The Troubles with Newt

Problems abound for Newt Gingrich’s candidacy

The 68-year-old has compared himself to Charles de Gaulle. He has noted nonchalantly: “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.” As speaker, he liked to tell reporters he was a World Historical Transformational Figure.

What does it say about the cuckoo G.O.P. primary that Gingrich is the hot new thing? Still, his moment is now. And therein lies the rub.

As one commentator astutely noted, Gingrich is a historian and a futurist who can’t seem to handle the present. He has more exploding cigars in his pocket than the president with whom he had the volatile bromance: Bill Clinton.

But next to Romney, Gingrich seems authentic. Next to Herman Cain, Gingrich seems faithful. Next to Jon Huntsman, Gingrich seems conservative. Next to Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, Gingrich actually does look like an intellectual. Unlike the governor of Texas, he surely knows the voting age.

Dr Richard Land (not to be confused with Richard Bushnell’s “Richardland” internet theme park) advised in a letter to Gingrich that he must address his multiple divorces to gain evangelical support:

Even my own mother, a rock-solid Evangelical, was extremely uncomfortable voting for Sen. John McCain until he acknowledged to Rick Warren that the failure of his first marriage was the greatest regret of his life and it was his fault.

Mr. Speaker, if you want to get large numbers of Evangelicals, particularly women, to vote for you, you must address the issue of your marital past in a way that allays the fears of Evangelical women.

You must address this issue of your marital past directly and transparently and ask folks to forgive you and give you their trust and their vote.

Mr. Speaker, I urge you to pick a pro-family venue and give a speech (not an interview) addressing your marital history once and for all. It should be clear that this speech will be “it” and will not be repeated, only referenced.

As you prepare that speech, you should picture in your mind a 40-something Evangelical married woman whose 40-something sister just had her heart broken by an Evangelical husband who has just filed for divorce, having previously promised in church, before God, his wife and “these assembled witnesses” to “love, honor and cherish until death us do part.”

Focus on her as if she were your only audience. You understand people vote for president differently than they do any other office. It is often more of a courtship than a job interview. I know something of your faith journey over the past 20 years. Do not hesitate to weave that into your speech to the degree that you are comfortable doing so. It will always resonate with Evangelical Christians.

You need to make it as clear as you possibly can that you deeply regret your past actions and that you do understand the anguish and suffering they caused others including your former spouses. Make it as clear as you can that you have apologized for the hurt your actions caused and that you have learned from your past misdeeds. Express your love for, and loyalty to, your wife and your commitment to your marriage. Promise your fellow Americans that if they are generous enough to trust you with the presidency, you will not let them down and that there will be no moral scandals in a Gingrich White House.

Such a speech would not convince everyone to vote for you, but it might surprise you how many Evangelicals, immersed in a spiritual tradition of confession, redemption, forgiveness and second and third chances, might.

Your fellow American,
Richard Land

His personal history is no small issue and if he continues to rise in the polls, expect to hear lots more about it…

Throughout, Gingrich’s modus operandi has been startlingly similar to the way he shifted money from GOPAC to the charities that were secretly supporting his college course. And here’s a mystery: According to Bruce Nash of Nash Information Services, a company that tracks movie sales, these films — some directed by a man best known for a TV show called Bikes from Hell — are spectacular failures. “The most popular appears to be Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny, which is most likely selling a couple thousand copies a year through major retailers. Rediscovering God in America sells perhaps two thousand units.”

But the lavish productions do afford Gingrich and his wife luxurious world travel. At the premiere of the latest, Nine Days that Changed the World, a film about how Pope John Paul II toppled communism, the producer joked from the podium about Gingrich’s champagne tastes. “We didn’t travel steerage, that’s for sure.” Most of all, the religious emphasis of his documentaries underscores his recent conversion to Catholicism, and perhaps helps to dim the memory of his ugly divorces.

When asked about his conversion, Marianne laughs.

Why is that funny?

“It has no meaning.”

It has no meaning?

“It’s hysterical. I got a notice that they wanted to nullify my marriage. They’re making jokes about it on local radio. The minute he got married, divorced, married, divorced — what does the Catholic Church say about this?”

She’s not angry at all. She just thinks it’s the only path Gingrich could take after his idealism died, threatening the self he had invented out of the biographies of great men. “When you try and change your history too much,” she says, “you lose touch with who you really are. You lose your way.”

In New Orleans, Gingrich strides onto the stage at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger.” Thousands of activists in a party looking for deliverance rise to their feet.

Gingrich stands there grinning, soaking up the applause.

When he begins, his voice is strong and confident. “When you speak from the heart, you don’t need a teleprompter,” he says, launching into his slashing and scholarly indictment of the Obama secular socialist machine that wants to take away their rights. And once again, when a man from the audience says we should just end the goddamn income tax already, Gingrich walks him back. “We’ve got to pay for national security.” He even defends spreading the wealth. “None of the Founding Fathers would have said that George Washington, owning Mount Vernon as the largest landowner, should pay the same tax as somebody who was a cobbler.”

At a moment of doctrinal crisis in the Republican party, Newt Gingrich is the only major figure in his party who is both insurgent and gray eminence. That is why twelve years after his career ended — twelve years after any other man in his position would have disappeared from view — he is ascendant.

“Will he run?” Marianne asks. “Possibly. Because he doesn’t connect things like normal people. There’s a vacancy — kind of scary, isn’t it?”

One thing is certain — Newt Gingrich loves the question. “That’s up to God and the American people,” he tells you, in the serene tone of a man who already knows what God thinks.

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