WASHINGTON -- CNN giveth. Will it now taketh away?
A week ago, the network's half-hearted questioning of Newt Gingrich about his married life allowed the former speaker to go on a righteous anti-media tear that helped him win the South Carolina primary. Tonight, one week later, Gingrich is facing new questions about the lie he told the network about how he had dealt with the same topic.
(DISCLOSURE: The author of this piece is an MSNBC and NBC News analyst.)
Meanwhile, Gingrich and his roiling campaign seem about to do something that no consultant, TV ad or speech has been able to do until now: make Mitt Romney look like a reassuring, or at least acceptable, Republican standard-bearer.
Only four days after Newt's stunning, send-them-a-message victory in the South Carolina primary, his polls and momentum are wobbling amid a barrage of urgent, even hysterical criticism from conservatives and establishment Republicans alike, and new reminders of his casual if not cynical relationship with the truth and his life story.
Romney, to be sure, is seen as a flip-flopper a stiff and a character of a rich guy with boatloads of money in the Cayman Islands. But in the game of contrasts that is politics, an out-of-touch flip-flopper is better than a bald-faced liar.
Gingrich's campaign admitted last night that its candidate had lied when he indignantly told CNN's John King that several of Newt's friends had come forward to defend his account of what he did, or did not say, to his former wife Marianne about an "open marriage."
There were no such friends, and no such offer. As usual, it wasn't the accusation itself that did the damage, but the mendacious explanation that followed.
CNN's John King was the victim-inquisitor last week, ill-prepared, it seemed, for what everyone knew was coming from Newt. Tonight, Wolf Blitzer is the moderator, and CNN -- if it chooses to do so -- can ask the the former speaker why he lied the week before.
Expect howls the from the audience if Blitzer broaches the topic. But expect howls from his media colleagues if he doesn't, especially after the Gingrich campaign admitted its candidates' lack of truthfulness the week before.
Gingrich has been under a hail of fire from conservatives and from establishment Republicans, not to mention the Romney campaign. Critics have questioned his record, his ideological bona fides, his truthfulness and even his sanity.
Romney, having shed his mostly nice-guy demeanor in debates, methodically if undramatically attacked Gingrich on NBC's debate on Monday. Among other things, he forced the former speaker into ever more convoluted renditions of his own history as an "historian" for government mortgage officials, and the reasons for his departure from the speakership.
The truth is, Gingrich wasn't a lobbyist per se. But he certainly wasn't paid more than a $1 million to explain history. Only David McCullough gets that kind of historian dough.
And Newt did not leave the speakership because he wanted to pursue other interests. He left because he had become a political pariah in his own party and in Congress.
Ph.D. historians, and Newt is one, are supposed to be able to keep their facts straight. Let's see how he does tonight.
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