By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
Political junkies like me have never seen anything like it: Running 20 points behind, just a week before the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich catapulted to the top of the pile and ended up defeating Mitt Romney by 12 points. It’s almost enough to make a believer out of you.
Indeed, his 32-point tour-de-force in just seven days is stunning, given that Gingrich, whose entire campaign staff walked out on him last summer, ran an embarrassing fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s all the more remarkable when you realize that his entire campaign is based on three big lies: he’s a Washington outsider; he’s not a lobbyist; and he’s a small-government conservative. Liar, liar, pants on fire!
Only if you define “outsider” as someone born outside of Washington could Gingrich be considered not part of the Washington establishment. He was elected to Congress in 1979, and hasn’t left Washington since. He served in Congress for 20 years, four of them as speaker of the House, just two heartbeats away from the presidency. Since resigning in disgrace from Congress, he’s operated inside the Beltway while serving on several boards and commissions, advising Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, founding and leading several for-profit consulting companies, and appearing as a paid commentator on Fox News. He and his third wife Callista live in McLean, Va., one of Washington’s most elite, and most expensive, suburbs.
Newt Gingrich, in other words, is exactly what Washington is full of. You see them every day at The Palm, the Capitol Grille, or the Four Seasons Hotel: old, white men who used to be somebody. They came to Washington as a young man, held an important job until they quit or were fired, and never went home. They hang out here, in all the favorite watering holes, hoping somebody will recognize them. If Newt’s not part of the Washington establishment, there is no Washington establishment.
And if Newt’s no lobbyist, there are no lobbyists in Washington, either. It doesn’t matter whether he actually went up to Capitol Hill and “registered” as a lobbyist. He has an office on K Street. He meets with members of Congress and state legislators about legislation impacting companies who pay him handsomely — including $25,000 a month from the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac — to represent them. In other words, he does what Bob Livingston, Larry Craig, Dick Gephardt, and Trent Lott do. He opens doors and peddles his influence all over town. Enough with silly word games. He’s a lobbyist.
Newt also tries to appeal to tea partiers by painting himself as an authentic Ron Paul, Ronald Reagan-like, small-government conservative — which, if claimed by anybody else, would be condemned by Newt as “pious baloney.” Throughout his career, Gingrich has always promoted big ideas for big government. He voted for creation of the Department of Education and supported Medicare Part D. He championed universal health care, with an individual mandate. Together with Nancy Pelosi, he called on Congress to take action against global warming. He’s advocated a new federal initiative on brain research. He calls himself a “Theodore Roosevelt Republican.”
Just this week, Newt told Florida voters that, if elected president, he would establish an American colony on the moon — and begin regular shuttle service to and from Mars — by 2020. At the same time, he says he’s prepared to declare war on Iran and Cuba. He’s offered no evidence of how much these new initiatives would cost, nor where the money would come from. Although, as a member of Congress, he did author the “Northwest Ordinance for Space,” allowing moon residents, once they numbered 13,000, to petition Congress to become our 51st state.
As for President Reagan, although Newt invokes Reagan often, he wasn’t always so full of praise. In Congress, he accused Reagan of “impotence and incompetence.” And he blasted Reagan’s summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.” For his part, President Reagan refers to Gingrich only once in his diaries, saying Newt’s ideas on a budget freeze would “cripple our defense program.”
As speaker, in fact, Gingrich received so much criticism from fellow Republicans that he once asked Senate Leader Bob Dole “Why do people take such an instant dislike to me?” Dole reportedly explained: “Because it saves time.” True then; true today.
© 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.