Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Thing That Wouldn’t Die

Frank Bruni says it’s time to stop paying attention to Newt Gingrich.

If he refuses to quit, we in the news media must quit him. Starve him of his very sustenance: attention. Exert a kind of willpower that we’ve lacked in this primary, which we turned into too much of a circus by encouraging too many clowns.

We’ve begun. As the weekend came to a close, The Times’s Trip Gabriel reported that Gingrich’s “full-time traveling press corps is down to a handful of embedded television reporters.” The Associated Press, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and even Politico had packed up their bags. I envision Newt as a larger, grayer, windier version of the little boy at the end of “Shane,” watching the last of these stubborn scribes recede into the horizon, begging them for one last sweet tweet, promising a tasty sound bite about Trayvon Martin or Robert De Niro or … “The Hunger Games!” There must be some harbinger of cultural decline to rail about there! Do “Hunger Games” contestants use food stamps? Those are always good for a diatribe or three.

I wrote Mr. Gingrich off last May and later predicted that his campaign would be ended by the time baseball got around to the All-Star break in July. But it kept on going and going; not like the Energizer bunny, but more like Freddie Kruger, kept alive by some malevolent force that is not of this Earth and cannot be killed by mortals.

Actually, what we see with the non-dead campaign of Newt Gingrich is the other side of the Citizens United decision and the unlimited funding of campaigns by Super Pacs: they don’t know when to quit. In the normal course of a campaign, if a candidate didn’t catch on with the voters, the money would dry up and that would pretty much be the end of it. But if you have someone like Sheldon Adelson pumping millions of dollars into a corpse of a campaign, it stays alive only by artificial means. And in the case of Mr. Gingrich, the corpse is getting a little ripe.

Most politicians — if they’re any good — know when their number is up and it’s time to go quietly. They get the message; their time has passed and they can now retire and get a ghostwriter to tell their story in a heartfelt book that will give them a nice tour around the country being interviewed by Wake Up Toledo and shake hands with the True Believers who show up at the book signings. Within a couple of months, the book is on the remainder stack or the off-price site at Amazon, they’ve got nice income from sitting on the board of some corporation that paid their way through Congress, and the spouse is giving human interest interviews to Wendy Williams. But I have a feeling that Newt Gingrich will not go quietly; four years from now he’ll be back at it, trying to get his message to America, long after he refused to get the message from America: Go Away.