Oh, see them climb. Oh, watch them fall.
Ironically, there is something inherently democratic about this season's Republican primary: Each candidate, in turn, gets his or her turn at the top of the pile as the "anybody-but-Mitt" flavor of the week. Donald Trump, remember, enjoyed his brief moment in the sun, followed by the even briefer dominance of Michele Bachmann. Rick Perry flared and flamed, allowing Herman Cain suddenly to cruise and crash. And now Newt Gingrich is enjoying his 15 minutes at the top.
The fact that Gingrich is temporarily on top of the pile – does anyone seriously expect him to be the party's nominee? – is less surprising than the fact that he's still in the race at all.
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After all, Gingrich started his campaign with the ultimate conservative no-no: dumping on Paul Ryan's draconian budget-cutting plan, which every House Republican voted for and which the tea party adopted as its new Bible. Calling it "too big a jump," Gingrich denounced the Ryan proposal on "Meet the Press." "I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering," he scoffed.
Gingrich's recent history, in fact, is replete with instances of unorthodoxy. As an upstart member of Congress, he appeared on "Meet the Press" in October 1993 and advocated requiring every American to buy health insurance, just like the individual mandate contained in President Obama's Affordable Care Act. "I am for people, individuals – exactly like automobile insurance – individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance," he said back then – a policy position he repeated as recently as May 2011. Today, as candidate, he's flip-flopped on the issue, saying his first act as president would be to repeal "Obamacare" because its individual mandate is unconstitutional.
On Libya, also, Gingrich has been on both sides of the issue. When opposition forces made their first moves against Gadhafi, Gingrich told Fox News the United States should take unilateral action to bomb the country, without involving either NATO or the United Nations. Two weeks later, after President Obama actually ordered American war planes to start bombing Libya, the former speaker condemned him for doing so. Then, after Gadhafi was killed, Gingrich expressed his doubts about the ability of Libya's transitional leaders to build a new country. Flip-flop-flip?
More embarrassingly, perhaps, Gingrich today says he's not sure there's any such thing as global warming, even though he appeared in a 2008 national TV ad urging congressional action on climate change – with Nancy Pelosi! He also must now explain how he could make getting rid of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the centerpiece of his campaign, after having pocketed $1.6 million in consulting fees from Freddie. Of course, thanks to Mrs. Gingrich, Freddie's loss was Tiffany's gain.
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There's one other factor in the equation. As the National Journal's Major Garrett told my radio audience this week, Gingrich is "the worst retail politician" in America today. He doesn't like to campaign, therefore he doesn't campaign, which is why his entire campaign staff walked out on him. Most politicians at least pretend to be glad to see you when they shake your hand. Not Newt. He looks down at people, as if to say, "Do you realize how smart I am?"
For the last few months, in fact, Gingrich's only "campaign" activity has been to show up for every debate and scold the media for daring to ask tough questions. That's enough to win him the love and temporary loyalty of tea partiers, but not enough to qualify him as commander in chief.
And then, poor Newt, just as he soars to the top, comes the lowest blow of all. Disgraced former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who served three and a half years in prison for bribing members of Congress, called Gingrich corrupt. By representing Freddie Mac, Abramoff told NBC's David Gregory, Gingrich is "engaging in the exact kind of corruption that America disdains. The very things that anger the tea-party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement and everybody who is not in a movement and watches Washington and says why are these guys getting all this money, why do they all become so rich, why do they have these advantages?" When Abramoff says you're corrupt, you know you're in trouble.
So Newt Gingrich is now leading the national polls? Fuggedaboutit! Ain't gonna happen. Not even Republicans are dumb enough to nominate him.