Now, after being written off as an unpleasant relic of the mid-nineties, he can plausibly imagine himself behind a desk in the Oval Office. Can you? Go on. Imagine it.
As the protagonist of the tale, imagine, if you will, a man who, as Speaker of the House, orchestrates the impeachment of a President for an adulterous affair with a White House aide twenty-six years his junior while he himself is conducting an adulterous affair with a congressional aide twenty-two years his junior, having earlier left the first of his three wives while she was hospitalized with cancer. Imagine a man who attributes these behaviors to “how passionately I felt about this country.” Imagine a man who, told he can’t sit in a front section of Air Force One, shuts down the government. Imagine a man who becomes the only House Speaker ever to be disciplined for ethics violations. Imagine a man who, in a country just staggering out of the worst recession of the past fifty years and facing the threat of worldwide economic collapse, proposes to hire small children to work as janitors, mopping floors and cleaning toilets in their schools (or their orphanages, perhaps). Imagine that man as Commander-in-Chief. It’s no stretch for him. His fantasy life is so rich that he has already compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, Charles de Gaulle, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and (for sheer perseverance) Ho Chi Minh. The providential self-destruction of the three previous non-Mitt Romney front-runners, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain, will have done nothing to diminish his sense of himself as a man of destiny.
Neither do the polls. The latest CBS News/New York Times survey of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers shows Gingrich with nearly double Romney’s support. Among white Christian evangelicals, it’s more than triple, and among Tea Party loyalists it’s well north of four to one. You might think—you might imagine—that “family values” voters would have serious doubts. You might think that Tea Partiers, especially, would recoil from this consummate Beltway operator and frequent ideological apostate: career politician, self-proclaimed “intellectual,” million-dollar purveyor of “advice as a historian” to Freddie Mac, chummy video partner with Nancy Pelosi in decrying global warming, opponent of mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, critic of Paul Ryan’s draconian deficit plan as “right-wing social engineering.” But no.
Gingrich’s sudden rise and special appeal to the emotions of “the base,” one suspects, stem less from his vaunted “big ideas” than from his long-cultivated, unparalleled talent for contempt. In 1990, when he was not yet Speaker, he pressed a memo on Republican candidates for office, instructing them to use certain words when talking about the Democratic enemy: “betray,” “bizarre,” “decay,” “anti-flag,” “anti-family,” “pathetic,” “lie,” “cheat,” “radical,” “sick,” “traitors,” and more. His own vocabulary of contempt has grown only more poisonously flowery. President Obama’s actions cannot be understood except as an expression of “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” Liberals constitute a “secular-socialist machine” that is “as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.” There is “a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us” and “is prepared to use violence.” In this campaign, Gingrich’s performances in televised debates have been widely deemed effective. But what has won him his most visceral cheers from the audiences in the halls—audiences shaped and coarsened by years of listening to talk radio and watching Fox News—is his sneering attacks on moderators, especially those representing the hated “liberal” media.
In March, at the Cornerstone Church, in San Antonio, Gingrich declared, “I am convinced that, if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America,” his grandchildren will live “in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.” Last spring, this was a kind of right-wing performance art. Now it is the language of the man leading in the Republican polls, a man who—in the real world, not the alt-world—could, not inconceivably, become President of the United States. Imagine that.
Newt the nasty. The master racebaiter and paragon of pejorative language.
Not voting just might give Newt what he hopes to achieve. If you don't vote next year, you enable this.