Home is the place where, when you knock on the door, they have to take you in.
If your world has fallen apart, they do not pester you to name the cause. At least not right away. If you tell them it was somebody else’s fault, they will maintain eye contact and nod their heads. And wish you better luck in the months ahead.
A wounded Newt Gingrich came home on Wednesday. Officially, it was a birthday party to mark the “68” that rolled up on the former U.S. House speaker’s odometer last week.
This was Gingrich’s first visit to a Buckhead office that, under another game plan, was to be the national headquarters for his presidential run. “He asked and asked, but [his old staff] never would put it on his schedule,” said R.C. Hammond, Gingrich’s new spokesman.
The former Georgia congressman was wrapped in the arms a hundred or so old friends – many of them from the days when he was at the height of his power. Some were staffers who had moved on to other careers. Some were fervent supporters who wanted to see with their own eyes how their man had stood up to his bruising, four-week debut as a presidential candidate.
Mel Steely brought his grandson. “We’ve been supporters of Newt since the ‘70s,” said Steely, a retired history professor at West Georgia College and a Gingrich biographer.
Asked for an assessment, a careful Steely said of Gingrich: “He’s in the shape of – how do I phrase this – hanging on and beginning anew.”
Steely wouldn’t permit any suggestion that the collapse of Gingrich’s campaign – more than a dozen staffers quit two weeks ago, and his finance team left Tuesday – was a reflection of the former House speaker’s organizational ability.
“What would lead you to say that? That’s not totally true. He organized the House from nowhere. This guy had no support, no background, nothing. And he came in, a little guy from Georgia getting elected, and he put together a revolution,” Steely said.
This is the kind of loyalty that home is for.
Red, white and blue bunting was scattered here and there. Conservative artist Steve Penley had brought a few of his large patriotic paintings to brighten up the place – they will be gone by Friday — and had produced a new one of Gingrich himself.
On the other side of the room, a smaller portrait of Gingrich as House speaker, flanked by an American flag and a clutch of balloons, hung over a table of coffee and bottled water. Wakes and birthday parties have much in common.
“We want the press to see as many happy and smiling faces as we can,” Gingrich told the crowd after the cake-cutting.
What was missing from the room was political heft. Gov. Nathan Deal was invited, but busy. The governor remains loyal, but the intensity of his support for Gingrich is open to legitimate doubt.
Later in the day, Tricia Pridemore, who had been the governor’s unsuccessful but handpicked choice for chairman of the state GOP, would be named as the chief Georgia fund-raiser for Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign.
The only state lawmaker spotted in the mix was Paulette Rakestraw-Braddock, R-Hiram, a rookie member of the House. “A few months ago, I read his book, ‘To Save America,’” she said.
Gingrich arrived after a morning speech at the Atlanta Press Club, where he refused to answer journalists’ questions about his personal life and campaign. A report that the latter was more than $1 million in debt. News of a second credit line at Tiffany’s – this one somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million.
Instead, Gingrich ripped into Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve – stealing a page, he later acknowledged, from fellow GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Gingrich, unusually, read from a prepared text – the sign of a man determined to stay on message. A month ago, he’d given a 45-minute off-the-cuff speech at the state GOP convention in Macon.
“The news media has spent a month trying to knock me out of the race,” he later told the crowd at his birthday party.
Gingrich and his new aides say it will take three to four months to turn his campaign around. His strategy appears to be twofold: First, connect with the tea party.
Julianne Thompson, a leader of Tea Party Patriots, hung at the edges of Gingrich’s birthday party. The former U.S. House speaker had asked Thompson and other tea party adherents to meet with him later in the day.
Gingrich told the crowd that he then intends to bludgeon his way back into the presidential contest with his voice. He can run a low-cost campaign, making news along the way on the strength of his opinions, Gingrich said.
“Gradually the sheer seriousness of the ideas will begin to wear out the triviality,” he said.
Gingrich spoke of his collapsed campaign only once, when the defection of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, a co-chairman of his national campaign, was raised. Did that sting?
“Of course, it did,” he told reporters in a brief session after the party.
What do you think Perdue’s departure said?
“I think it told you about Sonny Perdue,” Gingrich said. “I was mystified. No phone call? Go ask Sonny Perdue. I thought it was very strange. The two things that were strangest to me were his not calling me, and so-called professional consultants who [after leaving] have deliberately and maliciously kept feeding things to the press to create stories.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider