Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Gingrich’s Transcendent Self-Regard

The Washington Post has a fascinating story based on an examination of papers collected over nearly three decades, documents compiled by a former Newt Gingrich aide and archived at the University of West Georgia, where Gingrich was an assistant professor in the 1970s. What they reveal, according to the Post, is “a politician of moderate-to-liberal beginnings, a product of the civil rights era who moved to the right with an eye on political expediency — and privately savaged Republicans he was praising in public. Even as he gained a reputation as a conservative firebrand, the documents show Gingrich was viewed by his staff primarily as a tactician — the ‘tent evangelist’ of the conservative movement, one staffer said — with little ideological core.”

There’s a lot to sort through, but two things in particular stood out to me. One is that Gingrich’s chief of staff in 1983, Frank Gregorsky, said (according to a transcript of a staff meeting) that Gingrich “assumed that he’s the whole Republican Party. He knows more than the president [Ronald Reagan], the president’s people, [Robert H.] Michel, [James] Baker. He calls them stupid all the time, and I think that’s going to get him into big trouble someday.”

And then there’s what Gingrich said in a 1979 address to his congressional staff: “When I say save the West, I mean that. That is my job. . . . It is not my job to win reelection. It is not my job to take care of passport problems. It is not my job to get a bill through Congress. My job description as I have defined it is to save Western civilization.”

None of this is surprising to many of those who have watched Gingrich during the years, especially those who have worked with him and for him. A man of transcendent self-regard, Gingrich views himself as a world-historical figure, our Horatius at the bridge, one of the few people standing between (in Gingrich’s words) “us and Auschwitz.”

The former House speaker possesses some considerable talents. But there is such a thing as presidential temperament. Gingrich doesn’t have it–not by a country mile–and therefore, he will never be president of the United States.