Newt Gingrich for president? My gut reaction is that he so weighed down by
personal baggage that his candidacy will ultimately evaporate. Recent trends in
Iowa and New Hampshire suggest that Newt’s campaign is losing steam. On the
other hand, he is a remarkably resilient politician, and candidates who lose
early primaries often bounce back to win their parties’ nomination.
would President Gingrich be good for the Jews? Does he have the right
temperament to help address the intractable problems the State of Israel faces?
My personal experience with the former Georgia congressman may offer a clue,
albeit a dated one. Gingrich was largely responsible for me getting my first
job, and he helped me in a decisive and forceful way that that gives me
confidence. On the other hand, he helped me with such limited information
that I worry that his decision making process lacks substance, and is based more
on intuition than information.
In 1981, when I was fresh out of the
University of Virginia, I went to Capitol Hill seeking a job as a foot soldier
in the Reagan Revolution. Like all good soldiers I persevered in the face
of adversity, but after having probably 200 congressional doors slammed in my
face, my resolve wavered. My friends wanted me off their couch, and my daily
ration of $1.25 egg salad sandwiches from the US Senate cafeteria increasingly
tasted like sawdust.
Enter Newt Gingrich. Having made friends with the
staffers in his office early in my trek through Congress (I and they had both
grown up in Atlanta), I decamped there frequently to lick my wounds and share my
stories with sympathetic Georgia ears. After a particularly galling rejection (I
was a finalist for a typing job for a New York congressman but lost out to a
dazzling young woman), I stormed back to Gingrich’s office to vent.
shared my story, nearly the whole office emerged from their cubicles to
commiserate. I suddenly felt a hulking presence behind me, tapping me on the
shoulder, demanding to know who I was and why was I distracting his team from
the taxpayer’s business.
I blurted out something about being a
constituent, and in short order Gingrich ushered me into his office,
cross-examined me about tax reform, abortion rights, gun control, capital
punishment and foreign policy. Having passed the ideological litmus test,
he picked up the phone, called his friend Senator Paula Hawkins, and voila – I
was employed as a legislative correspondent for Senator Hawkins!
Now, I am all
for instinctual decisions based on limited information, especially when they
pull me off the icy breadlines of a Washington, DC, winter and into a warm
office with a paycheck. I have often wondered, however, whether our 20-minute
interaction should have been enough for a congressman to risk his reputation in
All of which brings us to Gingrich’s fitness for the presidency
and the related question of his alignment with the State of Israel. At the risk
of being ungrateful for the kindness he showed me many years ago, I suggest that
both my personal experience and his recent statements are consistent with the
observation that he operates more from the gut than from a place of careful
Take his recent statement that the Palestinians are an “invented
people.” While this statement has obvious emotional appeal to Jewish
voters and Christian Zionists (and may in some sense be accurate), Gingrich’s
remark seems to me to be an unnecessary exercise in pandering to a large segment
of the American public. Merely repeating the Republican mantra of unwavering
support for Israel would have sufficed to show his pro-Israel bona
fides. Instead, Gingrich staked out a politically extreme position which
may create future barriers in dealing with the Arab world should he
In addition to a history of erratic statements, Gingrich has a
record of erratic actions.
His history of brinksmanship is what endears
him to his supporters. In 1995, as speaker of the House of
Representatives, he presided over the literal shutdown of the
government. This behavior set a dreadful precedent; in 2011, Republican
Congressmen seeking to follow Gingrich’s path refused for weeks to raise the
debt ceiling, almost causing the US government to default on its financial
Shortly after the debt ceiling crisis was resolved, Standard
& Poor’s (a leading credit rating agency) downgraded the United States
government’s credit rating because “the effectiveness, stability and
predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened
at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenge.”
I worry that this
kind of confrontation is not going to serve Gingrich well in the fluid and
violent environment of the Middle East. Principle is one thing, effective
politics is another.
The reason for these behaviors might have something
to do with Gingrich’s inflated sense of his place in history. For example, in
1994 he told a journalist: “People like me are what stand between us and
And in notes unearthed during the 1997 House investigation of
Gingrich’s business activities, he wrote; “Gingrich – primary mission: advocate
of civilization, definer of civilization, teacher of the rules of civilization,
arouser of those who fan civilization, organizer of the pro-civilization
activists, leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces.”
are particularly interesting in light of the Torah’s description of Moses
(Numbers 12:3): “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on
the face of the earth.” Can a politician as apparently unhumble as Newt
be an effective leader?
Of course, none of this directly relates to whether a
Gingrich administration would be any more or less pro-Israel than a Romney
administration or a Santorum administration. In all probability, on the issues
dividing the world today, a President Gingrich, like a President Romney, would
take a strongly pro-Israel position. But what about the issues we don’t see
coming, or the issues that cannot be divided into a simple “pro-Israel vs
anti-Israel” categorization? On these issues, it matters more whether a voter
trusts a candidate’s judgment.
These are the questions of judgment that
are open questions for would-be supporters of Newt Gingrich.
is a financial adviser who lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
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