According to the latest rumors, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is at the top of Donald Trump's running mate list. One can see why Trump would be attracted to a person like Gingrich and yet, once you get past the Republican revisionist whitewash of his history, Gingrich is and has always been one hot mess.
The Ted Cruz of the 1990s
If they can do nothing else, Republicans are extraordinarily good at revising the history record and rehabilitating images. It's something they have to be good at, I suppose. Newt Gingrich is a case in point. Today the Far Right seems to idolize Gingrich as some kind of senior statesman.
His opinion is valued as though his words were made of honey. It was a very different story back in the 1990s. As Speaker of the House, Gingrich was the Ted Cruz of his day and was never one to let his conscience distract him from a political opportunity.
Hypocrisy and politics generally go hand in hand, however, Gingrich was something of a phenomenon and new records were set for deceit and dissemblance.
For instance, even while calling for President Clinton's impeachment for carrying on a tryst in the Oval Office, Newt himself was allegedly engaged in an affair with a Congressional aide. (Today he makes the fine distinction that the president had lied under oath. Fortunately, Gingrich was never asked about his affairs under oath.)
Even though he pretended to be a moral crusader against Clinton's "perversions," Gingrich had at least one thing in common with Bill.
"We had oral sex. He prefers that modus operandi because then he can say, 'I never slept with her."
President Clinton said nearly exactly the same thing when asked about Monica Lewinsky.
Apparently they both skipped sex-ed classes in high school. According to this mentality, sex is only what you call it and that's a matter of who's telling the story.
Gingrich's personal life is nearly as colorful as Donald Trump's. His first marriage was to his former high school geometry teacher Jackie Battley. According to Battley, Gingrich discussed divorce terms with her while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery.
He reportedly explained his reasons for divorcing his wife, like this:
"She isn't young enough or pretty enough to be the President's wife. And besides, she has cancer."
He later tried to claim that it was his wife who wanted the divorce. He maintained this narrative with hopes that the court documents would remained sealed. Unfortunately, for Newt, the court records which were eventually released to the public, told a very different tale.
In 1980, Congressman Gingrich filed for divorce but, contrary to Gingrich's version of events, Battley responded by asking the judge to reject her husband's filing.
The petition read:
"Although the defendant does not admit that this marriage is irretrievably broken, defendant has been hopeful that an arrangement for temporary support of defendant and the two minor daughters of the parties could be mutually agreed upon without the intervention of this court. All efforts to date have been unsuccessful."
In yet another rumor about his divorce, Gingrich was accused of being a dead-beat dad.
Shortly after the cancer ward visit, Newt stopped paying alimony and child support. Jackie had to take Newt to court to get money out of him, and her Baptist church needed to take up a collection to get his kids food and prevent the utilities from being cut off. He has never apologized for this or admitted it was a mistake.
In all, Gingrich has been married three times, with the first two marriages ending in affairs. That's the kind of background a guy like Trump - who has himself been married three times- can appreciate.
One suspects Trump and Gingrich will have a lot of amusing tales to tell behind closed doors about their own gang of "mean, nasty enablers."
Leadership, Brinksmanship, and Disaster
Today, Mr. Gingrich might be revered today by his Party. Back in the mid-1990s, as Speaker of the House. however,
Gingrich's poorly- thought-out confrontation with the president over the budget was considered a disaster for the party.
Gingrich had become the Speaker in 1994, following strong results from the mid-term election. Based on the strong results of that election, the Republicans pressed hard for steep cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and other non-defense spending for the fiscal year 1996 budget.
Like Cruz, Gingrich threatened to block a vote on raising the federal government debt ceiling in a calculated act of brinksmanship with the White House.
Gingrich's gambit would have forced the U.S. into the unprecedented position of defaulting on its outstanding debt. (Unprecedented at that time, anyway.) An extension measure allowed the government to keep running while both sides negotiated.
However, neither side was willing to compromise and the result was the closing of all non-essential government services from 13 November to 19 November 1995.
The second attempt to work out a deal fell through and on 15 December, the government shut down again. The US government remained shuttered for the next 22 days, as White House and Congressional negotiators worked feverishly. By January, both sides agreed to a seven-year balanced budget plan included modest spending cuts and tax increases.
In some important ways, the Republicans shot themselves in the foot. Gingrich had clearly miscalculated, expecting the public to side with the Republicans in the debate. Opinion polls, however, showed that "a majority of Americans felt that the impasse had been the result of Republican obstinacy."
All of this history, of course, demonstrates a particular problem with the Republican party. In hailing Gingrich as a party hero, it whitewashes the mistakes that Gingrich made. And true to the adage about history repeating itself, the Republican party's more recent shutdown have had similar damaging effects on the public approval ratings.
In Clinton's State of the Union Address on 27 January 1996, the president declared that "the era of big government is over."
In actuality, four years later, with Republican George W. Bush in the White House, big government was back in fashion.
During his eight years in office, President Bush oversaw a large increase in government spending. In fact, President Bush increased government spending more than any of the six presidents preceding him, including LBJ. In his last term in office, President Bush increased discretionary outlays by an estimated 48.6 percent.
When it came to writing a blank check to cover the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the Republicans were far less scrupulous and discriminating about government spending.
They remained so right up until the day Democrat Obama became president.
During his term as Speaker, a total of 84 ethics charges were filed by Democrats against Gingrich. In October 1998, the House Ethics committee dropped the last three ethics charges.
The remaining one was related to the claiming of a tax-exempt status for a college course run for political purposes. He was fined $300,000 for the costs of an ethics committee investigation.
Things were about to go from bad to worse.
Gingrich's beautiful world finally came crashing down only a month after the ethics charges were dropped. It was the midterm elections in November 1998 that proved to be Newt's downfall.
Losing five seats in the House, the GOP was astonished by the election results- the worst mid-term performance in 64 years by a party not holding the presidency.
Gingrich himself might have won his own re-election but Republican House members were bitterly angry. They quickly turned on the Speaker.
In fact, their party had somehow managed to hang on to the majority but members of the House held Gingrich largely responsible for the losses.
One Republican politician Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.) compared the election to "hitting an iceberg."
The question is whether we retain the crew of the Titanic or we look for some new leadership."
Another Republican Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) put it bluntly:
"We have to have new leadership or we will not be in the majority in 2000."
(Coburn was right to worry. In 2000, the Republicans narrowly lost seats to the Democrats, reducing their majority slightly to only three seats.)
On 6 November 1998, less than a week after the election, his own party formed a mutiny against him. With a gentle shove on the shoulder, Gingrich formally resigned from his House speaker position, igniting a scramble among ambitious Republicans.
Incidentally, he was succeeded by Dennis Hastert from Illinois. That's right the very same man who we now know was paying hush money to young men he had molested years before.
Said Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.)
"The American people sent a strong message that the Republican Congress was a failure. . . . The speaker's resignation is the reaction to that message."
There really wasn't much disagreement with that assessment.
Gingrich decided he had had enough of party politics and all the scrutiny and betrayals. He resigned from the House on 3 January 1999.
There was still plenty of money to be made as "savvy" political analyst, an author and a guest speaker at university and organization events.
At least, some people were sad to see the back end of Newt. One news report at the time quoted an unnamed Clinton White House advisor who said:
"We are mourning the loss of having Newt to kick around anymore. Newt Gingrich literally was the best thing the Democratic Party has had going for it since 1994. . . . If anything, there's total depression on my side of the fence."
He later would make an unsuccessful run for president in the 2012 election, but eventually dropped out after poor showings in the primaries.
In a later interview with Gail Sheeny, Mr. Gingrich gave this revealing remark about his character
"I think you can write a psychological profile of me that says I found a way to immerse my insecurities in a cause large enough to justify whatever I wanted it to."
Such is the man that Republicans now applaud. Such is the man that Donald Trump is now considering bringing on board as his vice-president.
Well, Trump would choose somebody worse than Newt. There are plenty of people worse than Gingrich.
Just ask John McCain.