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Ed Driscoll

Newt Versus the Unicorn Rider

May 17th, 2011 - 6:13 pm

Rich Lowry writes a compelling portrait of Newt Gingrich’s pluses and minuses, which can be boiled down to this:

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. is reputed to have said FDR had a first-class temperament but a second-class intellect. Gingrich flips the Holmes formulation around: He has a first-class intellect but his temperament belongs in steerage. He’s like one of those many places where they say, “If you don’t like the weather around here, just wait five minutes.”

As Lowry adds:

There’s a reason so many Republican candidates in the early 1990s listened to his cassette tapes about how to present conservative ideas. He framed the debate that won Republicans the House in 1994. When most people in his stage of life would have settled into a Washington lobbying job and been content to spout conventional wisdom on TV public-affairs shows, the 67-year-old Gingrich retains his vitality.

The Left has been after him for calling Obama “the most successful food-stamp president in American history.” The imagined racial offense aside, it’s a simple way to capture the lamentable state of the recovery when more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps. Gingrich says our choice is between a country that creates dependency or creates paychecks. Other Republicans could do worse than adopt Gingrich’s formulation as their own.

It’s Newt’s misfortune to want a high-pressure executive job with monarchical trappings where steadfastness and dignity matter. When he was Speaker of the House, he alienated his colleagues (some of whom roll their eyes at the mere mention of his name) and dragged himself, his family, and his party through a psychodrama. If he were to replicate that performance in the White House, it’d be a formula for a LBJ- or Nixon-style meltdown.

“One of my great weaknesses is that part of me is a teacher analyst,” Gingrich said on Meet the Press. “And part of me is a political leader.” That shows a self-awareness his campaign for president otherwise lacks.

Jonah Goldberg further deconstructs Gingrich (whom his wife once worked for), and concludes:

One major source of Newt’s problems is that he is almost always the smartest guy in the room. Compounding this problem is an ability and compulsion to defend any position he takes. For a politician this can be an enormous problem because it creates a climate where he can’t take unwelcome advice from his staff. I don’t mean because he’s a bullying boss — I know many people who have worked for Newt, including my wife, and by all accounts he’s a very generous and decent employer and a surprisingly good listener. The problem is that he can always “win” the arguments about whether he made a mistake. It would be interesting to know if after his Meet the Press interview anybody on Newt’s staff told him, “Uh, sir, that stuff about Paul Ryan’s budget and the individual mandate is going to create huge problems.” If no one said something like that, it’s a bad sign, either because they couldn’t see the obvious either, or because they were afraid to tell the boss the truth.

You can’t run for president of the United States with a staff of advisers who think everything you do is a homerun. Well, you can, but you can’t possibly win.

Update: Already a slew of readers tell me that Obama disproves the last graf. Maybe so. But for reasons good and bad Newt is not Obama and Obama is not Newt. So for the sake clarity, let’s change the word “you” in the final two sentences (“You can’t run for president…” to “Newt”).

Finally, Yuval Levin, another NROer spots one benefit of Newt’s flameout this weekend: “Whatever else may be said about this week’s Gingrich contortions, one thing is clear: Paul Ryan and the House Republican budget have the strong support of an exceptionally broad array of conservatives—from the DC establishment to the talk radio world to the grass roots and the Tea Party.”

Related: “A Study in Projection!”

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