Last Saturday, Newt Gingrich marked the 15th Anniversary of the ethics scandal (when he was booted out of Washington by his own party) by winning the South Carolina presidential primary. By a comfortable margin of 12%, Gingrich threw a wrench into the “inevitable” coronation of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as the Republican Party’s nominee for the 2012 presidential election.
Gingrich is riding this momentum into Florida with another rousing debate performance on Monday night that saw him continue to establish himself as the anti-Romney candidate that the conservative wing of the party has been clamoring for.
As the “Newtmentum” continues to build, one can only imagine the tentative excitement at Obama campaign headquarters. In a primary season filled with example after example of Republican lies and hypocrisy, no Democratic strategist could ever in their wildest dreams have guessed that Republicans could possibly nominate somebody so completely unelectable as Newton Leroy Gingrich.
Most millenials were too young to have been politically aware enough to personally experience the downfall of Speaker Gingrich, so allow me to run a quick highlight reel. Gingrich began his career in Washington in 1979 (Washington outsider, he ain’t). He served as the House Minority Whip from 1989 to 1995 until he assumed the Speakership after the “Republican Revolution” of the 1994 election, ending 40 years of Democratic majorities in the House. It was all downhill from there.
In 1995 and 1996, Gingrich forced two full government shutdowns over refusals to compromise, which cost him his Republican majority in the 1996 election. Gingrich cited, among other reasons, President Clinton asking him to deplane Air Force One from the back ramp as one of the reasons he decided to force a government shutdown.
Exacerbating the problem of losing his newfound majority two short years after attaining it, Gingrich was charged with eighty-four distinct ethical violations during his tenure as Speaker. He was eventually reprimanded and fined $300,000 by a House vote, marking the first time any Speaker was disciplined for an ethics violation.
Shortly after being formally reprimanded, Gingrich went after Bill Clinton in the now infamous Monica Lewinsky scandal. What made his public attacks on Clinton especially reprehensible was that the “family values” Congressman from Georgia was himself busy cheating on his second wife with his soon to be third wife. Gingrich had left his first wife as she was battling cancer and his second wife after she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (and after she refused his request for an open marriage).
These scandals, coupled with the worst midterm election performance by either party in 64 years in the 1998 election, led the Republican Party to call for his resignation which led to his total departure from Washington on November 5, 1998.
And yet, on January 21, 2012, Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina Republican Primary because, well, he isn’t Mitt Romney.
The fact that the GOP is so desperately anti-Romney that they would not only be willing to vote for Gingrich, but have even rationalized his pattern of shameless philandering among other failings, only shows how deep the schism in the party actually goes.
In no unclear terms, the deeply conservative voters of South Carolina voted for a “family values” candidate that has cheated on two wives. They voted for a Washington “outsider” who has spent three decades in Washington and made millions off of lobbying and consulting fees. They voted for a “true conservative” that has expressed his support for the healthcare mandate central to Obama’s health care overhaul.
In sum, the conservative voters of South Carolina have expressed their desire to re-elect Obama for a second term without so much as a fight.
While Romney may not be the popular choice among the now-tepid Tea Party and the rest of the extremely conservative wing of the Republican Party, he is certainly the most likely to give Obama any reasonable challenge.
Gingrich, on the other hand, is a caricature of all that is ugly and hypocritical at the core of the Republican Party and, should this ego-stroking party make it to the general election, will lead to a stunningly one-sided defeat that will make John McCain’s 2008 effort look like a razor-thin loss.