Newt the Nixon populist

“I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”

Perhaps that’s been Newt Gingrich’s strategy his entire career.

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Jon Meacham’s Jan. 23 article in Time magazine, “Why Newt Is Like Nixon,” is as much a question about how Newt Gingrich has been able to come back in the polls a second time, winning my home state of South Carolina.

Meacham, perhaps hoping for guilt by association, presents Gingrich as winning “with a glower,” and winning by a glower, in a state he calls “raw,” meaning angry, hateful. This is a common rationalization from the liberal media: Gingrich is faking anger, dodging the real questions about his record by putting the media on trial.

But I would like to respond with a conservative perspective.

What we are seeing from Newt is complete authenticity — it is precisely such authenticity that primary voters have loved in him thus far, and not found in his nearest rival, Mitt Romney. Both men are dramatically better qualified to lead our country than Barack Obama, but theirs are two contrasting styles. Romney aspires to be the first businessman-president, Newt the philosopher-king president.

Gingrich does, in several ways, resemble former President Nixon, however.

Most obviously, they are men known to the liberal media, which, if it includes anyone, includes Meacham’s Time magazine, as evil geniuses, scheming, as it were, to starve the poor and bomb our peaceable enemies. Nixon, long before his descent into paranoia and downfall, was already demonized as the puppeteer behind Eisenhower, whom the media made to look doltish beside his opponent, the liberal, and therefore saintly, Adlai Stevenson.

Sound familiar?

Gingrich led the Republican Party for eight years and consistently was portrayed as the Grinch, as a dangerous man plotting to undo liberalism’s 60-year triumph in Washington. He’s smart — too smart!

For there are only two options for conservatives in the liberal media: evil or stupid. The brilliance of Nixon and Gingrich has never been questioned, even by their worst enemies. They have been assumed from their earliest days to be evil. (Only George W. Bush managed to be portrayed as both.)

Meacham is correct that Nixon clashed with the media (“you don’t have Nixon to kick around any more …”), but, as with Gingrich, it was no mere tactic. Rather, it was the result of a genuine disconnect between the average American and the journalist class. Is there no less a silent majority today? Am I the only one who thinks that the Occupy Wall Street crowd is getting a disproportionate amount of airtime?

Both men were genuinely self-made, wild success stories of what can happen in this country. Their ambition was unrivaled and ultimately too much for them. Nixon broke the law to get a second term, even when it was completely unnecessary to do so — he likely would have won the election even without having broken into the Watergate, but such was his desire to remain in office that he gave in to the temptation to abuse his power.

Gingrich, too, having climbed vertiginous heights, found himself unable to resist his lower impulses and compromised on the very values that got him into politics. Once elected House Speaker, his main concern became not “defining civilization,” as his grandiose doodling (even his doodling is grandiose) made his top mission, but a permanent majority for the Republican Party. And as we all know, there is a vast difference between the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

Gingrich and his supporters keep telling us that his real value as a nominee is that he could beat President Obama in a debate. Something tells me that, like in 1960, if you were to watch it on television, you might pick Obama, and if you were to listen on the radio, you would pick Gingrich. We all know how that turned out before.

Must everyone put on a Ronald Reagan smile now? Or is there any room left for the eccentric geniuses, for darker heroes? Gingrich’s resurrection, much like Nixon’s in 1968, shows us that there are people whom they represent. They’re only silent sometimes.

Williams is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and is on Sirius Power 128 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and DC’s AM 730 WTNT Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.