POLITICS
12/28/2011 03:14 pm ET | Updated Dec 28, 2011

Bob Woodward Remembers Some Key Insight Into Newt Gingrich He Learned 20 Years Ago

Ever since Newt Gingrich capitalized on the episodic collapses of his fellow rivals for the GOP nomination to briefly rise into contention as the Not-Romney candidate du jour, George Will has been using his syndicated column as a one-man war blog against the former House speaker, warning that Gingrich is a dangerous, bomb-throwing egomaniac who doesn't care what parts of the conservative movement are damaged by his pyromaniacal tendencies.

At some point in the past few days, some of this must have rung a bell with Bob Woodward, because on Christmas Eve, he published a remembrance of the 1990 budget battle between President George H.W. Bush's administration and Congress, which briefly led to an October shutdown of the government. Definitely go read the whole thing, but if you've no time to spare, Brad DeLong helpfully distills the important details:

Days earlier, Gingrich had dramatically walked out of the White House and was leading a very public rebellion against a deficit reduction and tax increase deal that Bush and top congressional leaders of both parties -- including, they thought, Gingrich -- had signed off on after months of tedious negotiations. ...

[Office of Management and Budget Director Richard] Darman called Gingrich. ... Gingrich told Darman "you've got to go" and said that he wanted Bush to be defeated. Gingrich did not dispute Darman's version of the conversation, but he said he later told him that he had changed his position and did not want to knock off Bush. "I am a loyalist," Gingrich said, adding that he worked hard for Bush's reelection in 1992. ...

Darman asked [Rep. Vin] Weber to mediate. ... "It was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life," Weber said, "because I never intended to be either a psychiatrist or marriage counselor. And the sessions were very much of that magnitude. They both should have been laying down! I had this very strong sense that I was dealing with a couple of people that had grown up without any friends ... a couple of kids that were the smartest kids in their school class but nobody liked them."

Weber said the two did not have real discussions or disagreements about policy. ... "I got pretty bored with it all, to be candid, sitting there listening to these guys talk about, you know, 'Well I thought you liked me, if you liked me, why did you say that about me?'" Weber said. ...

"I know Newt didn't want Dick Darman to resign," Weber said. "Newt wanted Dick Darman to sit down and spend hours and hours talking with him. And set up a process of communication that would make sure that everybody knew that, you know, Newt had Darman on the phone any time he wanted him and had his ear on anything he wanted to." Weber portrayed Gingrich in various ways throughout the 1992 interview, at one point calling him "a high-maintenance friend and ally, needy" and at another saying that "Newt, as you know, views himself as the leader of a vast, national interplanetary movement."

Somewhere, George Will is saying, "Told you so," but the larger question is the one that DeLong asks, which is, basically: Why didn't Bob Woodward report this years ago? As DeLong notes, Woodward's 1992 account of the budget fight characterized Gingrich as just a major player in what amounted to "bipartisan opposition." The antagonism against Bush and the bizarre account of how Gingrich wanted to wrap Darman into his "interplanetary" cult of personality didn't make the cut. It seems unfair to take the Democratic opposition to that budget -- which was rooted in policy principles -- and suggest that it had equivalence with Gingrich's solo operation into megalomania, but that's precisely what Woodward did in 1992.

Woodward is likely to get credit for some exquisite timing, especially in light of Gingrich's new interview with Matt Bai, in which he casually remarks that he's a threat to the GOP's "old order." As Alec McGillis recalls, this is the position Gingrich defaults to when his electoral chances are threatened: His backstabbing of Bush in 1990 was basically the same play call Gingrich is making today when he compares being left off the Virginia primary ballot to Pearl Harbor.

But seriously, what was Woodward saving this two-decade-old reportorial tidbit for, exactly?

RELATED:
Bob Woodward Tells Us Now What He Knew About Newt Gingrich Two Decades Ago [Brad DeLong]
What Bob Woodward Left Out [The New Republic]

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