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Howard Barbanel Headshot

No Newt Is Good Newt

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Watching the Republican presidential debates and the masterful performances given by Newt Gingrich, one can't help but be struck by just how bright a man he is -- because it's no small hurdle to be able to overcome a disgraceful exit from politics and public office and before recent polls in Florida, assume the frontrunner position in the battle for the GOP nomination.

It's no small task to successfully portray yourself as a "Washington Outsider" when for the better part of 35 years he's been the consummate insider and for the past 15, a paid lobbyist and influence peddler for many varied and sundry special interests such as Freddie Mac, one of the major financial institutions most responsible for the housing bubble and subsequent collapse of it. Gingrich would have been a great chevalier in the Middle Ages, as his ability to verbally joust with his media inquisitors, to thrust and parry is so dazzlingly good that he makes many in the crowd root for the black knight (or is it Newt?).

Newt appeals to many voters for the same reason the hottest girl in school often goes for the biker dude -- there is an attraction to the "bad boy" that is exciting, snarky, rebellious of the established order and mores -- but eventually most normal prom queens grow up and marry stable bankers, lawyers and doctors. This isn't a contest for class president, this is a race to see who might be THE president and nominating Newt isn't worth it for the possible chance to see him possibly skewer President Obama in a debate in October. I say possibly, because the president is no slouch in the elocution or charisma department and Newt has no end of baggage with which to be battered with.

Gingrich is like the character of Captain Louis Renault played by Claude Rains in the classic film Casablanca, where in that famous scene when Captain Renault closes down Rick's Café he memorably says, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here." And then an employee hands Renault some money and says, "Your winnings, sir," whereupon Caption Renault replies, "Oh, thank you, very much. Everybody out at once!" Newt is "shocked, shocked," indignant and appalled when asked questions about his professional and personal moral lapses and business choices -- reaching for the Teflon and trying to throw the ire back on his accusers. It's like Bill Clinton indignantly wagging his finger and scowling to the camera, "I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky," when we know he did and lied about it. Character does matter. Clinton was nearly impeached (he survived by one vote) and ultimately disbarred. Gingrich was guilty of House ethics violations and had to resign the office of Speaker and even as a Member of Congress. To give you some perspective on the gravity of Newt's infractions, New York (Harlem) Rep. Charlie Rangel survived a House censure vote and still sits in Congress today. That there is no shame anymore in government (whether from Newt, Clinton or Rangel) is indicative of the corrosive cancer that is eating away at the fabric of American society.

The other thing that's truly comical about Newt is his taking credit for the economic boom of the mid-90s, for the balanced budgets and such. You would think listening to him that he was Clinton's Budget Director, Treasury Secretary or head of the Federal Reserve.

Newt deals in pandering, polarizing populism that will get tired and old pretty fast in a full-on presidential campaign against shrewd operators like David Axelrod and Barack Obama. They'll turn Newt into the Barry Goldwater of our times, paint him as an extremist and crush him along with Republican hopes for The White House and control of the Senate. It is my hope the people of Florida have more sense than the apparently easily addled voters in South Carolina and send Newt home packing.