Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Newt Gingrich has been churned to the top of the heap this week in terms of the not-Romney set of candidates (photo by Gage Skidmore). As he was largely ignored previously in the race (and his staff once quit en masse, leaving his campaign on life support), this’ll give us an opportunity to find out whether we should continue ignoring him. By way of background, Newt was a congressman from Georgia from 1979-1999, and the Speaker of the House from for the last four of those years. In the 1994 elections he was “at the forefront” of the Republican take-over of the house, which had been controlled by Democrats for 40 years. Publicly and politically, he was to Bill Clinton what Nancy Pelosi was to George Bush. Impressively, he and President Clinton were able to pass a landmark welfare reform (1996) and actually balance the budget (1999; first time since 1969).

Newt has a PhD in modern European history from Tulane (1971), and, since resigning his congressional seat in 1998 when Republicans lost the house, has been a popular conservative analyst, consultant, and commentator. He’s currently married to his third wife, having cheated on his previous two wives and subsequently marrying the one he was cheating with. The affair that started his current marriage ironically took place during his time as leader of the Republican investigation of Bill Clinton’s dalliances. Interestingly, he blames his infidelity on his ebullient patriotism: “There's no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.”

Seeing as how I don’t require the President to be a Pope or a Prophet, however, the moral lapses, sad as they are, shouldn’t automatically disqualify him for office. In terms of policy, in the past he’s shown signs of moderation, as he supported an individual mandate (saying his health care views were closely aligned with those of Hillary Clinton), agreed with John Kerry on global warming, and criticized Paul Ryan’s trumped-up health care plan as a piece of right-wing social engineering. Lately, however, it appears he’s moved sharply to the right, switching positions on both the mandate and global warming. It's hard to tell exactly where he stands, however, as he has a knack for refusing to answer any questions with any degree of detail. It appears that by taking an erudite-sounding macro view of everything he thinks he’ll impress voters.

Newt has expressed contempt for the debt reduction super committee, and instead wants to implement the lean "Six Sigma” management program in the federal government, expand energy exploration, have states set welfare eligibility, and expand research for cures to diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Indeed, a weird grab bag of ideas that probably wouldn’t make a dent in the budget. If one wants to reduce the trajectory of the deficit, you have to start with Medicare, period. Newt’s currently taking flak for a $300k $1.6m payday from Freddie Mac before the financial crisis. As I find more specific positions I’ll post them, but, as Kevin Drum points out, apparently Newt's website asks voters for their ideas instead of explaining his own, so I'm not sure there's much to find. Hopefully Gingrich’s time as the anti-Romney is short so we can move on to a more level-headed candidate (such as Huntsman and… er, Huntsman).

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