Night of the Living Newt

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  December 15, 2011

He was also mocked for his reported half-million-dollar jewelry habit at Tiffany's, which made him look less like a political leader and more like someone trying to boost his brand value to keep his third wife, Callista, bedecked in diamonds — an image reinforced by his boast of regularly charging $60,000 for speaking, and when he put the campaign on hold to take the latest Mrs. Gingrich on a luxury cruise in Greece.

That cruise proved to be the last straw for much of his campaign staff, who resigned and drifted off to competing candidates.

BAD COMBINATION Dubbed “a stupid man’s idea of what a smart person sounds like, Gingrich may also be the most calculatingly nasty Republican on the national scene since Joe McCarthy or Richard Nixon.

For months after that, Gingrich was largely ignored, aside from the occasional reports indicating that he seemed to be running his campaign as an extension of his self-promoting group of businesses. He had more book signings than stump speeches. Staff consisted mostly of employees of his American Solutions political action committee. His campaign ended September more than a million dollars in debt, mostly due to enormous private-jet bills. He did not open an Iowa campaign office until late last month. He has missed filing deadlines in at least two states, and in New Hampshire failed to submit a full slate of delegates.

And yet, with less than three weeks left until the Iowa caucuses kick off the actual nominating contests, Gingrich has emerged as the front-runner — with even the most skeptical naysayers now wondering if he might actually become the GOP nominee against Barack Obama.

Perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising. After all, Gingrich is as responsible as anyone for creating the modern conservative culture. It has been, to a large degree, shaped in his image. It makes sense, then, that he should fit it so well.

Romney and his advisors have finally woken up to the threat Gingrich poses, after initially dismissing or even welcoming his emergence — much like they did with the previous surges of empty suits Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain.

The thinking of the Romney brain trust, it appeared, was that Gingrich, too, was so obviously unpresidential that he could be safely ignored. By contrast, the campaign had hammered away at former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Texas Governor Rick Perry, whom they saw as legitimate threats.

In fact, Romney's team may have been concerned that a Gingrich collapse might re-open the door for Perry — one of the lessons learned from John McCain's 2008 comeback was to never let up on an apparently dead rival. And there may be reason to worry. Perry was already beginning to creep up in Iowa polls, even before his strong performance in last weekend's debate there.

That concern may explain why Romney left Gingrich alone to self-destruct under the criticisms of the media and members of the GOP establishment.

That criticism came, from conservative commentators, and even some prominent elected Republicans — most notably including those who were in the House under Gingrich. But it has had little impact. So far, neither have Romney's direct assaults.

If anything, the attacks have only shown how much the Republican Party has become the Gingrich Party.

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