Night of the Living Newt

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  December 15, 2011

It was Gingrich who created GOPAC, a fundraising and spending mechanism that helped put local elections at the whim of partisan third-party money — and made the resulting elected officials indebted to the people who controlled that spigot of cash.

It was Gingrich who blurred the lines between political activity and hawking his personal commercial brand. In fact, that was at the heart of the investigation that resulted in him being the only Speaker in congressional history to be penalized for ethics violations. He had received improper gifts from GOPAC, according to the findings, and used charitable contributions for political use.

It was Gingrich who helped clog the works of federal government by deploying every procedural trick to partisan advantage. That famously included, of course, actually shutting down the government during budget negotiations in 1995 — but it has also brought us to the point where Senate Republicans filibuster votes on even the most mundane bills, and prevent confirmation of even non-controversial appointments.

And it was Gingrich who brazenly sacrificed competent governance to pure power consolidation — which helped ultimately lead to his ouster by disgruntled Republican House members, but paved the way for Tom DeLay's "K Street Project," the crimes of Jack Abramoff, and the misbehavior that has led congressional Republicans to single-digit popularity.

THE CHANGE AGENT

This long history does, of course, provide endless reams of reasons to keep Gingrich far away from the White House. That's why the punditry, along with the Romney and Obama campaign teams, have assumed that Gingrich's support would collapse once voters were reminded of all the nastiness, selfishness, immorality, and incompetence.

But perhaps they fail to understand the conservative base.

For one thing, those voters are desperately seeking someone to go in and radically shake up the way Washington works. "They are looking for somebody who will be the change agent," says Nancy Dwight, a GOP activist in Boston, member of Romney's New Hampshire Steering Committee in 2008, and longtime friend of Gingrich.

Dwight compares the mood of Republicans in this election cycle to that of Democrats who chose Obama four years ago — to the surprise of much of the party and media establishment.

And the largely evangelical Christian Republican voting base is, by nature, far more accepting and forgiving of those who admit to past misbehavior. Thus, the horror stories of ethics violations and marital indiscretions have not damaged Gingrich's support as anticipated.

By contrast, Romney's flawlessness — in one recent interview, he proclaimed an occasional chocolate milk as his greatest vice — makes him suspect. He's like a non-drinker asking to lead an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter.


ROADMAP TO VICTORY

There remains the problem, however, that Gingrich does not have anything resembling a serious presidential operation.

But even that might not matter. It could be that winning the Republican nomination today depends almost entirely on exposure through conservative media.

In fact, that was largely the argument being made eight months ago by veteran Republican political consultant Dave Carney — who left Gingrich's campaign in June and now works for Rick Perry.

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