Liking Newt, Warts and All

Monday, December 05, 2011

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Dubuque, Iowa, on May 16, 2011. (Mark Hirsch/Getty)

Recap from It's a Free Country.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Georgia-based conservative columnist and author of Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency, Matt Towery, and contributing editor for Newsweek Magazine, Eleanor Clift, talked about the resurgence of Newt Gingrich's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

The campaign everyone counted out

Herman Cain was doing just fine until the elephants walked into the room: aimlessness when it came to foreign policy, amnesia when it came to accusations of sexual misconduct. A scandal, a series of missteps, and the public flowering of Cain's general weirdness sunk his campaign.

If that's all it takes to kill a shot at being the Republican presidential nominee, we shouldn't even be talking about Newt Gingrich. Indeed, mere months ago, almost nobody thought we would be talking about him. That the current ascendant Republican hopeful is a man whose campaign was evacuated by his staff earlier this year, whose career as Speaker of the House ended in an embarrassing resignation, who once secured tax subsidies for pet conservative organizations all while denouncing excessive taxation, who left two wives for women with whom he was having affairs, who has suspect paychecks from Fannie and Freddie and an exorbitant bill from Tiffany's, who once appeared in a commercial with Nancy Pelosi talking about how climate change is a real problem...that the current Republican hotness has managed to rise above all that and more is, frankly, shocking.

What keeps Newt afloat while similar stories—sometimes comparably bland—torpedo other campaigns? Eleanor Clift could think of two reasons that voters just don't mind.

One, they don't remember or are too young and they don't know anything about this long list; or two, they're willing to overlook it because they just see him as a historic figure, and he creates excitement, and they would love to see a cage match between him and President Obama. They're so confident in his intellectual agility that they think the debates can decide the general election just as they're deciding the primary.

Who remembers GOPAC?

Rick Perry was done in by a string of poor debate performances. Michele Bachmann sort of made up that whole thing about the crying woman and the HPV vaccine. Cain was further undermined by the infamous "Libya answer." Then he responded to a post-mortem on the "Libya answer" by simply shaking his head, smiling, and saying, "Nine, nine, nine!"

Gingrich doesn't have these flubs, and he's able to confront questions about past dalliances, personal and professional. Matt Towery said it also doesn't hurt that most of these blemishes are ancient in political years.

When people don't have food to eat, don't have clothes, don't have homes, we're in real trouble...This country has had a long history of letting things go down the tubes over the last 20 years.

"And in that context, who remembers GOPAC?" Brian Lehrer asked. Be honest: do you need to Google GOPAC?

Marianne Clift echoed Towery.

He's the only speaker in history to have faced that. It's a terrible blemish; but in the context of today's politics, the fact that Congress is an institution that a lot of Republican primary voters would get rid of, I think he can get past that.

The Not-Mitt

Not only is it surprising that we're talking about Newt in spite of all his baggage: we're talking about him when there's another guy on the stage that looks a lot cleaner and polls high consistently.

But Newt's baggage may harm him less than Mitt Romney's lack of "street cred," as Clift put it, harms the usual front-runner. Towery also pointed out that there's an unexpected degree of warmth from the former that's lacking in the latter.

Mitt Romney is also cold. He's a control freak, and those who know him know that. Gingrich, on the other hand, used to be cold and he's not anymore. He's a very nice, kind person. I don't know what happened. It's kind of like the Grinch who stole Christmas: I don't know where he got his heart, but he got one.

Bottom line, as a conservative, Towery would rather see Gingrich win the primary over Romney—not necessarily for the heart, but for that "intellectual agility."

Gingrich knows more about federal government than Barack Obama does. Period.

Getting past the warts

At first, it seems strange that Towery's backing the man about which he said, "He's a very nice, kind person...I don't know where he got a heart, but he got one."

It also seems strange that Towery would back the man who used to work for him, briefly, which he described sarcastically as a "lovely experience."

He didn't do anything. I couldn't get him to do anything. He would pontificate and eat and come to meetings and people loved being around him, but I couldn't get Newt to figure out what we were going to do.

Like an increasing number of Republican voters, Towery seems able to get past the warts on Newt, even the ones he was personally privy to and that the electorate might not know about. Towery's even able to grant Newt some leniency on the whole cheating-on-his-second-wife thing, as he does not have the nicest things to say about Marianne Gingrich.

If I ever ran across someone like her who was married to a congressman and doing the kind of things she was doing, I think I would have jumped out of a building...She was not a bad lady in the sense that she was mean or anything like that, but if you think there are moral problems with Newt Gingrich, go meet Marianne Gingrich.

'Everyone in Washington has a story about Newt Gingrich'

The baggage might not matter that much, and it might matter even less as voters get to know this new, nicer Newt. But both guests cautioned that you never know what else might come out as Gingrich goes back under the microscope.

Eleanor Clift: We're both pro-Gingrich, there are a lot of good qualities, but we're both skeptical.

Matt Towery: We both have ridden this rodeo many times before.

Clift: Everybody in Washington has a story about Newt Gingrich.


Eleanor Clift and Matt Towery

Comments [51]

DAVID FAROL from Hampton,GA


Nov. 06 2012 09:17 PM
Cameron Stanford from Stockbridge,GA

I like the Democrats! :) Don't get racist, it's just my opinion. :) LIKE his policy!
Went to vote today!

Nov. 06 2012 09:15 PM
kevin from Queens

One of the duties of a congressperson is to bring back the money the federal gov't steals from his constituents. Earmarks are not an added cost to the tax payer as it's already appropriated. Whatever is left over is for the executive branch to squander.

Dec. 05 2011 07:51 PM
clive betters

HELL NO......!

Dec. 05 2011 06:35 PM
clive betters


Dec. 05 2011 06:34 PM

Ron Paul's constituents have also benefited from pork spending his congressional allies have put into bills that are guaranteed to pass, allowing him to vote "against" the pork while at the same time benefitting from it.

Is he so solid on ideology though? On the face of it he's a libertarian, but when you get down to specifics he just seems more like a "states' rights" guy.

I wasn't really arguing his consistency anyway though. I'd say he is fairly consistent. I was arguing he's not really electable, and isn't really running for the win. He's running to try and get his ideology more into the mainstream political conversation.

Dec. 05 2011 11:04 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Sorry...Too much of this discussion is feeling like sports reports wondering which match-up would sell more tickets. Pure hype of the fight rather than an actual discussion of Americans rationally choosing political alternatives and potential futures.
Newt is not a serious contender for President...He appeals (and will only ever appeal) to a very narrow band of conservatives...and he carries far too much baggage to be considered electable.

But he sure would make for some great debates! Ger-hyuk!

Dec. 05 2011 10:59 AM
Joe Corrao


Ron Paul surely does have an idealogy...he has been consistent for 30+ while in politics...he is not a flip flopper by any stretch, and why would anyone want compromise when they are right?

Dec. 05 2011 10:55 AM
Ann from Westchester, New York

OMG!!!!! Brian, Newt owes you and Eleanor big time for helping to keep him viable in light of the loose lips of his good friend and supporter (?) Matt Towery. I thought I was listening to a late-night comedy show as I listened to this segment. SNL can't do better than this. Great fun, but sad comment on the state of affairs (no pun intended).

Dec. 05 2011 10:47 AM

At the end of the interview I came away with the impression that both Cliff and Towery consider good ole' Newt as the best guy in the pack with whom American can share a six-pack of beer. Didn't we already have one of those, not so long ago?

Dec. 05 2011 10:46 AM

Amy, are you sure that's what they're saying is mistake was? What's more important, that he took one position and then the opposite (the old flip-flop critique), or the actual substance of those positions?

I hate this type of story, this politics as junior high school social drama. If the focus isn't that one of two positions Gingrich took is apocalyptic, suicidal, and insane, I don't want to hear it. It's like he gave a press conference where he denied the holocaust with his fly down, and all the news chatter is about his pants!

(I win this thread's Godwin).

Dec. 05 2011 10:45 AM
Dennis Lonergan from Manhattan

Please don't have this guy Towery on again. He's a jerk. And his several introductions of slander and gossip cast a bad light on your program, which otherwise is sterling.

Dec. 05 2011 10:41 AM

Matt Towery and Eleanor Clift - two lightweights.

Dec. 05 2011 10:41 AM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca

Newt is the favourite intellectual of a party whose stock-in-trade is anti-intellectualism----they limn intellectuals as arrogant, out-of-touch, stuck-up, and not really all that bright in any but a book-larnin' sense.

Well, guess what? If you believe that government is bad, when you get power you'll govern badly; if you basically hate and deride intellectuals, your intellectuals will be hateful and not all that competent.

Dec. 05 2011 10:41 AM
Nathan from Angouleme, France

this is possibly the most insane interview I've ever heard on Brian Lehrer.

Did he seriously just throw Newt's ex wife under the bus?

Donald Trump moderating a debate = good times for all?

how...? wtf?

Dec. 05 2011 10:40 AM

A quick google search on "Santorum" will tell you all you need to know about his candidacy. Thanks Dan Savage!

Dec. 05 2011 10:40 AM

This is like a flip universe of the 2004 elections. At the time the country wanted anyone but Bush. Then we got Kerry and the country was like "anyone else". Same thing is happening now on the flip side. One bad candidate after another.

Perry - doesn't even know the voting age.
Paul - isn't seriously running, just advertising his ideology.
Huntsman - if he was more electable, he'd be leading in the polls.
Cain - needs to focus on working things out with his wife.
Romney - no charisma, PE layoffs are gonna be an issue. Neither Evangelicals or Catholics seem excited about him.
Gingrich - his main selling point is "he's not Romney"...

Brian's talking about Santorum now. Google his name and you'll find out why he's not gonna win, he can't even get his own name as the top search.

Dec. 05 2011 10:39 AM
Joe Corrao

hahahhaha...Brian you really are a piece of work...Rick Santorum...c'mon play fair guy

Dec. 05 2011 10:39 AM

It really does not make any difference, really.
To the largest majority of Republicans, from moderate conservatives to rabid tea partiers, whoever wins the primaries, be it Gingrich, Romney or Bozo the clown, will be the "anti-Obama": That is the only thing that matters and they will vote for him. Or it.

Dec. 05 2011 10:37 AM

Did Newt equate Donald Trump with Bill Gates? Christ, this man is an IDIOT! He has no respect for anyone.

Dec. 05 2011 10:36 AM
Andrea from Philadelphia

Towery seems to be trying to explain/excuse Gingrich's divorce from his second wife (i.e. it was her fault that the marriage didn't work) but didn't Newt begin an affair with his current wife while still married to wife number 2?

Dec. 05 2011 10:35 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY


That's just what I was thinking too, is this a real voice? lol

Dec. 05 2011 10:35 AM
David from Brooklyn

Unfortunately, Newt Gingrich proposed the absurd notion those illegals that have been here for so many years, but go to church, should not be deported. I would have preferred to hear that he treats all illegals to be punished equally, especially those who have been taking advantage of our too generous nation, such as illegals. I would vote for him if he would propose to change the law that grants US citizenship to anyone born in the USA. The birth of any illegal immigrant’s child in the USA should not be granted citizenship.

Dec. 05 2011 10:34 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Since they're not taking calls after all, I'll put this here: Why isn't anyone talking about Gingrich's outright lying when he bashed New York, especially by accusing it of being "subsidized" by the rest of the country--when the truth was that not only did New York pay much more into the federal treasury than it gets back, but the 1 district that got more federal funding than any other was Gingrich's Cobb County?

Dec. 05 2011 10:34 AM

Matt Towery is kind of a jerk - why is he always on as the conservative side?

Dec. 05 2011 10:34 AM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

By the way, just keep Matt Towery talking and defending Newt because he just makes him sound worse.

Hopefully some of what Towery said about Newt will make it mainstream.

Dec. 05 2011 10:33 AM
mark from NJ

With friends like these, Newt doesn't even need Democratic enemies.
Republicans: please, please nominate this man (and, while you're at it, embrace his upcoming endorsements by Cain & Trump) -- I can't wait!

Dec. 05 2011 10:33 AM
Joe Corrao

Ron Paul?

Dec. 05 2011 10:33 AM

Congratulations to Brian for getting the most revealing interview I think I've ever heard on this show. Some real gems coming out of Mr. Towrey today! Did he seriously just try to defend Newt by pointing the finger at his ex-wife?

Dec. 05 2011 10:33 AM
John from Inwood

Matt Towery sounds like an SNL parody of someone named Matt Towery.

Dec. 05 2011 10:33 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Newt is getting his 15 minutes (again) then he will implode just like Cain did. Mitt is just waiting on the sidelines for his time to shine again.

Dec. 05 2011 10:32 AM
Tom from Toronto

Newt Gingrich converted on March 29, 2009.... thats 2 1/2 years ago. This guy just send 10 years ago.... and he knows him well?

Dec. 05 2011 10:32 AM
john from john

Spanish on his web site???!!!

The far right will crush him for being too friendly with los mojados!!

He even flip floped on his religion!!

Dec. 05 2011 10:30 AM
Jeffrey from Maplewood, NJ

But what about Newt's obvious racism, as evidenced by his recent comments about low-income laziness and inherent aversion to work?

Dec. 05 2011 10:29 AM
John A.

One good thing about Newt is that he's a thinker in the style that Bush and Perry sure as shootin' aint.
A Gingrich vs Obama debate won't happen but I'd sure would have liked to see it anyway.

Dec. 05 2011 10:28 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Aneece, it's not that he acknowledged that global climate disruption is real--it's that he changed his position afterwards to align w/the conservative Republican line, & apparently expected no one to find out he was on the record saying the opposite, & next to then-Speaker Pelosi to boot!.

Dec. 05 2011 10:27 AM
Rick from Connecticut

Imagine a person so morally bankrupt that he even swindled his own consevative movement flacking for Fannie Mae to convince them it was a profit making private enterpresie rather than a zombie socialist carcass that is $700 billion in the hole.

Dec. 05 2011 10:25 AM

It's absolutely incredible the amount of justification that has to be done just to make Gingrich look even semi-respectable. Even the smallest amount of actual scrutiny makes it plain that he should never be anywhere near a position of power ever again.

Dec. 05 2011 10:23 AM
Hal from Crown Heights

I tuned in a bit late....did I miss the joke about Gingrich taking the Pro-Adultery voters from Cain?

Dec. 05 2011 10:23 AM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

That climate change spot with the "odd couple" circa 2008 was both hilarious and jarring to me when I saw it at the time.

Gingrich is a typical flip-floppin' politician. He ain't worth a lick. (Sounds like he is shiftless and indolent, too, and that just now coming from his former aide and boss. Funny that, Newt, a person that lacks a work ethic wants to roll back child labor laws to teach kids a work ethic.)

In point of fact, cap-and-trade has virtually eliminated sulfur emissions (nationally; Clean Air Act of 1990) and ozone emissions (internationally; Montreal Protocol). Moreover, my Great Leader, Gov. Christie, has proven his foolishness by dropping out of the successful Northeastern cap-and-trade RGGI initiative, which a recent report has saved its region’s consumers money, cut the costs of doing business and generated 16,000 jobs.

Dec. 05 2011 10:22 AM
john from office

Bernie, the fact is that anyone of any value is laying low, Obama will win again. This cast of losers are retreads and or idiots. Perry is a fool, Newt is a windbag who will implode, Bachman is nuts and Ron Paul is not electable.

Dec. 05 2011 10:19 AM

Argh. Should have written "What does it say THAT we all agree...."

Dec. 05 2011 10:18 AM
Joe Corrao

If they utter Ron Paul's name thats a start...c'mon Brian you can do it.

Dec. 05 2011 10:16 AM
Aneece from Providence

What does it say we all agree it was a stupid idea for Newt to acknowledge reality, and admit Climate Change is real? Do we all agree that it's reality's fault for not comporting with politics? This is an insane conversation.

Dec. 05 2011 10:15 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

He did the commercial so he could show that he's "bipartisan," but "didn't really mean it"?!

And we wonder why the general population is so fed up with politicians.

Dec. 05 2011 10:15 AM
john from office

George Will had it right yesterday. The running for the presidency is not a reality show. The Republicans have turned this into a bad TV show. Problem is that no one of any weight will run, because they will lose to Obama.

Mr. Huntsman is the best choice but will never win the nomination

Dec. 05 2011 10:15 AM
Joe Corrao

I will give you a dollar if you talk about Ron Paul

Dec. 05 2011 10:15 AM

So is the race narrow enough now for Brian to devote an entire segment to Ron Paul?

Dec. 05 2011 10:12 AM
bernie from bklyn

it really is shocking to me that newt gingrich and mitt romney are the two best candidates the GOP could come up with. just amazing!

Dec. 05 2011 10:11 AM
The Truth from Becky

The repubs seem even more ridiculous to me now than they did ever before...

Dec. 05 2011 10:10 AM
Linda from Jersey shore

Nothing beats Maureen Dowd's clear, concise and scathing column about Newt Gingrich in yesterday's NY Times. In a matter of hours, it was quoted in every political interview. Now for a catty high schoolish response to something I haven't heard yet. Callista Gingrich as first lady?ewwwwww.

Dec. 05 2011 10:07 AM

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