KUHNER: No to Newt

Some positives but too much baggage burdens ‘90s retread

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Newt Gingrich has thrown his hat into the ring. The former House speaker has formally declared he will seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Gingrich has toyed for years with running for the White House. Now he finally is all in. Mr. Gingrich has many positive attributes. He is articulate, smart and possesses instant name recognition. Moreover, he has a political machine and a network of advisers that will help him establish a formidable ground game. Mr. Gingrich’s candidacy, however, is a dollar short and a day late.

Time has passed him by. He should have run in 2008. The Republican front-runner, Sen. John McCain, was weak and distrusted by the GOP’s conservative base. The rank and file were desperate for anyone with a scintilla of conservative credentials to challenge the centrist Arizona Republican. At first, Mr. Gingrich vowed he would join the race. Then, as usual, he changed his mind - leaving many conservatives disappointed and embittered. Mr. Gingrich could have beaten then-Sen. Barack Obama, a political amateur and media-created candidate. Yet that was then. This is now.

Mr. Obama has the power of incumbency. Moreover, his administration has spent trillions of dollars essentially to bribe key electoral constituencies - labor unions, government workers, students, environmentalists, blacks, Hispanics and middle-class women. Welfare liberalism is bad economics but potent politics.

This is what Franklin D. Roosevelt understood when he enacted the New Deal, providing a blueprint for future Democratic governance. Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Bill Clinton and Mr. Obama - all of them have walked in FDR’s footsteps. Modern progressivism is not about “compassion” or “social justice”; rather, it is about getting and keeping power. FDR understood that massive public spending and social programs could buy off major voting blocs, thereby consolidating control of the liberal ruling class.

Mr. Obama’s goal has been to fuse the huge middle class to big government. That’s the reason he so recklessly passed Obamacare, along with providing vast subsidies for college tuition, boosting education spending and extending unemployment benefits for nearly two years. Piecemeal, he is using the state to forge a permanent Democratic majority coalition. Combine this with his triumph over the killing of Osama bin Laden, and Mr. Obama will be a formidable candidate in 2012.

If Republicans are to defeat him, they must choose a viable and effective challenger. Mr. Gingrich is not the one. His tenure as House speaker was marked by confusion and incompetence. He was outmaneuvered by President Clinton at every turn. The 1995 government shutdown likely cost the GOP the presidency in 1996. During the Clinton impeachment scandal, Mr. Gingrich failed to follow a consistent and principled strategy. Instead, he dithered, lunging from one tactic to another. Mr. Clinton presided over the most scandal-ridden, lawless administration in memory. He engaged in rampant abuse of power, even lying under oath over his squalid affair with a young intern, Monica Lewinsky. The sex president violated his sacred oath and degraded the presidency. Congressional Republicans failed to persuade the public to remove Mr. Clinton from office; this is a damning indictment of Mr. Gingrich’s leadership.

Mr. Gingrich recently told The Washington Times that his greatest failures as House speaker were his disorganization and intellectual arrogance - his refusal to work closely with other top GOP leaders. Really? That’s like saying he didn’t allow others to help him realize his inner greatness. Smug, self-satisfied and condescending, Mr. Gingrich is emblematic of the venal Republican establishment. His major failures were not tactical. They were personal. Mr. Gingrich could not tenaciously pursue Mr. Clinton during Monicagate because he, too, was ethically compromised. Mr. Gingrich is an admitted serial adulterer who has engaged in extramarital affairs. He even forced one of his ex-wives to sign divorce papers while she was about to undergo a cancer operation. In short, he is a ruthless climber and shameless opportunist; he does not have the character to be commander in chief.

Over the past decade, Mr. Gingrich has erected a financial mini-empire - lucrative speaking fees, book and TV contracts, and cozy ties with fat-cat lobbyists. He has participated in policy events teaming up with Hillary Rodham Clinton. Instead of openly confronting one of the most corrupt political families in America, Mr. Gingrich has jumped in bed with them. In the end, he champions one thing: himself.

There is, however, an even deeper problem with a Gingrich candidacy. His worldview is too similar to that of George W. Bush. President Bush believed in “compassionate conservatism” based on big government at home and nation-building abroad. Bailouts, soaring budget deficits, federalizing education, the costly prescription-drug benefit, free trade and failed democracy projects in Afghanistan and Iraq - these were Mr. Bush’s lasting legacy. The result was the crushing defeat of the Republican Party. Mr. Gingrich - with his embrace of economic globalization, promiscuous militarism and a bailout nation - would represent nothing more than a third Bush term.

Under Mr. Bush, Republicans became bloated, arrogant and disconnected from Middle America. They strayed from their nationalist, small-government roots. Mr. Gingrich is a man of the past - one characterized by betrayal, failure and corruption. The GOP certainly can do better than this 1990s retread.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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