I believe that if Republican primary voters nominate Newt Gingrich, it will undermine and harm the pro-family cause. And I also think his campaign will have several train wrecks, causing Newt to ultimately lose a very winnable presidential race. Christians who care about stopping Obama’s attack on life and family would ask: “Why didn’t anyone warn us?”
Consider this your warning.
I think there are five strong reasons why Catholics should nominate someone other than Newt Gingrich to take on President Obama.
1. The last time Gingrich had power, he botched things up badly. Yes, he accomplished some good things, including balancing the budget four times and ending the federal welfare entitlement. But he also whined during the budget shutdown about having to leave Air Force One from the back of the plane. He was calling out Bill Clinton for committing adultery at the very same time he was cheating on his second wife. After promising to play a secondary role, he upset House Republicans for his attacks on Clinton during the impeachment trial, which turned public opinion against the GOP. Normally, the opposition party makes big gains in the president’s 6th year in office, but lead by Gingrich, the GOP lost seats and had very slim majority after the 1998 elections. That’s why it was actually the conservatives who ousted Gingrich from the Speaker’s gavel.
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2. The people who worked side-by-side with him say ‘Don’t Hire Him.’ That should give you pause. People that know Mitt Romney will admit he’s had a history of flip-flops but that he’s a decent fellow. People who know Rick Santorum say he might have a difficult shot at winning the nomination, but that he’s a good family man and a true believer. But those who worked with Newt Gingrich in Congress are all recommending that GOP voters pick someone else.
In 2010, conservative Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said of Newt: “He’s the last person I’d vote for for president of the United States… His life indicates he does not have a commitment to the character traits necessary to be a great president.” Coburn was in the House when Gingrich was speaker. So was former Rep. Jim Talent, R-Mo., a solid pro-life conservative, who said of Newt: “Clearly he’s not a reliable and trusted conservative leader.” After noting that Newt says “some interesting and insightful things,” the normally mild-mannered Talent said: “He also says outrageous things that come from nowhere. And he has a tendency to say them at exactly the time when they most undermine the conservative agenda.” Talent specifically noted Newt slammed Paul Ryan’s reform plan for Medicare as “right-wing social engineering.” Need more? Rep. Steve King, R-NY: “Newt Gingrich was a disaster as speaker … Everything was self-centered. There was a lack of intellectual discipline.” Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, noted of Gingrich’s tenure: “I’m a better congressman than I was 18 years ago, and I assume he has gotten better too, but we always seemed to be going from crisis to crisis. Everything always seemed to be on fire.” All of this says to me: Don’t nominate this man.
3. He’s not as conservative as you think. Yes, he certainly throws out rhetorical red meat against Barack Obama, accusing him of having a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview. If the rhetoric is a little too hot for some conservatives, at least it would mean that he’s substantially more conservative than Mitt Romney, right? Well, then why did Newt Gingrich support a government mandate to purchase health care, cap and trade, and the previously mentioned attack on Paul Ryan’s Medicare reforms. And his Contract for America in 1994 had a lot of great ideas, but it was defintely missing something: pro-life or pro-family issues. As The Hill notes: “Hot-button controversial social issues including abortion were not included in 1994’s seminal Contract with America.” Under the leadership of John Boehner, Republicans in 2010 included social issues in their agenda. And Republicans didn’t pay a price for including social issues. They won back the House.
4. He actually generates too many ideas and gets easily distracted. His first career was a college professor and he’s perfect for think tank work or scrapping on cable television. All of which he’s done successfully. But when he was Speaker of the House, he would announce a new idea practically every day (laptops for the homeless). Former Rep. Scott Klug said, “Newt has 10 ideas a day—two of them are good, six are weird and two very weird. The question for Newt is: Is he disciplined enough to make it through a campaign? It’s very hard for him to remain focused. That will be a real challenge for him.” And that style crippled his party in Congress from focusing on the 3 or 4 big legislative goals on their agenda. And this trait of his has not been erased. Just a couple of weeks ago he denounced child labor laws as “truly stupid” and suggested that students be employed as janitors in the schools where they learn. The idea might have some merit, but it could easily get mischaracterized and demonized in the press and in attack ads. It’s not good to have the leader of a political party who engages in this reckless off-the-cuff brainstorming.
5. Simply put: Newt Gingrich should not be the man which pro-family activists rally behind. I mentioned it once before and many people said I wasn’t willing to forgive him. Some were upset that I was ruining the “We don’t want Romney” parade. Yeah, I don’t like Romney either. Back in late 2006, I ran a site not-so-subtly called romneyisaliberal.com. So don’t accuse me of being a lefty RINO. If you don’t like Romney, Newt Gingrich is not a better choice.
And certainly not for social conservatives concerned about the issues of marriage. Ross Douthat makes this case better than anyone I’ve seen:
Conservative Christianity in America, both evangelical and Catholic, faces a looming demographic challenge: A rising generation that is more unchurched than any before it, more liberal on issues like gay marriage, and allergic to the apocalyptic rhetoric of the Pat Robertson-Jerry Falwell era. To many younger Americans, religious conservatism as they know it often seems to stand for a kind of institutionalized hypocrisy — a right-wing Tartufferie that’s incensed by the idea of gay wedlock but tolerant of straight divorce, forgiving of Republican sins but judgmental about Democratic indiscretions, and eager to apply moral litmus tests only on issues that benefit the political right.
Rallying around Newt Gingrich, effectively making him the face of Christian conservatism in this Republican primary season, would ratify all of these impressions. It isn’t just that he’s a master of selective moral outrage whose newfound piety has been turned to consistently partisan ends. It’s that his personal history — not only the two divorces, but also the repeated affairs and the way he behaved during the dissolution of his marriages — makes him the most compromised champion imaginable for a movement that’s laboring to keep lifelong heterosexual monogamy on a legal and cultural pedestal….
But what about forgiveness, right?
Again, Douthat provides a great response:
“But repentance isn’t the issue here. Of course Christians are obliged to forgive a penitent, whatever his offenses — though a cynic might note that it’s easy for an adulterer to express contrition once he’s safely married to his mistress. But one can forgive a sinner without necessarily deciding that he should be anointed as the standard bearer for the very cause that he betrayed. Contrition is supposed to be its own reward. There’s no obligation to throw in the presidency as well.
“His candidacy isn’t a test of religious conservatives’ willingness to be good, forgiving Christians. It’s a test of their ability to see their cause through outsiders’ eyes, and to recognize what anointing a thrice-married adulterer as the champion of ‘family values’ would say to the skeptical, the unconverted and above all to the young.”
In short: Forgive him? Yes. Nominate him? No.
Given the five major concerns I brought up, I honestly want to know: Why support Newt Gingrich?
Is it because he’s a phenomenal debater?
I understand the frustration. Every presidential election since Reagan left office, the Republicans always manage to nominate someone who seemed to learn English as a second language: Bush 88, Bush 92, Dole 96, Dubya 00, Dubya 04, McCain 08.
So, yes, Newt Gingrich can speak intelligently, off-the-cuff, on just about every political subject under the sun. That’s tremendously valuable. But being a great debater is not required to getting elected. I mean, didn’t George W. Bush and his father prove that three times?
Sure, I would relish a debate between Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama. I would even pay money to see it. But I don’t want to gamble a presidential election over it. Newt has too much baggage and not enough discipline. There’s just too much at stake.