So someone called me on Saturday afternoon, claiming to be taking a "poll" for Republican fixture Newt Gingrich. Usually I just say no, but curiousity got the better of me. I've watched Gingrich over the recent past, leading the hand-wringing over the future of his party. There's no doubt Gingrich is a smart guy hoist by his own petard; in criticizing the moral relativism of his Democratic counterparts, Gingrich forgot to list his own personal issues; something about throwing stones in glass houses. At any rate, he is trying to climb back in the ring.
Today, Gingrich wasn't "polling" so much as trolling for money to fund his latest reinvention. But those of us with half a memory left--or what remains that hasn't been blasted during the past eight years-- remember back to the Gingrich-led 1994 Congressional mid-term elections. He's a curious historical figure on that score.
These are the ways I count his influence: first, that he helped push President Clinton to the right: the infamous "triangulation" strategy of Dick Morris embraced by Clinton, that left so many Democrats in the cold. Second, Gingrich was competing at the time with Jeb Bush for the leadership of the party's future: if Jeb hadn't lost by a slim margin to Lawton Chiles in 1994 it would have been Jeb Bush presidential run in 2000, not W. Third, it was Gingrich who led by example advocating for extreme partisanship of the Republican Party and a take-no-prisoners Republican presidency. The being "a uniter, not a divider" bullshit didn't start with Gingrich, but he made an awful present of it.
So as I listened to Gingrich on tape, persuading me to take his "poll" that turned into a live operator trolling for dollars for whatever his latest project is, all this history washed over me. The truth is, Gingrich with all his personal foibles, trouble controlling his weight, this charming and intelligent Gingrich who tries too hard to ever be magnetic, his reaching across the aisle to shake hands with Hillary whom he vilified; this Gingrich who nevertheless has political stature and wants to re-invent himself and America every so often cannot be the future of the Republican Party because he is too much of its twisted present.
The attack politics of Atwater and Rove that swept up Gingrich and Bush and the rest ended up burning its own side to a crisp, not because they weren't effective but because the looting and theft that aided and promoted Republicans to majority control of Congress and the White House melted away its influence. Americans voted to end the reign of Republicans who led to the worst economic crisis in 100 years. So long as the Republicans are hostage to a conservative, highly reactionary and conservative base, there is trouble ahead.
I'll believe the Republican Party is sincere about reform when it renounces Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest of the reptillian chattering class. But, still, I don't believe that Gingrich is part of the future. His time came and passed. Somewhere there must be new leadership of the Republican Party, but its leaders must first exorcise the devils of the present past. There is little evidence that will happen soon. Expect President Obama to keep reminding the American people, "how we got here".