By this point, the Gingrich for President campaign has lost whatever political relevance it might have had and has entered the realm of comic entertainment.
Which is fine with me.
Everybody knew this day would come; the only surprise is that it came so swiftly. As Rich Galen, a former Gingrich aide, told Politico:
“The problem for Newt is, this is exactly what everybody who has ever worked for or around him said was his basic problem. Sooner or later, I suspect, unfortunately, the campaign will collapse from the top because people are going to say, ‘I love him and he’s really smart, but he can’t be president.’”
Or, as Rich Lowry of National Review wrote:
“He can’t help himself. Gingrich prefers extravagant lambasting when a mere distancing would do, and the over-arching theoretical construct to a mundane pander. He is drawn irresistibly to operatic overstatement — sometimes brilliant, always interesting, and occasionally downright absurd.”
And then there was this devastating exchange, in Iowa:
Gingrich’s mistake, of course, was in aiming his facility for “operatic overstatement” at members of his own party, calling the House GOP’s Medicare plan “radical” and an example of “right-wing social engineering.”
Democrats were immediately gleeful at the prospect of using Newt’s words in campaign ads against House Republicans, all but four of whom had voted to end Medicare as we know it. But why would Gingrich make such a statement, especially with House Republicans already feeling politically exposed by their support for a plan that, after all, really is radical right-wing social engineering?
I think the answer’s pretty clear. Gingrich did it for the same reason he whined about his treatment on Air Force One by President Clinton back in the ’90s. The ex-speaker lashed out because he was jealous and resentful, in this case of Paul Ryan, who now occupies the spot of intellectual darling that Gingrich himself once occupied. (Newt’s reception at the Georgia GOP convention over the weekend, where he was greeted not as a returning hero but as a clear No. 2 to Herman Cain, may have added to his sour mood.)
The attempted walkback has been downright hilarious. A veteran of dozens of Sunday news shows, Gingrich at first claimed that he’d been victimized by a gotcha question on “Meet the Press” and that his response had been taken out of context.
Let’s review the question and the response:
“DAVID GREGORY, MEET THE PRESS: You think Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors some premium support and — so that they can go out and buy private insurance?
GINGRICH: I don’t think right wing social engineering is any more desirable than left wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”
Once it became clear that approach wouldn’t work, Gingrich finally admitted he had made a mistake. He then went on to warn that “any ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood and because I have said publicly, those words were inaccurate and unfortunate.”
Really? Can you call takebacks in politics?
If so, Bill Clinton wants it on the record that he never said “I never had sex with that woman.”
George H. W. Bush never said “Read my lips, no new taxes.”
And George W. Bush never stood in front of that “Mission Accomplished” sign.
– Jay Bookman