Yesterday, Mitt Romney was asked if he thought Newt Gingrich should return the $1.6 million he earned for advising Freddie Mac. “Boy, I sure do,” Romney said. “He [Gingrich] was on a debate saying politicians who took money from Freddie and Fannie should go to jail, which is outrageous in itself.” To which Gingrich shot back, “I would say if Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over the years at Bain, I would be glad to listen to him — and I bet you $10, not $10,000, he won’t take the offer.”
This is a ludicrous caricature of Romney’s work at Bain Capital, where he earned a reputation for excellence, investing in startups (like Staples), turning companies around in some cases and cutting payrolls and shutting down companies that couldn’t be revived in other cases.
Beyond that, though, I wonder if it bothers Gingrich that he’s basically echoing the same criticisms of Romney made by the late Edward Kennedy in their 1994 Senate race in Massachusetts. If it doesn’t, it should. Because the argument Gingrich is making is, at its core, anti-capitalist, the kind of thing you would expect to hear from an Occupy Wall Street protester, not a Republican presidential candidate.
Perhaps this isn’t surprising. After all, Gingrich started his campaign by referring to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare as “right-wing social engineering” — a phrase Republican House members who voted for the Ryan plan are likely to hear used against them.
What is important about this latest exchange, I think, is that it is entirely typical of Gingrich. It is yet more evidence he is not a man who is intellectually grounded in conservatism (no person who has professed admiration for the ideas of Alvin Toffler could be). It explains why his statements over the years have
been all over the lot. Like Bill Clinton, Gingrich is a man of alarming personal indiscipline. But unlike Clinton, Gingrich is also a man of intellectual indiscipline.
And then there’s this nice Newtonian touch: Gingrich, after his blistering attack on Romney, said “Tomorrow morning, I will release a letter to staff and consultants indicating my determination to run a positive campaign.” He added he would “disown any super-PAC or staff member” who participated in negative attacks on rival GOP candidates.
What Gingrich didn’t say is whether he would disown himself.