that as a result of his soaring first-place status in opinion polls, Newt Gingrich has entered an “ego-inflated fantasyland,” where, solely on the basis of those polls (in a GOP primary contest, moreover, in which polls have famously gone up and down for various candidates like yo-yos), he is declaring as an absolute fact that he will be the Republican nominee. His self-inflation hasn’t stopped with unseemly predictions of victory before a single vote has been cast, but has been inflating in all directions at once—colonizing, as it were, the entire political cosmos, or as much of it as he can get his greedy hands on. Blinded by pride, Gingrich cannot see that his hubris is inevitably going to lead him to a disastrous fall, just as other “flavor of the month” candidates in this bizarre race have, one after another, soared upward in the polls and then crashed.
The return of Bad Newt
By: Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns
December 2, 2011 07:31 PM EST
WEST DES MOINES—Bad Newt’s coming back.
The all-too-familiar character from the 1990s has only peeked out in public a handful of times so far. But already, Newt Gingrich—flush with pride over new polls showing his left-for-dead candidacy now leading the pack—is letting his healthy ego roam free again, littering the campaign trail with grand pronouncements about his celebrity, his significance in political history and his ability to transform America.
“I helped lead the effort to defeat communism in the Congress,” Gingrich said this week on Sean Hannity’s show.
“I’m going to be the nominee,” he informed ABC News while in Iowa.
“I was charging $60,000 a speech and the number of speeches was going up, not down,” Gingrich said in South Carolina, explaining why he didn’t actually need his consulting fee from Freddie Mac. “Normally, celebrities leave and they gradually sell fewer speeches every year. We were selling more.”
“The degree to which I challenge the establishment and the degree to which I’m willing to follow ideas and solutions to their natural consequence without regard to Republican or Democratic political correctness makes me probably the most experienced outsider in modern times,” he told Radio Iowa.
Even descriptions of his wife Callista fall prey to aggrandizement: “She actually describes herself as being a cross between Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush with just a slight bit of Jackie Kennedy tossed in and I think there is, somewhere swirling in there, the model Callista would like to live up to.”
The economy? There’s a vainglorious boast for that, too.
“Obama is now 34 months into his presidency, and the economy has lost 1.9 million total jobs since he took office. At the same point in the Gingrich speakership (November 1997), Americans had created 303,000 jobs in one month alone, and had created 7.7 million total new jobs since he became speaker. This is an ‘Obama-Gingrich jobs gap” of 9.5 million,” the former congressman said in a statement.
Longtime Gingrich watchers see clear signs that “Good Newt” (disciplined, charming, expansive in personality and intellect) is engaging in an internal battle with “Bad Newt” (off-message, bombastic, self-wounding) as his political fortunes rise.
“Remember, this is the man of the combination of Churchill and de Gaulle to begin with,” conservative columnist George Will told radio host Laura Ingraham. “He’s the embodiment of a nation in deep peril. The stage has to be lit by the fires of crisis and grandeur to suit Newt Gingrich.”
“Gingrich [is] always a fine a line between charming and brilliant on one hand, and eccentric and borderline dangerous on the other,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “He’s been ‘Charming Newt’ for the last several weeks. But the last couple of days have been a reminder of his other side.”
Gingrich “only has two modes—attack and brag,” explained one veteran GOP strategist.
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond dismissed criticism about the speaker’s self-regard, saying his boss is speaking the truth about the nation’s problems.
“Newt Gingrich has been against the status quo in Washington since he first arrived from Georgia,” Hammond said. “Many times he’s the first to point out a dumb idea and say, ‘here’s how to fix it.’ And in many cases, he uses the words ‘dumb idea.’ “
Gingrich’s backers note there are various policy points that they say more than back up the former speaker’s comment about communism, for example, saying he was referring to actions Congress took to thwart it while he was there.
There’s no question Gingrich is working harder, and with more success, than he has in years to keep his flair for the grandiose in check—his talk is less fire-and-brimstone, and more positive, there’s-another-way-forward.
At times, Gingrich sounds like he’s consciously striking a different and humbler tone, telling audiences that he will need their help. He asks Republicans not to vote for him, but to “be with me.”
“We have to have a team campaign,” Gingrich told Iowa Republicans at a dinner event Thursday night. “I am totally committed to a team campaign.”
During the same event, Gingrich delivered a notably moderate and nonpartisan riff—that is, for a politician long known for his sharp partisanship and rhetorical excess—telling the audience: “We need an American campaign, not a Republican campaign. And we need to be open to every person of every background.”
But at the same event, Gingrich couldn’t help himself, offering comparisons between his approach to politics to Thomas Jefferson’s, and noting that he’d model parts of his campaign strategy on Abraham Lincoln’s. Only a few hours before, Gingrich bragged of having overseen the creation of 11 million jobs as speaker of the House.
“The self-aggrandizing comments probably don’t hurt him that much. They may strike his strongest supporters as a sign of confidence,” said Schnur, adding that the policy pronouncements could be a bigger issue: “These ‘porridge for poor children’ things probably don’t do him much good.”
That’s the side of Gingrich that has some Republican insiders privately fretting that, for all their worries about Mitt Romney’s failings, it is Gingrich who may be especially susceptible to damaging himself if he emerges as the party’s nominee.
“He’s going to blow up at some point, and I’m just hoping it comes before he gets the nomination,” said one unaligned Republican insider, who has worked with presidential campaigns before.
“I’m waiting for him to say, ‘Literally, I’m the smartest guy to ever run for president,’” said the insider, adding that comparisons of Callista as Nancy Reagan fuel the notion that he thinks of himself as a new incarnation of The Gipper. “He’s now kind of like the crazy scientist that’s having his science proven correct … and you just don’t know what the hell’s gonna happen next.”
Some Republicans are willing to say it on the record.
“He’d be a terrible nominee,” said Long Island Rep. Pete King, who credited Gingrich with winning back the House for Republicans in the 1990s but also said Gingrich was driven out of the job because he “wears everybody else out.”
“It’s not like, with Newt, you end up dying for a noble cause,” said King. “You end up dying for Newt Gingrich, because he puts himself in the center of everything.”
Yet even if “Bad Newt” is back, given the fluidity of the race it might not be so damaging.
“Yes, ‘Bad Newt’ is emerging again,” said GOP strategist Alex Castellanos. “He refers to himself as a celebrity, when voters despise Washington’s arrogance and he knows that was one of McCain’s most effective assaults against Obama. He dismisses charges of corruption by telling us he’s too successful to be tempted, when he’s just seen what happened when Rick Perry declared he was “insulted” by charges that he could be bought for only $5,000.”
But, he added, “So what? The rule in politics is that if you tell voters what they already know, they remain where they already are. You have to give voters new information to change how they react to candidates. We already know ‘Bad Newt’ is undisciplined, even, reckless and has an inflated sense of self-worth. And Gingrich is leading in Iowa. A lot of ‘Bad Newt’ is already built into the front-runner’s stock price.”
The options for conservatives, Castellanos added, are dwindling.
“Despite his best efforts, Newt may not be able to dispatch himself as easily as he did the first time,” Castellanos said. “And the Christmas holiday is a great gift for Newt: he only has to hang around for a couple of weeks before Christmas freezes the race and mitigates his opportunity to damage himself.”
Craig Shirley, another longtime Republican strategist, argued that Gingrich is giving people what they want right now.
“I think it’s based on his instincts, but you know, other politicians have talked like this before and invoked great leaders and great writers—Ronald Reagan invoked Cicero and Thomas Paine and Winston Churchill, and quoted them and cited them,” he said.
“I think what it says to a lot of voters is, this is a very self-confident man, and right now I think the country wants a self-confident man. That was the great contrast between Reagan and Carter. Carter was full of doubts and blaming the American people…. He was lost in power. Obama was lost in power.”