We can agree that the current Republican presidential campaign descended into farce so long ago it’s nearly impossible to even pretend there’s anything serious going on there. Other than, like a heart attack, one of these book-touring, lecture fee-goosing cartoons could get elected President of the United States.
But having only barely grasped the concept of Mitt Romney as the Tea Party standard bearer, we now have to consider, if only for maybe another 48 hours, the prospect of … Newt Gingrich.
The resurgence of a guy who on paper at least would seem to represent everything the hyper-aggressive modern conservative movement despises about Washington, other than his name is not Barack Obama, is … well, flabbergasting. Gingrich is the embodiment of the Washington insider. A wall-to-wall political creature, the guy has had his snout in the taxpayer/lobbyist trough for nearly 40 years. He is the face of crony capitalism. A guy who will and has accepted steady lines of extra cash in exchange for abusing his influence with elected officials. And, despite a non-stop bombardment of “big ideas” he has consistently failed to deliver even the effective obstruction of “liberal malfeasance” he grandstands against … whenever he is back in an election cycle.
Like so much of his competition, Gingrich has been a strange bird his entire life. The sort of bird that invariably looks ludicrous under the intensely close inspection of a national campaign.
And his personal “values” bona fides? Good lord. Forget, if you can the divorcing the hospitalized, cancer-stricken wife, the schtupping the mistress on the office desk, (waaaaay TMI, I know). What does the GOP base have to say about a guy with a comfortable government salary (and lavish public pension) blowing off child support … to the wife who put him through college? If you answered, “Nothing”, you’d be right.
If I read the trend lines correctly, Gingrich’s latest incident of explosive bullshit, where he claimed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac paid him $300,000 for “historian” services back before The Big Meltdown, (and where he claims he was sagely, prophetically foretelling imminent collapse) already has him looking stupid, with a couple lassoes around his ankles ready to drop him back into the saw dust. By all reports none of his “explanations” are even remotely true, other than he took money — perhaps as much as $2 million — to hype Fannie and Freddie to his former colleagues in Capitol Hill.
Pop quiz: ID the source of this quote.
“I know he says they paid him as a historian to give a historic lesson, but I’m unaware of any history professor being paid that much money to give someone a history lesson. This is exactly what I’m talking about: people who came to Washington, who had public service, and they cash in on it. They use their public service and access to make money, and unfortunately Newt Gingrich is one of those who’s done it. I don’t know if he’ll survive this, to be honest with you. This is a very big thing. He is doing, he’s engaged in the exact kind of corruption that America disdains. The very things that anger the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement and everybody who is not in a movement and watches Washington and says why are these guys getting all this money, why do they go become so rich, why do they have these advantages? Unfortunately Newt seems to play right into it.” *
The explanation for Gingrich’s resurgence isn’t all that complicated. Like Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain and Rick Perry before him, (and Donald Trump before them), what is propelling Newt up in the estimation of the GOP base is his facility for Talk RadioSpeak. Newt sounds indignant, and certain, and heroic and unassailable and committed to a much higher truth than mere mortals, and all Democrats. The indignant, fearful and uncertain have a persistent, palpable, gnawing hunger for that kind of personality. A guru. A father/mother figure equal parts professor, seer and minister.
Every time one of these completely implausible, comically damaged personalities surges to the front of a Republican poll I’m reminded again of the description of our target audience given to Sarah Janecek and me by Clear Channel Radio’s national programming consultant, Gabe Hobbes, as we launched our (very) short-lived careers at KTLK in 2006. “The average talk show listener, the person we’re going for, is an early forty-something guy who doesn’t follow the news all that closely, doesn’t know all that much about what’s going on, but doesn’t want to be left out of the conversation at work and at home. He wants something to say that sounds like he’s informed. That’s your job.”
“Sounding like you’re informed”, and adding a couple touches of anger and moral indignation is what leading the GOP pack is mainly about.
And, as with commercial radio, it could work.
* Convicted GOP super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, currently on his contrition tour.