The two make a great match.
Between them, they would bring to the fall campaign a total of six spouses and a shared history of extramarital wanderings, coupled with a willingness – no, an eagerness – to condemn the morals and marriages of others. Republicans who wish to continue fighting the political wars of the 1990s and criticize the union of Bill and Hillary Clinton would be hard-pressed to find two standard-bearers who could deliver that message with less credibility.
But the beautiful irony of a Trump-Gingrich pairing goes beyond questions of personal hypocrisy. Donald Trump’s unlikely presidential candidacy wouldn’t have been possible without Newt Gingrich’s work.
Trump is considering Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, because he needs someone with governing experience to reassure traditional Republicans that he doesn’t mean to dismantle the house Ronald Reagan built.
Therein lies the irony.
Gingrich’s tenure as an elected official was all about demolition, not construction. I’d be tempted to use a wrecking ball metaphor here, but even wrecking balls have to obey the laws of physics. There’s not much evidence Gingrich operated by any rules of restraint, personal or otherwise.
He earned his fame – or infamy – for shutting down the federal government (and creating in the process a path to recovery for a President Bill Clinton with deep political wounds) because he didn’t like his seat location on Air Force One during an international trip.
But Republicans with long memories recall that Clinton wasn’t Gingrich’s first presidential target. Before that, Gingrich pounded on fellow Republican George H.W. Bush over a proposed tax increase designed to keep the federal budget from hemorrhaging red ink. Gingrich won the battle, but Republicans lost the war.
The economy plunged into recession and Bush – who before tussling with Gingrich had enjoyed approval ratings in the 80 to 90 percent range – found himself on the defensive with Clinton and billionaire Ross Perot.
Clinton and Perot administered the coup de grace to Bush’s re-election hopes, but it was Bush’s fellow Republican Gingrich who inflicted the first and most damaging wounds.
I interviewed Gingrich during those days. Talking freely in his Washington, D.C., office and almost childishly happy with his new prominence, Gingrich expounded on his belief that success for the GOP involved finding and exploiting as many “wedge” issues as they could. The trick, Gingrich told me, was dividing the country ruthlessly and then making sure that Republicans picked up the larger half.
The next day, I had lunch with then U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana. When I mentioned Gingrich’s thoughts on how Republicans should conduct themselves, Lugar – whose distaste for campaign gimmickry is exceeded only by his passion for principles of good governance – grimaced.
Lugar said he didn’t agree with Gingrich. At some point, Lugar said, politicians have to stop campaigning and start governing.
Small-minded people pick fights.
Serious people want to get things done.
Lugar’s comments were wise then and seem positively prescient now.
Gingrich’s approach helped Republicans take control of Congress in 1994 but also made it pretty much impossible for anyone – Republican, Democrat or in-between – to govern since then.
It’s easy to draw a straight line from Gingrich’s advocacy of tireless division to Trump’s symbolically effective but intellectually empty pledges to make America great again by blaming others – women, immigrants, Muslims, other Republicans – for everything.
Gingrich, like Trump, loves to present himself as a man of vision.
It’s always intrigued me to see how many self-proclaimed visionaries can’t lift their heads high enough to see where the road they’re traveling leads. The problem with the strategy of division Gingrich preached and Trump practices is that it never ends.
Eventually we end up in a place where we’re arguing about who gets to use which restrooms while the American middle-class disappears and the country’s infrastructure crumbles.
That’s why Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich will be so good for each other.
The potential for resonating campaign slogans is endless.
They could go with “Evading responsibility all our lives” or even “It’s all about us and our needs, really.”
My personal favorite, though, is the one that contains the greatest truth:
“Making it impossible for America to work for at least a generation.”
Somehow, it’s fitting, even perfect, that Donald Trump might make Newt Gingrich his running mate.