Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was poised to capitalize on Mike Huckabee's decision not to run for president. Gingrich announced his Iowa leadership team last week. Chaired by House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, who endorsed Gingrich months ago, the high-powered crew includes activist and attorney Craig Schoenfeld as executive director, Iowa House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeff Kaufmann as senior policy advisor, Katie Koberg (former vice-president of Iowans for Tax Relief) as deputy director and Will Rogers as grassroots director.
Huckabee's announcement sparked a wave of "Iowa is wide open" news coverage, just as Gingrich was set to kick off a five-day Iowa tour. In 2010 Gingrich quietly helped raise $200,000 for the campaign against retaining three Iowa Supreme Court judges, which might have helped him with the social conservatives who were Huckabee's base supporters.
It all started to go wrong Sunday...
While taping his 35th appearance on "Meet the Press," Gingrich characterized House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan's Medicare reform proposal as "right-wing social engineering" and "too big a jump" for the country. Even though Gingrich praised other aspects of Ryan's budget plan during the program, his comments on Medicare attracted the most attention. Cable news networks and blogs publicized this YouTube clip of a Republican confronting Gingrich in Dubuque on May 16: "You're an embarrassment to our party [...] Why don't you get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself?"
Gingrich can't decide how to play this; he's both defended what he said on Meet the Press and apologized to Ryan. But GOP insiders are already writing this campaign's obituary. Meanwhile, Politico's Jake Sherman handed Gingrich another fire to put out, reporting that the former House speaker had a "revolving charge account" at Tiffany and Company, owing between $250,000 and $500,000 to the luxury jeweler in 2005 and 2006.
Ever wondered how not to do damage control? When asked to explain his debt to Tiffany's, Gingrich told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News,
I've just decided if it doesn't relate to a better future for America; if it doesn't relate to helping the American people; if it doesn't relate to solving our problems, from here on out, my answer's going to be I'm not commenting on it and then people can decide. If you want to play Trivial Pursuit, that's fine. But I'm not going to play Trivial Pursuit. I'm going to try to help this country get back on track.
Having spent eight months in 2007 talking to caucus-goers about John Edwards' $400 haircut, I can assure Gingrich that this answer won't cut it. Asking voters to overlook Gingrich's messy personal life is already a tall order. People won't stop wondering whether he borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy his third wife designer jewelry. That kind of money is anything but "trivial" to the average voter.
Gingrich's spokesman can complain that journalists were out to get him because "Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders," but let's get real. Even before this week's media disaster, Gingrich had no path to the presidential nomination. Newt should go back to selling his historical novels and self-help books and using unethical fundraising to raise money for American Solutions.
Share any relevant thoughts in this thread. I'll update this post if anything newsworthy happens during Gingrich's scheduled campaign events in western Iowa tomorrow and Friday.
P.S. In my opinion the winner of the week is GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum. Thanks to the Gingrich flame-out, few people noticed that Santorum (who never served in the military) actually claimed former tortured POW John McCain "doesn't understand how enhanced interrogation works." What an idiotic thing to say.
UPDATE: Gingrich can't even campaign credibly as an "ideas man" in today's Republican Party, because he used to support an individual mandate to buy private health insurance and once cut a tv ad with then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying "our country must take action to address climate change."
SECOND UPDATE: Surprise, surprise, a bunch of Iowa Republican county chairs say don't count Gingrich out yet. Naturally, they don't want to short-circuit the campaign of a guy who's willing to spend serious time and money here. Last year Gingrich's political action committee "contributed $67,000 to local and state candidates and party committees in Iowa."
THIRD UPDATE: Nearly 200 people came to hear Gingrich in Marshalltown on Thursday. He had a pretty good answer to the "Washington insider" question:
When he received a question about being a career politician, Gingrich said he had also run successful small businesses that had a payroll and turned a profit each year. But he acknowledged public service was part of who he was.
"Do you think you are going to send an amateur to the White House?" Gingrich asked. "You just did that."
In his Iowa stump speeches, Gingrich has continued to call Obama "the food stamp president." In contrast, Gingrich says, he would be a "paycheck president." He acted shocked when NBC's David Gregory suggested there might be racist overtones to calling Obama a "food stamp president." Gingrich has been calling Democrats the "party of food stamps" for some time.
Gingrich told a Waterloo audience on Thursday,
"We have to convince the Washington news media that actually it is the voters who will decide when this election is over and not five or six pundits," Gingrich said. "And that there are many people who would like to see this campaign go all the way into next year and actually talk about ideas, even if it's confusing, and actually talk about solutions."
But Gingrich said Iowans don't "parse every sentence" and are more interested in his plans for the economy, energy, agriculture and the debt. [...] In Ames, he met with about 100 activists, none of whom mentioned Gingrich's Medicare comments.
"Did you see the crowd?" Gingrich asked. "How many of them asked about it?"
Also in Ames, Gingrich accused Obama of being "consistently hostile to Israel." Having grown up in the 1980s, I'm still surprised sometimes when conservatives try to outdo each other on pro-Israel rhetoric.
Gingrich's speech in Ames was interrupted by a ringing cell phone. His own cell phone. Playing "Dancing Queen" by ABBA. Tough week indeed.
Final note: If you haven't watched it already, I highly recommend Stephen Colbert's segment on Newt's campaign, including John Lithgow's dramatic reading of the press release accusing the "literati" of sending out their "minions" to destroy Gingrich.