Since the beginning of his political career, President Obama has had a particularly annoying habit of comparing himself to great historical leaders, including Ronald Reagan, Lincoln and JFK. Many politicians do this to a certain extent, but coupled with Obama’s thin resume and lack of substance, it played into the narrative that he had an inflated self-image.
Obama’s historical self-comparisons have become a running joke with conservatives. But why are Newt Gingrich’s even more outlandish personal assessments – that he’s just like Thomas Edison, the Duke of Wellington, or Henry Clay – not treated as equally ridiculous?
If anything, Gingrich’s comparisons are much more overt than Obama’s. “Because I am much like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, I’m such an unconventional political figure that you really need to design a unique campaign that fits the way I operate and what I’m trying to do,” Gingrich told CNN.com last November.
In the same week, Gingrich made a similarly grandiose comment in a Washington Post article. “I am the most seriously professorial politician since Woodrow Wilson,” he said.
And while Gingrich certainly had some great achievements during his time in Congress, even his most fervent supporters would have to concede that this assessment he gave to the Washington Post in 1995 is a bit over the top: “Obsessed recently with Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, [Gingrich] likened the appropriations triumph to the way the British expeditionary force maneuvered against the French during the Peninsular War, a campaign in Portugal and Spain in the early 1800s that eventually led to Wellington’s ascendance and Napoleon’s abdication.”
These are just three of the many self-comparisons to historical figures Gingrich has made over the years, which the Romney campaign compiled in a press release last week (and I wrote about previously here).
Gingrich’s capacity for humility is only slightly below Donald Trump’s. But for some reason, that hasn’t seemed to bother conservative voters. Despite all the attacks on Obama’s egotism, they actually seem to like this trait in Newt. It’s not completely incomprehensible — when somebody’s on your side, arguing for the same things you believe in, a little over-confidence doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
But if we’ve learned anything from the last three years, it’s that delusions of grandeur don’t translate well into governing. Many of Obama’s lofty campaign promises of 2008 – post-partisanship, government transparency, and so on – were never delivered.
And based on what we know about Gingrich, it’s unlikely he would even be able to deliver on the campaign promises he’s making for the general election. The seven Lincoln-Douglas-style debates he vows to have with President Obama have almost no chance of ever happening. And even in the three regular debates, there’s no guarantee Gingrich would emerge a winner. He’s a good debater, not an extraordinary one, and the conduct that’s made him so popular at the GOP debates would likely only alienate independent voters.
You’d think a man with Gingrich’s personal and professional history – especially one who claims to be on a path to redemption – would be cautious before touting his own greatness. He compares himself to eminent historical leaders, but the greatest Republican presidents – Lincoln and Reagan – were notably humble and self-effacing. The more Gingrich tries to place himself on the same plane as these leaders, the faster he seems to shrink.