The Trouble With Gingrich

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 28, 2012

Joe Scarborough likes certain aspects of the Gingrich persona–as do I, truth be told–but like me, he believes that Newt Gingrich can only be taken in small doses.

That’s impossible to do if Newt Gingrich becomes the Republican nominee for president. There would be no such thing as “small doses of Gingrich” in that scenario. And if somehow, Gingrich becomes president . . . well . . . it would get ugly fast for conservatives:

Three years into his speakership, the man who helped draft the Contract With America began trying to undo some of that document’s key provisions. The government shutdown had badly damaged the speaker’s brand and he went to work trying to raise his 27 percent approval rating.

In April 1997, Gingrich told The New York Times he was ready to be a kinder and gentler Republican by negotiating away the very tax cuts that he had once called “the crown jewels of the contract.” Soon, conservatives were being pressured to vote for big spending appropriations bills. In his final speech from the floor of Congress, Newt Gingrich lashed out wildly at the same freshmen who had made him speaker — mocking us as cannibals who made up “the perfectionist caucus.”

It was the last time Newt would attack the most conservative members of his caucus from the lofty perch as speaker. In 1997, ten of my fellow classmates had led a coup attempt against Gingrich, shutting down the House over the speaker’s efforts to violate the Contract with America by swelling the number of committee staff members.

Conservative stalwarts like Steve Largent, Tom Coburn and Matt Salmon joined me and seven others to demand a cut in spending and a promise to hold firm on tax cuts.

Newt did not take the rebellion lying down. He immediately summoned the sergeant of arms to drag the 11 rebels down to a Republican caucus meeting in the bowels of the Capitol basement, where Newt lined us up in front of a packed room of seething House members who were now missing the first day of their Easter recess because of our insurgency. Gingrich then began screaming and demanded that the 11 of us account for our behavior.

He then taught me a political lesson I will always remember: Never willingly hand the microphone over to your enemies. Especially when the first rebel to speak was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame and one of People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Men Alive.

As Steve Largent grabbed the microphone, the crowd of GOP members was still shouting insults. But by the time he stood behind the podium, even our most hostile opponents grew quiet.

Steve spoke softly about how he signed a contract with the Seattle Seahawks and remembered shaking the hand of the team’s owner after the deal was done. A few years later, the NFL Players Association went on strike. But Largent told the mob, who were now transfixed, that he crossed those picket lines because he signed a contract and gave his word. Largent told the group that a few years later, the NFL players went on strike a second time and he was once again one of the few NFL players to keep reporting for work. For Steve, it was a matter of principle.

The beautiful NFL Hall of Famer then quietly moved in for the kill.

Turning to the Speaker, who a year earlier had been named Time Magazine’s person of the year, Largent said, “Newt, you were the one who drafted the contract and then told us to sign it. Now, you’re the one pressuring us to break it. But Newt, if I wasn’t intimidated by the thought of 250 pound linebackers who wanted to kill me every time I crossed the field, why would I be intimidated by you?”

There is no question that having Newt Gingrich as the Republican nominee would result in a wild ride for the Republican party. But there is also no question that a Republican party on a wild ride is a Republican party less equipped to beat Barack Obama in November. Why any Republican would want to choose Gingrichian instability over a shot at, you know, actually winning the election is beyond me.

  • Anonymous

    I guess it’s too late for Steve Largent to enter the race. WHERE’S THE %#@&! TARDIS WHEN WE NEED IT?

    What a maddening, frightening race. Our choices are a guy who many fear will sell us out on the most critical fiscal issues (Mitt), two guys with James-Bond-villain ego without the James-Bond-villain organizational and leadership skills (Newt, Ron), and the Charge of the Light Brigade (Santorum). A battle of the midgets.

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