Commentary Magazine


Gingrich’s Political Fault Lines

Often the most damaging words used against politicians are the ones that are said against them by others. In the case of Newt Gingrich, the most damaging words against him may be those he has said about himself.

Kirsten Powers has written a column amassing examples of what she calls the former Speaker’s self-infatuation. They include this one: “I don’t want my country to collapse. I don’t want my daughter and wife raped and killed,” Gingrich told a reporter in 1994. After all, he said, “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.” And then there’s this (from scribbled notes during a brainstorming sessions):

“Gingrich—primary mission: advocate of civilization, definer of civilization, teacher of the rules of civilization, arouser of those who fan civilization, organizer of the pro-civilization activists, leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces.”

Will these things matter in the primary (and potentially in a presidential) campaign?

By themselves, not so much. They may be worth a chuckle or a roll of the eyes, but it’s unlikely that quotes like these, by themselves, would move people, at least Republican voters, one way or the other as it relates to Gingrich.

On the other hand, if these quotes reinforce a pre-existing impression about Gingrich or contribute to a narrative that can be revived, it will inflict substantial damage on him.

There are several options Gingrich’s opponents have open to them, including focusing attention on his conservative “heresies,” his flip-flops on the issues, and his public and private character. These are not mutually exclusive. But my own instinct is the latter poses the greatest threat to the former Speaker. It’s the sense many people have (including those who have worked with and for Gingrich) that he is chronically undisciplined and narcissistic, erratic and temperamentally unsuited for the presidency. If these concerns are tapped into, reinforced, and fortified by either the other GOP candidates or, in a general election, by President Obama, then it will prove to be politically lethal for Gingrich.