- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Hon. Newt Gingrich’s recent oracular rumble to a luncheon audience at the Brookings Institution, during which he threatened to seek the Republican presidential nomination if a “vacuum” remains in the Republican field, reminded me of an inescapable insight I suffered sometime in 1998. Mr. Gingrich is the Republicans’ Bill Clinton. Being a Republican, Mr. Gingrich is not as hollow as the Arkansas huckster, nor as amusing. In fact, he can be boring.

Springing from the same late 1960s jugendkultur as the Boy President, Mr. Gingrich is the career pol, the hustling, self-promoting narcissist, the sempiternal fantasist. When he was Speaker of the House I should have called him the Boy Speaker. He made his exit from politics like a troubled adolescent: whining, blustering, and guilty as charged.

Had Mr. Gingrich measured himself scrupulously against those Republicans now mentioned as presidential contenders, he never could have spoken of a “vacuum.” George Allen, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney are all sturdier candidates than the Boy Speaker whose House colleagues politely put a banana peel under his well-worn wingtips in 1998.

Doubtless there are many other Republicans who would be preferable to Mr. Gingrich. How about Tom Tancredo? What is it that makes Mr. Gingrich think he is a fit candidate to lead the nation? He prides himself on being an intellectual, by which he means being a policy wonk. This is another of his fantasies; he confuses wonkiness with learnedness and wisdom. This is a fantasy he shares with Clinton.

I once heard an English gentleman, fresh from bathing in Mr. Clinton’s radiance, confide to the great British historian Paul Johnson that Clinton is “so intelligent.” “Not intelligent,” Mr. Johnson responded, “cunning.” The word encapsulates Mr. Gingrich’s thought process perfectly. Yet again, Mr. Gingrich is a Republican. He is not quite as cunning as Bill Clinton. In fact, whenever he found himself up against Mr. Clinton, he was bested by the Boy President.

When all the brag and bounce of Mr. Gingrich’s intellectual pretense is anesthetized, and the corpus of his intellectual work is subjected to scholarly analysis, what do we see? An eternal graduate student at a mediocre state university has been playing with bits and pieces of the large ideas of Milton Friedman and like-minded political scientists, for instance, Edward Banfield. Down the hall is Mr. Clinton. The bits and pieces that he plays with are those of Ira Magaziner or Robert B. Reich. Mr. Gingrich is a more adventuresome graduate student.

Both Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Clinton benefited from the 1990s adjournment of character as a desideratum for public life. Very cleverly, candidate Bill Clinton in the 1992 campaign managed to banish character as a campaign issue. He portrayed the topic as a Republican dirty trick, and the journalists swallowed it. Eight years later it became clear why Mr. Clinton was desperate to render the question of character a topic unfit for public discussion. By then Mr. Gingrich too needed this dispensation.

Of course, Republicans are more fastidious than Democrats about personal morals. So when Mr. Gingrich’s cutie was discovered even as he was impeaching Mr. Clinton for lying about a cutie and obstruction, Republicans gave Mr. Gingrich the heave-ho.

Now Mr. Gingrich is back and he expects Republican women to forget his treatment of women. He expects Republicans to forget how he bungled the 1998 off-year elections, claiming at one point Republicans would actually pick up seats when — truth be known — they were lucky to preserve their margin.

One reason for the Republicans’ losses that year was that the Boy Speaker rushed an omnibus spending bill laden with pork through the House, to the dismay of Republican voters. The other was his sophomoric handling of one of the most important constitutional crises of the 20th century, Bill Clinton’s impeachment. One day he would summon Republicans to attack. The next day he would claim to be aghast at their combativeness. Again Mr. Clinton bested him.

Now he believes he is a plausible candidate for the presidency. Given his erratic record, do I need to adduce any more evidence that he is a fantasist? He fashioned the Republican takeover of the House in 1994 with the indispensable assistance of his cogenerationists from the gaseous 1960s, the Clintons. In 1998, he recklessly imperiled his party’s dominance and disgraced his name. Since his fall he has, as has his Democratic lookalike, strutted and pontificated tirelessly. Both had their moment in history and both blew it.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His most recent book is “Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.”

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