It wasn’t very long ago that Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid seemed dead in the water. Late last spring he was virtually out of money and deserted by is own staff. Besides, Newt was old news. As a has-been politician, with a penchant for saying whatever comes to mind, few gave him much of a chance.
But then came the debates and Newt shined. He has clearly bright. In fact, many considered him the smartest person on the stage, although he actually shared this distinction with Mitt Romney. He was also not afraid to confront the moderators when they asked smarmy questions.
Consequently, when Rick Perry and Herman Cain began to falter, many members of the “anybody-but-Romney” crowd decided that he might do. As a battle-tested conservative, he was quick and decisive enough to give Obama a run for his money.
Many, however, seem to have forgotten why Newt went into eclipse. Transfixed by what they today see on television, they do not recall the “mean-spirited” Newt of old. The mainstream media, to be sure, manufactured some of that reputation. Its grand-totems despised him for having masterminded the Republican congressional coup; hence Newsweek even portrayed him as the Grinch who stole Christmas.
Nonetheless, Newt was mean. I learned this from having worked with Christina Jeffrey. A colleague of mine at Kennesaw State University, she was appointed by him to be the congressional historian. Then, after she sold her house and was preparing to move to Washington, he abandoned her when she came under partisan fire.
Christina was accused of being anti-Semitic for having criticized a program that taught students about the Holocaust. The syllabus was, in truth, defective, but that did not matter. None of her accusers reviewed it with any objectivity; hence they did not realize, as I did from first-hand acquaintance, that she was no bigot.
In the end, with no one to come to her defense, Christina was summarily fired. Then, when she sought recompense for her expenses, Newt engaged in petty retaliation. I was personally involved in some of this when I helped organize a conference on the media and politics. He agreed to participate, but ultimately backed out at the last minute — apparently from spite.
In other words, Newt can play hardball. This, of course, can be an advantage in a president, but it can also motivate unseemly responses. Thus, if Americans, and more specifically conservatives, want a national leader who shares their humanitarian impulses, Newt may not be their man.
So what is my advice? It is to take a long hard look at Newt’s entire record before making a choice. What is currently on display may not be all we need to know.
Originally published on November 14, 2011.