Newt Gingrich has a unique position in the Republican Party and in conservative politics. He's been the Speaker of the House. He's run for president. He is one of the more creative and versatile thinkers on the right. And he has an appetite, at 69, to stay in the game.
So Gingrich's column in Human Events Wednesday, in which he attacks GOP consultants Karl Rove and Stuart Stevens by name, is a potentially significant moment.
"I am unalterably opposed to a bunch of billionaires financing a boss to pick candidates in 50 states," Gingrich writes, casting Rove as the "boss" picking candidates through groups like American Crossroads. "No one person is smart enough nor do they have the moral right to buy nominations across the country."
"That is the system of Tammany Hall and the Chicago machine. It should be repugnant to every conservative and every Republican," he writes.
Gingrich also mocks Rove for his "blow up" on Fox News on Election Night, after Fox called Ohio for Obama.
"Handing millions to Washington based consultants to destroy the candidates they dislike and nominate the candidates they do like is an invitation to cronyism, favoritism and corruption," Gingrich writes.
Within the insular world of party politics, there are not many willing to name names when they make pointed remarks. Rove in particular is an intimidating figure. He is powerful and has long tentacles in the party. Most who have something to lose don't want to take him on.
Gingrich does not have a lot to lose at this point in his career. Yet he is enough of the establishment to turn heads with his critique. Perhaps others may follow.
Even if they don't, Gingrich's column could give the grassroots a champion to rally behind against the political establishment. He has sparred with Rove before, but never like this. Gingrich is no dummy. He knows there is plenty of grassroots fervor waiting to be summoned on this issue. He showed his knack for tapping into the emotions of the base during the last GOP presidential primary, when he won South Carolina after bashing moderators from Fox News and CNN and essentially running against press bias.
Gingrich may not have an end game in mind here. And whether he does or not is less important than the fact that until now, the disagreements within the GOP have stayed largely behind doors. Yes, some of the younger heads in the party have griped about the GOP's older consultants to Robert Draper, and groups like FreedomWorks continue to throw bombs, but there has been little evidence of a public intra-establishment fight.
Gingrich's column may be the spark that sets one off.
On the other hand, some said Gingrich was still pulling punches by not going after sitting U.S. senators, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky).
Rove an easy target, but Newt et al know the Senate GOP ldrshp wanted a SuperPac for primaries.Easier to blame consultants than senators
— jmartpolitico (@jmartpolitico) February 20, 2013
I asked Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond about Martin's tweet when Hammond called me this morning.
"I'm sure if he saw [the senators], he would mock them for that, for wanting to get involved in primaries, and not stepping up to the plate and doing it themselves," Hammond said. "Jim DeMint is a senator who did exactly that. He did get involved in primaries and he didn't do it under the guise of somebody else's organization."
Hammond called because he wanted to emphasize that even though Gingrich is against super PAC's, he believes individuals should still be allowed to give "as much as you want to whoever you want" as long as it is disclosed on the internet within 24 hours.
When Sam Stein and I interviewed Gingrich in December, he had a lot to say about consultants, though he didn't go after Rove or Stevens by name at that point. We included some of his comments in our piece, but not all of them on the topic. And looking back, this was one of the more interesting portions of the interview, because Gingrich got into talking about the way a consultant-dominated party creates flawed candidates:
Gingrich: I've talked about our consultants for a decade. I lived with these guys prior to Reagan, and it's almost like the movie Awakenings. I watched Kemp and Reagan and myself try to move toward an idea-oriented, risk-taking, open party, and then I watched the party revert.
HuffPost: And that's because of consultants in your mind?
Gingrich: Because of the culture. The culture of the Republican party is a managerial culture, in which everybody has their defined job and you should stay in your lane. And the candidate's lane is to raise money. And then when they raise money they hire smart people. Then smart people do smart focus groups, then smart focus groups lead to smart speeches, which the candidate should deliver. Now that is in fact exactly wrong. If your candidate isn't growing, if they're not writing their own speeches, if they don't know what their own policies are, why would you think they're going to be able to function in the real world? It's a very big, deep problem.
HP: It's why they couldn't explain anything.
Gingrich: Right, and the candidate can take far bigger risks than any staffer or consultant. If you go back and look, it's Obama who drives some of the biggest risks in the camapaign, because he is living out his understanding of what he wants to accomplish.
HP: And he's processing as he goes, a lot of times.
Gingrich: Exactly. It's a lot like ballet, or like a quarterback rollout in football.
HP: But also just exposing him to different mediums, like urban radio, or Reddit, he gets a sense of what people are concerned about.
Gingrich: My model of leadership is listen, learn, help and lead in that order. So if you're not in the room listening, and you don't listen for real, to learn - it's not transactional, you're listening to learn - why would you think you're going to be able to lead? So if you haven't met with Asian-Americans, and you haven't met with Latinos, and you don't understand what they hear when you suggest your grandmother will self-deport.