How long have I been saying it? At least for 15 years, but in private I have been aware of it longer. Newt Gingrich is conservatism’s Bill Clinton, but without the charm. He has acquired wit, but he has all the charm of barbed wire.
Newt and Bill are, of course, 1960s-generation narcissists, and they share the same problems: waywardness and deviancy. Newt, like Bill, has a proclivity for girl-hopping. It is not as egregious as Bill‘s, but then Newt is not as drop-dead beautiful. His public record is already besmeared with tawdry divorces, and there are private encounters with the fair sex that doubtless will come out. If I have heard of some, you can be sure the Democrats have heard of more. Nancy Pelosi’s intimations are timely. Newt up against the Prophet Obama would be a painful thing to watch. He might be deft with one-liners, but it would be futile. There are independent and other uncommitted voters to be cultivated in 2012 - all would be unmoved by Newt’s juggling of conservative shibboleths.
Newt and Bill, as 1960s generation self-promoters, share the same duplicity, ostentatious braininess and a propensity for endless scrapes with propriety and the law. They are tireless hustlers. Newt is hustling my fellow conservatives in this election. The last time around, he successfully hustled conservatives in the House of Representatives and then the conservatives on the House impeachment committee. He blew the impeachment and, in fact, his role as speaker. He backed out in disgrace. He now says Republicans in the House were exhausted with his great projects. Nonsense. I knew many of them, and they were exhausted with his atrocious leadership. He is not a leader. He is a huckster. Mitt Romney has 72 congressional endorsements. Newt has 11. Possibly the 11 have yet to meet him.
Now he has found his key for hustling the conservative electorate. He is playing the liberal media card and saying he embodies conservative values. Like Bill with his credulous fans, Newt is hoping conservatives suffer amnesia. Possibly some do. Perhaps they cannot recall mere months ago when this insufferable whiz kid was lambasting the great Rep. Paul Ryan for “right-wing social engineering” - more evidence of Newt’s not-so-hidden longing for the approval of the liberal media.
After his Ryan moment, Newt’s campaign was a death wagon, and it will be so again - hopefully before he gets the nomination. Conservatives should not climb onto his hearse. He is a huckster, and I for one will not be rendered a contortionist trying to defend him. I did so in his earliest days and learned my lesson. After Newt’s and Bill’s disastrous experiences in government, both went on to create empires, Bill in philanthropy and cheap thought, Newt in public policy and cheap thought. As an ex-president, Bill has rung up an unprecedented $75.6 million since absconding from the White House with White House loot and shameless pardons. I do not know how much Newt has amassed, but he got between $1.6 million and $1.8 million from Freddie Mac, and he lobbied for Medicare Part D while receiving, according to Timothy P. Carney, “big bucks pushing corporate welfare.” Now, after a lifetime in Washington, he is promoting himself as an outsider.
Contending with Newt for the Republican nomination are Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. All three are truer conservatives than Newt. I like them all. But John R. Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations, and John Lehman, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy, are for Mitt, and they are solid conservatives. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and economic pundit Larry Kudlow laud Mitt on taxes, spending and attacking crony capitalism. Mr. Kudlow calls Mr. Romney “Reaganesque.” Ann Coulter seems to loathe Newt. That is good enough for me.
Back in 1992, I appeared with Chris Matthews on some gasbag’s television show. Was it Phil Donohue? At any rate, I said candidate Bill Clinton had more skeletons in his closet than a body snatcher. It was a prescient line then, and I always got a laugh. I can apply the same line today to Newt, though he has skeletons both inside and outside his closet. Conservatives should not be surprised by the scandals that lie ahead if they stick with him. Those of us who raised the question of character in 1992 were confronted by an indignant Bill Clinton, treating the topic as a low blow. To listen to him, character was the “c” word of American politics. It was reprehensible to mention it. By now we know. Character matters. Mr. Paul, Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney have it. Newt has Clinton’s character.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His most recent book is “After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).