He’s off it. The AP reports, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a potential presidential candidate in 2012, called Barack Obama on Thursday “the most radical president in American history” who oversees a “secular, socialist machine.”
Historically, Gingrich had always seemed to me to be excessively partisan. A man who defended his ideology over the good of the people he represented. This was typified by the game of Chicken he played and lost to President Clinton in 1995 resulting in the virtual shutdown of the federal government. When he resigned from the House in ’98 under the cloud of an ethics investigation he seemed to go somewhat quietly into the night. When he reemerged a few years ago with clear Presidential ambitions, he seemed a much more centrist politician. In the last year or so, he’s honestly seemed to be among the more rational and calming voices in the GOP. Which is to say (to borrow a Jon Stewart line), he’s been the thinnest kid at fat camp.
But Thursday, Newt was the opening address at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. This is FoxTeaPublican territory. These are the guys that are livid that Obama signed the new START treaty with Russia despite this being a direct continuation of the initial landmark treaty Reagan achieved with Gorbachev. These are God-fearing, scared of Socialism, homophobic, pro-nuclear, kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out, government conspiracy mongering Conservatives. They have issues. And if you’re gonna stand up in front of these guys and talk, you’d better drink the Kool-Aid first. Newt had a big ‘ol gulp.
Gingrich was clearly pandering to the cognitively dissonant crowd who favor tax cuts and deficit reductions with no loss of services, and who want regulations on businesses removed and those on personal freedoms ratcheted up. Oh, and a healthy dose of God and flag too. When asked if he was a 2012 candidate, Gingrich said, “That will be up to God, and the American people.”
I do understand that any Republican candidate who has any chance of being elected in 2012 will require the rabid support of the growing activist fringe. To that end, I’m really hoping this was just kind of a “when in Rome” moment. But it’s equally true that the Tea Partiers alone cannot elect a candidate. They need at least some support from the Independents. Newt was on a path to potentially garner some of that. If he has truly fallen off the wagon into the land of Palin and Pawlenty, then it’s a loss for the GOP… and ultimately a loss for Gingrich in 2012.