Those who thought the rollout of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign hit bottom with his astonishing attack on Congressman Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan underestimated the former speaker’s capacity for blundering. Yesterday, after Gingrich had backtracked and then apologized for calling Ryan a radical, Politico reported that records showed he owed the Tiffany’s jewelry company a jaw-dropping $500,000 in 2005 and 2006.
It turns out that that until she quit her job with the House Agriculture Committee in 2007, the third Mrs. Gingrich had to file financial disclosure forms that revealed her spouse’s debts, thus revealing to reporters the extent of Newt’s debts. This tidbit does not come out of a vacuum. Those who have followed Gingrich’s career know that he has a reputation for high living and that, until the last decade when he was able to capitalize on his fame to some extent, he suffered from a chronic lack of funds.
It should be stipulated that while Newt’s Tiffany’s bill may strike most ordinary Americans as excessive, there is nothing wrong or illegal with buying a lot of jewelry on credit. But what is fishy is the sullen refusal of the candidate or his camp to either explain the debt or to say whether it has been settled. Who would have thought ill of Gingrich if, when Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren questioned him about it last night, he had merely said that it was the result of some overenthusiastic Christmas, birthday and anniversary shopping for his wife Callista? Indeed, if that’s all it amounts to, it actually helps soften Gingrich’s image since it makes him look more like a lovesick puppy than the arrogant politician the country learned to dislike back in the 1990s.
But just as he rejected the idea that he be subjected to the same scrutiny he demanded of others when he was speaker, Gingrich stonewalled van Susteren and anyone else who asked about his debts yesterday. While the Tiffany’s bill is probably nothing for him to apologize for, it is telling that he still can’t be honest and simply put the issue to rest.
As the Ryan fiasco and his various other unprincipled flip-flops have illustrated, Gingrich’s character problem is not limited to his affairs and failed marriages.