You know you’re running a lousy presidential campaign when you get bitten by a penguin.
Newt Gingrich, still in the race only because a deep-pocket casino magnate is funding his pathetic run, was campaigning last week for the zoo-animal vote in St. Louis — on a private tour, of course — and got nipped by a Magellanic penguin. Oh, if only he’d taken a jaunt through Big Cat Country or fed the crocodiles in the Herpetarium: Perhaps we’d all be out of our misery now.
The Newt’s presidential campaign has got to be one of the worst ever run in American history (someone should ask the deep-thoughts historian to pontificate on that one). So let’s roll it all up in a ball, shall we, and take a look.
Last May, when Newt was casually campaigning, as is his way, he found himself exhausted. He had, after all, been at it for weeks. So, he did what any pooped-out candidate would do: He split on a luxury cruise to the Greek Islands with Wife No. 3 (22 years his junior — he was already out of college when she was born).
“According to an online itinerary,” Politico reported, “the ship departed from Piraeus, Greece, on May 30th and docked in Istanbul, Turkey today, with stops along the way in Mylos, Patmos, Rhodes and Mykonos. The company advertises week-long cruises starting at $2,499 per person.”
When he got back in June, a group of his top aides, including his campaign manager, said “Enough,” and bailed. “His former spokesman, Rick Tyler, who was part of that group, told ABC News that he and ‘the senior leadership team of the campaign’ left largely because their candidate refused to campaign aggressively.”
Of course, the island-hopping jaunt came just weeks after it emerged that Newt and Callista held up to a half-million dollars in debt with Tiffany’s, the elite jewelry store.
With most of his staff gone and his campaign in turmoil, what did Newt do? Spend it up. On the campaign trail? Please. No, while Newt’s presidential campaign was hemorrhaging money, it was paying its staff exorbitant sums. So much so the Federal Election Commission demanded the campaign disclose why “nearly $1 million was paid to the candidate, staff and a small group of fundraising consultants for questionable reimbursements,” The Washington Times reported. Newt alone hauled in $88,000 in just one month.
“Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond had told The Times that the payments were a result of Mr. Gingrich footing bills early in the campaign and getting reimbursed because no bank would give the campaign a credit card.” Well, that is a campaign to get behind.
Newt rose during the debates — he is, after all, a professional talker — but quickly fell again. By the end of March, he ended up “dramatically curtailing his campaign schedule, laying off about a third of his staff and dismissing his campaign manager” — again — the Associated Press reported. “In the meantime, Gingrich planned to shift the campaign’s focus to digital outreach — in particular Twitter, YouTube and other social media.” Yeah, that’ll work.
The rest is a blur, too many blunders to catalog. Newt accused Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican point man on budget issues, of right-wing social engineering. The Newt spent weeks explaining how he was not a lobbyist for Freddie Mac during the days he was lobbying for Freddie Mac. He launched an anti-capitalism attack against Mitt Romney for his time at Bain Capital (a self-made millionaire).
And lest we forget, just before the South Carolina debate, his second wife said Newt offered her a choice of an open marriage or a divorce after he revealed to her he was having an affair with Callista.
But wait, there’s still more: By this month, Newt was so desperate to dig himself out of a $4 million hole, he resorted to renting out his presidential campaign’s donor list.
“Campaign insiders,” Politico reported, “attribute the problems partly to Gingrich and his wife Callista asserting that the couple was unwilling to downgrade from private jets and security details even as the campaign floundered. Insiders say Callista Gingrich required an entourage of at least two staffers — including one who dressed in an elephant costume to promote her children’s book — and a contracted security guard who followed her even on non-campaign trips.”
Newt even started charging supporters $50 a pop for a photo with him.
All of this would be amusing if Newt the Candidate wasn’t costing the American taxpayer $38,000 a day for Secret Service protection.
Well, they couldn’t protect him from that Magellanic penguin, and they can’t protect him from the American voter. They may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. And when Newt disappears this time, it’ll be for good. And good riddance.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.