The Kinder, Gentler Newt?
By John D. Turner
16 Jan 2012

Back in Iowa, Newt Gingrich said that his message was to be a positive one; that conservatives had nothing to gain, and everything to lose, from “going negative.” Then began a series of blistering negative attack ads both from Ron Paul and from a pro-Romney PAC that saw Newt’s newly commanding lead in the polls shrink like an ice cream cone in a blast furnace.

“I would be ashamed to run some of the ads they are running and I will not participate in that kind of process,” Gingrich said. “I can’t be a witness to America’s future while smearing my opponents and I would simply ask every Iowan before Tuesday night to ask yourself, ‘Do you really want to reward the consultants, the lies, the negativity, or do you want to say to the country, ‘A brand new day has arrived.’”

Romney, for his part, in an interview on Fox News, defended the ads, saying they “pointed out some of the aspects of his record that people weren’t aware of and that’s brought the numbers down. By the way, there’s nothing that any of these ads by any of the candidates are showing about Speaker Gingrich that President Obama wouldn’t put out with his billion- dollar money that he’s going to have down the road. So it’s probably a good time for people to see these things to make up their mind.”

Well, what goes around comes around I guess. To quote Dr. Horrible, “it’s a brand new day and the sun is high, all the birds are singin' cause you’re gonna die…”

A brand new day indeed; Newt 2.0, the kindlier, gentler Newt, the grandfather, the mellowed out married guy (third time’s the charm?), the older and wiser head; you know, the “new” Newt, has apparently disappeared. Now, from behind the façade peers out the “old” Newt, the crotchety Newt, the loose cannon Newt, the “Gingrich who stole Christmas” Newt.

A Newt it seems, who is not above smearing his opponents after all. Does this mean he is no longer “a witness to America’s future?”

So which Newt is the real Newt? The Newt who today touts his conservative credentials, or the one who sat down on the couch with Nancy Pelosi? Is this the Newt who waxes poetic about conservative values and the virtues of capitalism? Or is this the Newt who eviscerated Paul Ryan’s budget plan as an example of “right-wing social engineering?” Will the real Newt Gingrich please stand up?

Since when did slamming capitalism and capitalists as greedy ruthless sons of privilege, cackling over making a profit and putting thousands of innocent workers out of work while lining their pockets with obscene profits become a conservative virtue? I would expect this from the left; I expect to see campaign ads just like this from the Obama campaign should Mitt Romney actually become the Republican nominee, but from a purported “conservative?” Incredible!

Yet as incredible as it may seem, this is exactly the advertisement about to be released in South Carolina, bankrolled by supporters of Newt Gingrich. And Gingrich himself has made similar statements. In fact, he is starting to sound like he belongs on Nancy Pelosi’s couch!

How is it that when Newt Gingrich changes his mind it isn’t flip-flopping, or when he does something like sitting on a couch with Nancy Pelosi and supporting climate change, it isn’t evidence that he is not a “true conservative”, but rather simply a “stupid mistake”? Conservative values? Like adultery? But that’s OK now apparently, since his current marriage, his third, has lasted eleven years so far without any visible evidence that he has stepped out on her as he did with her on his previous wife. But you know, Newt is a grandfather now, so it’s cool, apparently.

It’s funny because Newt has flip-flopped on some of the very same issues that Mitt is accused of flip-flopping on, but it’s Mitt who’s the flopper, not Newt. And if you talk about Mitt’s “flip-flops”, that’s ok apparently; just letting the folks know what’s what. But if you point out things about Newt’s past, that’s a negative attack ad. Hmmmm.

Newt Gingrich on the Health Insurance Mandate, June 2007; “Personal responsibility extends to the purchase of health insurance. Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it.” And yet, on 16 May 2011, Newt’s position was “I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional."

Is this a flip-flop by Newt? Some say it is. Personally, I don’t think so. The first quote is an opinion expressed by Newt; a statement of “personal responsibility.” Nowhere in the quote does Newt say that the Federal Government should force the individual to purchase the insurance. Indeed, his later quote makes exactly that point. Of course, Newt’s original assertion begs the question, if the citizen is indeed “irresponsible,” and in fact does not purchase the insurance, what is the recourse? Does government, at some level, then step in and require him or her to purchase that insurance? Like Massachusetts did under “RomneyCare”? Obviously, if, as he states in his second statement, it is unconstitutional for the Federal government to mandate the purchase, what does that leave but the individual state?

So what is my point then? Only this; Newt’s argument is exactly the same argument Mitt Romney makes, and yet according to Newt, Mitt has flip-flopped on this issue. He can’t have it both ways. If Mitt is a flip-flopper, then he is too. When Paul Ryan first proposed his budget plan, which was lauded by conservatives, incidentally, what was Newt’s response?

This did not sit well with most conservatives. So, two days later, Newt says:

Flip-flop? You decide. Newt says he simply “made a mistake.” Perhaps, yet when other candidates make similar “mistakes”, they are called flip-flops; why should Newt be immune to such criticism?

Maybe I am odd. There are many who would agree that I am. That aside, I understand candidates making arguments against other candidates seeking the same office. I get that. Yes, I want to know what a candidate stands for. I want to know what he or she will do if they get into office. I want to see their vision for the future. That is positive. But likewise, I want to know what that candidate has done in the past. I want to know their past positions, how they have voted, who they have supported, etc.

If that information supports the candidate’s run for office, I will probably hear it from his or her campaign staff. People like to tout things they think will help them. Likewise, if the information would be considered bad by their supporters it is highly unlikely that I would hear about that from the campaign staff! That has to come from the opposition, and by definition, is considered a “negative” campaign ad. Anything I get from the opposition, I have to independently research and verify. Coming from the opposition, there is every likelihood that it will be slanted, taken out of context, misrepresented, and of course, presented in a bad light.

But likewise, “positive” information coming from the candidate’s campaign will likewise be slanted to present everything in the best light possible. I have to research the “good” stuff too. Is the candidate telling me the truth, or lying to me? Is that flip-flop really a flip-flop? Has the candidate changed position for political reasons, have they truly had a change of heart, or have they not in fact changed their position at all? It’s easy to be cynical about politicians, but cynicism does not help when trying to ascertain the truth or falsehood of a proposition; it just gets in the way.

Again, maybe I am odd, but I don’t mind candidates “digging up dirt” on each other. Do you think the opposition won’t do so? They most certainly will! What I do object to however, is inconsistency. To me, it is inconsistent for someone who purports to be a conservative, to attack another conservative by making an argument that comes from the left. A conservative, who is supposed to believe in capitalism, should not be attacking a conservative capitalist for being a capitalist. That is simply wrong. Assuming that they become the candidate, how then are they going to argue against the left, that a capitalist solution is the best solution, when they themselves have just attacked the capitalist system? What are they then going to propose? A leftist solution? And if so, exactly why should they be the conservative candidate?

As Ronald Reagan said (we conservatives love to quote Reagan), you “dance with the one that brung ya.” You don’t try to become the conservative candidate by bashing the fundamental roots of conservatism; by using the left’s arguments against your fellow conservative candidates. Newt has a reputation, even among his own party, of doing or saying whatever it takes to benefit him. He has demonstrated this behavior time and again. As a historian himself, I am sure Newt would agree that people who fail to learn from the past have a tendency to repeat the same mistakes. It should be instructive that Newt was removed as Speaker of the House by his own party and that shortly after he resigned his House seat without finishing his term. When Sarah Palin stepped down as Governor of Alaska before completing her term she was called a “quitter.” Why then does this appellation not apply to Newt?

Even Rush Limbaugh has slammed Newt for these ads. And, back when Newt was Speaker, there was no greater fan of Newt Gingrich than Rush Limbaugh.

I don’t think there is a “kinder, gentler Newt.” I think there is just the same old Newt, politician, who will say or do whatever it takes to accomplish what Newt wants to accomplish. You want a business as usual politician? Hire Newt. You want nuance, and splitting hairs, and “it depends on what the meaning of is, is? Hire Newt. You want someone who is more than willing to sit down with the opposition – and give them what they want in order to get what he wants? Hire Newt.

Newt’s time has come and gone. I don’t mind him sitting on the sidelines, thinking great thoughts, throwing his two cents in from time to time (he does have good ideas sometimes), and being the old greybeard of the party. But I don’t want him in charge.

Perhaps when all is said and done, if Mitt does become the candidate, Newt can sell the ads to a Democrat PAC supporting Obama. They wouldn’t have to change a thing and it would save them some money out of that billion dollars Obama says he is going to raise.

Call it an exercise in capitalism.