Let’s stop for a minute, though. We’ll come back to the debate in a minute. Why are we calling him “Doughboy?” I mean, other than that he brought in $25,000 a month while “consulting” Freddie Mac (others might call that lobbying on behalf of…) and because he looks like a Doughboy?
Perhaps we should be calling him the comeback kid, instead. There was a time when he was almost done, when his candidacy was written off, when he went on a cruise to Greece with wife #3 and 13 of his 15 fundraising chairs resign in disgust. Yeah. Less than a year ago, that was.
And yet he has come back, outlasted Michelle Bachmann (who beat back Tim Pawlenty‘s campaign), Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and all of the naysayers and talking heads that wrote off his campaign for the Presidency. He still isn’t saying anything that would make sense to anyone thinks about it longer than it takes to say “fundamentally,” “let me be clear,” or “we need dramatic change.” (As Ann Coulter has noted, what he says makes sense for about three seconds…if you are actually paying attention to the sense of the words coming out of his mouth).
Which brings me back to the debate last night. Not only did Newt never really get his game off the ground, but without the audience cheering on snooty one liners, he never really got his populism groove on.
I lost track of how many times Newt opted to avoid responding to the question, and I don’t just mean that he redirected. I mean he completely avoided. For example: sugar subsidies (because, why not? Who ever thinks about sugar subsidies except for beet farmers and the anti-subsidy lobby?):
ADAM SMITH (one of three moderators and political editor at “The Tampa Bay Times): Speaker Gingrich, in Iowa you were a big supporter of ethanol subsidies. Here in Florida, sugar is a very important industry, and it`s subsidized, as well, with import restrictions, quotas. There`s a conservative movement to do away with these programs. In the case of sugar, critics say it — it adds billions of dollars to — to consumers` grocery bills every year. What would you do about that?
GINGRICH: Well, I pretty enthusiastically early in my career kept trying to figure out how to get away from the sugar subsidy. And I found out one of — one of the fascinating things about America, which was that cane sugar hides behind beet sugar. And there are just too many beet sugar districts in the United States. It`s an amazing side story about how interest groups operate.
In an ideal world, you would have an open market. And that`s — I think that would be a better future and, frankly, one where cane sugar would still make a lot of money. But it`s very hard to imagine how you`re going to get there. I spent a lot of time trying to reform agriculture when I was speaker. And I would say it was one of the two or three hardest things to try to do because the — the capacity of the agricultural groups to defend themselves is pretty amazing.
Look through that. I’ll buy you a Big Mac if you can find what Newt would, as the question asked, do about sugar subsidies.
In fact, he did not answer. He said it was too hard to change. Remember, this is the guy who wants to affect dramatic change in Washington.
When he’s not answering questions, he’s distorting history. This from a guy who has a Ph.D. in history and loves to tell opponents that they are getting their history wrong (compared to him, at least).
Exhibit 1 of distorting history came in the first five minutes.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: And about your problems, your departure from the speakership in the `90s, what`s the case you make to the American people and voters in Republican primary contests about how you`ve changed, Mr. Speaker?
GINGRICH: Well, first of all, the case I make is that, when I was speaker, we had four consecutive balanced budgets, the only time in your lifetime, Brian, that we`ve had four consecutive balanced budgets. Most people think that`s good.
Not only did Gingrich not answer the question about how he’s changed since he left Congress in disgrace for ethics violations, he also lied about his record.
- FACT: the first two years of Newt Gingrich’s Speakership–1996 and 1997–ran deficits by deficits. Two years of his Speakership–1998 and 1999–saw balanced budgets. The last two years of the balanced budget that he’s referring to–2000 and 2001– happened AFTER he left Congress. But, you know, why let the facts get in the way of a good debate?
But let’s get back to the misdirection and the unwillingness to answer the questions. Accused by Mitt Romney of leaving Congress, and the Speaker’s gavel, in disgrace, his response was his typical non-response: “LIAR!”
GINGRICH: Well, look, I`m not going to spend the evening trying to chase Governor Romney`s misinformation. We`ll have a site at Newt.org by tomorrow morning. We`ll list everything — he just said at least four things that are false. I don`t want to waste the time on them. I think the American public deserve a discussion about how to beat Barack Obama, the American public deserves a discussion of what we would do about the economy. And I just think this is the worst kind of trivial politics.
This from the guy who’s been attacking Mitt Romney for being a successful businessman.
I’m not sure who’s keeping track, but I couldn’t count four things in what Mitt Romney said that were false. In fact, Newt did resign in disgrace after an ethics investigation convinced his leadership team that he had become a liability to the work of Congress. From Wikipedia (because I’m not THAT energetic about original source research, and if you are, be my guest):
Eighty-four ethics charges were filed against Gingrich during his term as Speaker, all but one of which were eventually dropped. After an extensive investigation and negotiation by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee, Gingrich was reprimanded and fined $300,000 by an overwhelming 395-28 House vote, with both Republicans and Democrats speaking in favor of those sanctions. It was the first time in the history of the House that a Speaker was disciplined for an ethics violation.
The last three charges were dropped because although it was found that he had violated a House rule in the past, there was no evidence that Gingrich was still violating it at the time of the investigation. The one charge not dropped was a charge of claiming tax-exempt status for a college course run for political purposes. In addition, the House Ethics Committee concluded that inaccurate information supplied to investigators represented “intentional or … reckless” disregard of House rules.
Ouch. As if that weren’t bad enough, who needs enemies when you are making enemies of your friends as fast as Gingrich did in the aftermath of his ethics scandals?
In the summer of 1997 several House Republicans attempted to replace him as Speaker, claiming Gingrich’s public image was a liability. The attempted “coup” began July 9 with a meeting of Republican conference chairman John Boehner of Ohio and Republican leadership chairman Bill Paxon of New York. According to their plan, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Boehner and Paxon were to present Gingrich with an ultimatum: resign, or be voted out. However, Armey balked at the proposal to make Paxon the new Speaker, and told his chief of staff to warn Gingrich about the attempted coup.
On July 11, Gingrich met with senior Republican leadership to assess the situation. He explained that under no circumstance would he step down. If he was voted out, there would be a new election for Speaker, which would allow for the possibility that Democrats—along with dissenting Republicans—would vote in Dick Gephardt as Speaker. On July 16, Paxon offered to resign his post, feeling that he had not handled the situation correctly, as the only member of the leadership who had been appointed to his position—by Gingrich—instead of elected.
If “under no circumstances would he step down” does not say “selfish” as much as using your daughters from your first wife to convince everyone your second wife is lying about your third wife, then I don’t know what does.
Click the link. You know you want to. Who ever says they are vastly superior to others? Out-loud?
Beyond that, the debate was pretty wonkish, and I fell asleep during the last five minutes. Literally.
APROPOS: State of the Union is tonight. Will you be watching?
- Gary Johnson: Gingrich’s Ideas on Drug Policy Are “Nothing Short of Scary” (reason.com)
- Republicans Against Subsidies (worldtradelaw.typepad.com)
- Romney and Gingrich Switch Roles At Debate (usnews.com)