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Welcome to the Race, Newt. Things are About to Get Hard

Thursday, May 12, 2011 - 01:28 PM

Newt Gingrich Newt Gingrich (Flickr: gageskidmore)

The GOP race to the White House is heating up now that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has thrown his hat in the ring. In Iowa, we are excited! Another sucker thinks he can be POTUS! All I can say is “Get in line Newt.”

Gingrich is a hardball player. He may have recovered brilliantly from his significant bumps in the road. But, he has been operating largely in first class reserved space where his audiences and followers live and they will forgive. Now he’s asking moderate former Republicans, now listed as no-party or independents, to scrutinize him. I fear they will be less kind than the acolytes.

The problems he has faced includes ethics questions in 1996 in which, a House ethics subcommittee found that Gingrich brought discredit to the House by using tax-exempt money for political purposes, and by providing the committee with "inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable information" about the role of a political action committee in a college course he taught. Gingrich apologized, saying, "I brought down on the people's house a controversy which could weaken the faith people have in their government."

Then there are the two divorces one of which was very nasty and the story is that he went to the hospital where his wife was recovering from cancer surgery and told her he was divorcing her. His third wife Callista has been referred to unkindly by Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon as “ … a devout Catholic who began her relationship with her husband via a lengthy extramarital affair.”

Sure to be revived and trotted out discreetly by some of the other contenders for the GOP nomination is the Air Force One hissy fit he had when he was assigned a set in the back of the plane and ignored. While Newt denies it is assumed that he went after Bill Clinton by failing to pass a budget and shutting down the federal government. In the end this actually may have cost Gingrich his reelection and cut his career in Congress short.

Gingrich retired to Georgia where he has been assiduously rebuilding his brand. He’s built a solid consulting business, which gives him access to millions who have bought services and millions of dollars in funding for his White House bid.

He's the “intellectual” Republican with substantial horsepower in explaining GOP conservative philosophy – albeit not as well as Glenn Beck. He's also an action-oriented bomb-thrower who will show no mercy with Mitt Romney or anyone else who tries to get in his way. He will make sparks fly in the GOP debates.

His consulting work for the ethanol industry won't hurt him much. On fact it could help in Iowa since “Big Eth” is one of the drivers of farm income. Some in the Tea Party will object to Big Government subsidies like “Big Eth” but most will not dare take on Newt. That's particularly true of the "Conservative Bully", as a prominent GOP operative recently called "Bob" Vander Plaats, the most high profile Iowa GOP kingmaker.

Newt Gingrich will make the race for the White House a wild and exciting ride I believe. Oh yeah, also his wife Callista will mention her Luther College days on every campaign stop.

The New York Times, not surprisingly referred to Mr. Gingrich as “ … a splenetic politician with a long history of slashing divisiveness and intolerance. He refers to himself as a historian, but apparently his personal study of history has primarily taught him about the effectiveness of demagogy. Donald Trump, fiddling with birth certificates, is an amateur compared with Mr. Gingrich at sliming the Obama administration — as well as Democrats, Muslims, blacks, and gay men and lesbians.”

While friends, clients, and true believers will rally around Gingrich precisely BECAUSE he has taken on “Obama the Heathen,” every poll I’ve seen suggests that Democrats and Independents will not be attracted. Even in Iowa.

He sure will have a tough time re attracting Hispanics and Latinos to the GOP when they trot out his comments that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was a “racist” and should withdraw from the nomination. He withdrew that statement but you know, you can never actually turn the clock back.

Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University, blogs for the Des Moines Register, WNYC's “It’s a Free Country”, and is Chief Political Correspondent for Insideriowa.com.

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