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Pundit of venom and division: Newt Gingrich has not changed

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.)
Greg Nash
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) speaks to reporters after meeting with House Republicans on Thursday, September 22, 2022.

Newt Gingrich is having another rebirth: reported whisperer to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), quoted hundreds of times as the supposed wise man to all things Congress and Washington, an off-Broadway version of Jim Baker or Leon Panetta.

Some reporters are too young to remember that Gingrich, a very effective guerrilla warrior, was a failed Speaker a quarter century ago.

Facile, glib, demagogic, he always has an observation, usually more inflammatory than insightful.

A review of Gingrichisms over the years is instructive. These do not include typical political sniping, such as Republicans calling the Democrats socialists or Democrats accusing their opponents of trying to push Grandma off the cliff. No, these are Gingrich originals. Here’s a sampling.

Gingrich charged that the Jan. 6 select committee that investigated the insurrection at the Capitol trying to overturn the presidential election was a “lynch mob.” Not, mind you, the people who erected an actual gallows outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 — no, Gingrich says, it’s the members of Congress who investigated them. He said people like Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Liz Cheney (R-Colo.) were “going to face the real risk of jail.”

That’s a thing for Newt. More than decade earlier, he suggested that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), authors of the banking reform measure that carries their names, should be thrown in jail.

Somewhat surprising given his own checkered personal background, Gingrich has thrived on linking Democrats to moral turpitude. Right before the 1994 election, a South Carolina woman drowned her two young children, and Gingrich jumped in to say the way to change that “sick” society is “to vote Republican.”

After Woody Allen had sex with his former wife’s daughter and was accused of abusing another, the Georgia Republican said that “fits the Democratic party platform perfectly.”  

Racial dog whistles are not uncommon for Gingrich. He said Obama was a “con” who could only be understood in terms of “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior,” (the former president’s absentee father was from Kenya) and that Obama was “authentically dishonest.”

Let’s not forget a flirtation with religious bigotry. As then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and community leaders were backing a Mosque in lower Manhattan, Gingrich went ballistic: “There should be no mosque near Ground zero in New York as long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.”

Gingrich charged the 2009 Obama stimulus bill was an “anti-Christian” measure that would prevent churches, bible groups and Boy Scouts from using public schools. That was beyond hyperbole; fact checkers found it simply false.

Self-delusion is another Gingrich trait. Before Trump, Gingrich boasted how closely he worked with Ronald Reagan to change Washington in the 1980s. In the Reagan diaries, there’s only one innocuous reference to meeting with a group of young Republican lawmakers, including Gingrich. Reagan biographer Lou Cannon doubts the Gipper even knew who Gingrich was.

Hypocrisy? Check. In 1985, Gingrich told the Wall Street Journal’s Jane Mayer that the Vietnam War was the “right battlefield at the right time.” When she asked him why he took multiple deferments during that war, he admitted some discomfort while declaring, “No one thought of this as the bottom line on which freedom would live or die.”

Rule of law and separation of powers? Forget about it. In criticizing a supposedly radical judiciary, Gingrich said federal marshals should arrest liberal judges and bring them before Congress to explain their decisions.

While railing against lobbyists in his ill-fated presidential quest, it came out that the former Speaker had gotten $1.6 million or more over several years from Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored entity designed to aid the housing market. Gingrich explained he was hired as an historian.

As Gingrich approaches 80, his venom hadn’t mellowed.

Right before the Russians invaded Ukraine, he likened Joe Biden to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who appeased Hitler; when the war started and Biden marshalled an effective international coalition, Gingrich nevertheless accused Biden being “timid, cowardly and pathetic.”

Flash forward a year, when leading Republicans Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis turned anti-Ukraine. Asked about it, Gingrich quickly shifted to Biden’s “family being corrupted by China” and declared “the Southern border is far more important to the United States than Ukraine.”

Every politician (and most all of us, if we’re honest) makes embarrassing or stupid comments now and then. President Biden and the late President Reagan were gaffe machines.

Bill Clinton infamously said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

Barack Obama made a comment about people “clinging” to guns and religion.

Gingrich’s statements are of a different order entirely.

Other than Trump, no major public figure over so many years has been as vicious or delusional.

Gingrich will continue to give great quotes, but he’s no Jim Baker or Leon Panetta.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags Barack Obama Barney Frank Bennie Thompson Chris Dodd Donald Trump House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack Jan. 6 Capitol attack January 6 Capitol attack Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Michael Bloomberg Newt Gingrich Newt Gingrich political division political polarization Political positions of Newt Gingrich political pundits Ron DeSantis Ronald Reagan

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