much credit for conservative successes, especially in the Reagan years. As Mitt Romney noted in the debate last night, Reagan barely knew who Gingrich was. He was a back bencher.

The joke going around in the late 1980s was that the NRCC had a whole room full of file Cabinets, with every drawer in the room labeled "Newt's ideas." Well, every drawer but one. The drawer in the bottom corner of the dingiest file Cabinet was labeled "Newt's good ideas."

As for his role in gaining the majority for the GOP in 1994, it was of course significant. I was there; I will always credit him for that. Alas, he claims TOO much credit. The Contract with America, for instance, was more the brainchild of Kerry Knott (Armey's aide, who came up with the first version of it while on a weekend clear-his-mind getaway at Morton Blackwell's country house) than anybody else. The insistence on passing welfare reform (rather than giving up on it after two vetoes and using it as a campaign issue instead) came from the bottom up, with folks like Santorum, John Kasich, Bill Archer, and Clay Shaw deserving more of the credit than Gingrich.

As for Appropriations, Bob Livingston went beyond what Newt even asked in pursuit of a balanced budget, and so did Kasich. But Gingrich almost ruined the whole thing by agreeing with Bill Thomas to include an unnecessary Medicare provision into the "shutdown" battle, thus giving fodder to Clinton and muddying the waters. Gingrich's foot-in-mouth-itis clearly helped cost conservatives both in the PR department and in the 1996 presidential race; his conduct of the impeachment inquiry turned it, politically, into a major met minus instead of the net plus it should have been; and his utter capitulation on spending in the fall of 1998 (in order to buy off moderates for what turned out to be irrelevant demands for the actual shape of the impeachment inquiry) blew the lid off the spending progress made in the previous three years and set the scene for the Bush spendathon.
Ramesh Ponnuru examines how some of Newt's proposals collapse once they're exposed. His ideas for Social Security would increase the government's cost in both the short and long run. His proposals on immigration have holes in them and would lead to problems with his brainstorm about local community boards deciding which long-time immigrants could stay here. And then there are his ideas on the courts. He takes conservative anger at liberal courts and proposes a very non-conservative solution, one that could be turned around if Democrats had control of the Congress.
Consider, finally, Gingrich’s much-discussed desire to weaken the federal courts. The view that the courts have much more power than they used to have, and that this change is mostly unfortunate, is a respectable one. The view that Congress and the president should respond on occasion by limiting the courts’ jurisdiction, as Gingrich wants, ought to be respectable, too.

But Gingrich cannot, of course, stop there. He also has to call for Congress to summon judges to explain their decisions, which would be both pointless (they already write opinions), and wrong (congressmen have no constitutional power to hector judges). And he wants to abolish liberal circuit courts and replace them with conservative ones, which is an obvious attempt to ignore the Constitution’s grant of life tenure to judges.

Anyone who proposes that judicial power should be checked arouses the suspicion that what he really wants is freedom from the constraints of the law. Gingrich’s solution to this problem is to confirm the charge instantaneously.

Gingrich has more original ideas than most of us. But for a president, what’s much more important is the ability to tell the good ones from the bad -- an ability called judgment.
Gosh knows that Mitt Romney is no conservative prize. I distinctly regard him as the lesser of evils. That's usually whom I have to settle voting for. There are plenty of Republicans I would have been enthusiastic about voting for this year, but they didn't run. Tonight we'll see my preferred candidate, Mitch Daniels, give the response to Obama's State of the Union. I expect to be depressed that he is not in the race and we're stuck with those who are. But wishing it were so, won't make it so. We're not going to have some deus ex machina come in save us from Mitt at the convention. John Hood sums up how I feel about the choice before us.

Santorum’s Blistering Attack
By John Hood
January 23, 2012 10:44 P.M.

Santorum’s attacks on Romney and Gingrich regarding their apostasies on bailouts and ObamaCare may be uncomfortable, and may make him look mean, but he is telling an important truth. Neither of the frontrunners has been stalwart in defense of free enterprise and constitutional government. Ron Paul has, but his foreign policy is foolish and unpopular, and Santorum almost has, but he lacks the personal and financial resources to win this race.

The best thing one can say here is that conservatives desperately want to replace President Obama, and swing voters are very disappointed in his performance. The race remains winnable. But if you are a conservative looking for a hero, read some fiction. The reality of 2012 is messier. To non-political junkies, these four guys look like a weenie, a wimp, a weasel, and a wacko. Unfair? Perhaps. But let’s not fool ourselves about the stature gap here.
I'm not even sure who is whom in that description, but it's just about how I feel about the whole lot of them.

I'd be thrilled if it happened and a Daniels or a Chris Christie or Bobby Jindal or Marco Rubio or a Paul Ryan rose from the smoke of the closed rooms at the convention, but that's just a pipe dream. And conservatives shouldn't be holding out for the pipe dream. We go to the polls with the candidates we have. And Newt Gingrich is not the answer.