In case you happen to be under the age of thirty and your recollections of the politics of the first Bush administration are a little hazy, Bob Woodward reminded us yesterday of what it was like when Newt Gingrich, then a mere member of Congress, got hold of some power.
On the evening of Oct. 4, 1990, Newt Gingrich and his then-wife, Marianne, were enjoying a VIP reception at a Republican fundraiser when they were suddenly hustled over to have their picture taken with President George H.W. Bush.
“I thought it was a bad idea,” Gingrich said in a series of interviews in 1992 that have not been previously published.
Days earlier, Gingrich had dramatically walked out of the White House and was leading a very public rebellion against a deficit reduction and tax increase deal that Bush and top congressional leaders of both parties — including, they thought, Gingrich — had signed off on after months of tedious negotiations. The House was to vote on the deal the very next day.
“We went over and I said [to Bush], ‘I’m really sorry that this is happening,’ and he said with as much pain as I’ve heard from a politician, ‘You’re killing us, you are just killing us.’ ”
The photo was snapped, Gingrich and his wife took their seats for dinner, “and both of us just felt like crying,” he said.
Gingrich’s revolt highlighted a rift that persists to this day within the Republican Party, between a pragmatic establishment open to dealmaking and a more rigid conservative base that prefers purity over compromise.
Gingrich’s defiance and high-visibility debut as provocateur in 1990 was a decisive moment for him. It was the first chance he had to exercise real political power, providing an early glimpse of the complexity and the contradictions that he has displayed since.
Bush’s budget director, the late Richard G. Darman, said that the White House was not given serious notice that Gingrich would balk at the deal and that his revolt was “an act of political sabotage.” In one 1992 memo, Darman wrote in capital letters of the “1990 GINGRICH STAB IN THE BACK.”
Gingrich was unrepentant, arguing that he had a higher purpose. “It was destructive,” he acknowledged, but necessary to stop Bush and others from making deals with Democrats.
Therein lies the essence of Newt Gingrich. There is no doubt that Mr. Gingrich revolted on the 1990 Republicans because of his policy differences; he did it because he saw an opportunity to make a name for himself and grab the headlines. That’s all. He does not and never did care a rat’s ass about the welfare of the country beyond what he can get out of it. With him it’s all about power and acquiring more of it. That explains his narcissism, his hypocrisy, and his calculations to do anything that will gain him the upper hand in any negotiation.
The good news is that this man will never be the Republican nominee and he will never win a presidential election. The bad news is that he will never understand why it is that the voters reject him. He’ll blame it on them; they’re too stupid to realize just what a savior he is, and we will be inflicted with him running around the country as he promotes himself and his endless stream of books and videos like a late-night boner-pill salesman. Perfect casting.