GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has had a bad week. On Sunday, he criticized GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to phase out Medicare as "social engineering," prompting party leaders to declare his candidacy dead only days after he officially announced it, and forcing Gingrich to personally apologize to Ryan. On Tuesday, Politico reported that Gingrich at one point had a six-figure tab at Tiffany's, the high-end jewlery store. He had a box of glitter dumped on his head at a fundraiser for the anti-gay group Minnesota Family Council. And he co-starred in a viral video clip in which an Iowa Republican encourages him to get out of the race "before you make a bigger fool of yourself."
Not good times, in other words, if you're Newt Gingrich.
So how did things get so bad so fast?
The emerging consensus seems to be that Gingrich's problems stem from a lack of discipline—his tendency to flip from one idea to the next, possibly contradictory idea, without properly explaining himself. As Rich Galen, a former Gingrich aide, told Mike Allen: "This is what people in Washington knew would be the great weakness of a Newt presidential campaign: that he would say whatever came into his head, the moment it came into his head."
That's true-ish; Gingrich is not incredibly disciplined. But the more fundamental problem is this: The things that Newt Gingrich says are very frequently kind of nuts, and members of both parties seem to agree. The problem isn't so much that he can't keep straight whether the country is under assault from a "gay and secular fascism" or an atheist–Islamist agenda; it's that he thinks either one of those is a distinct possibility. There's a real tendency in covering electoral politics to blame campaign implosions on "discipline." Writing last week on former Virginia GOP Sen. George Allen's comeback bid, for instance, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza explained that Allen's famous use of the obscure racial slur "macaca" demonstrated "a lack of discipline on Allen's part." (Another way of looking at it, given that Allen once kept an actual noose in his office, is that George Allen has, or at least had, a race problem.)
Discipline is a good quality for a candidate to have. But it only counts if you have a quality candidate.
Update:Gingrich spoke at the event on Tuesday as scheduled and, it's safe to say, things didn't quite go as planned. Full update, with video, below the jump.
GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has drawn tons of bad press in the past two days for criticizing GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to end Medicare, for charging that President Obama is the "most successful food stamp president in history," and for his bulging debt ceiling at the jewelry store Tiffany's. What's gone overlooked are the former Speaker's Tuesday night plans. This evening, Gingrich and fellow presidential aspirant Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) will headline a Minneapolis fundraiser for the Minnesota Family Council (MFC), a Twin Cities-based conservative Christian organization that's bankrolling the effort to ban gay marriage in the state, and whose president has written that gay teens who commit suicide brought it upon themselves.
In a statement posted on the group's website, Gingrich writes that the group "is vigorously defending our God-given freedom in our communities, schools, at the Capitol and the ballot box. Join me and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in rediscovering God and the vital role of faith and family in our American freedoms." The $100-per-plate event will also include a screening of the ex-Speaker's documentary, Rediscovering God in America, and a book signing.
One of the group's leaders has suggested that anti-gay organizations should be proud to be labeled "hate groups." In an interview last December with Peter LaBarbera of the anti-gay group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, MFC research analyst Barb Anderson urged him to embrace the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center had designated his outfit a "hate group." "I think it's becoming perhaps a badge of honor to be called a hate group," she said. Anderson went on to describe the "radical homosexual agenda" as "the greatest threat to our freedom and to the health and well being of our children." Last fall, the SPLC added a handful of anti-gay groups to its list of hate groups, including the Family Research Council, which joined such outfits as the Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Council of Conservative Citizens. That prompted Republican members of Congress, including Bachmann and then-Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), to sign onto an open letter declaring their support for the FRC.
But MFC's most chilling comments concern the recent surge in suicides by LGBT teens.
In late September, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R–Minn.) will travel to a greyhound racetrack on the outskirts of Kansas City, Kansas, to speak at the Freedom Jamboree, a five-day festival billed as "the first national nominating convention" for the tea party. Bachmann, who is considering a run for president, will be joined by some familiar faces—WorldNetDaily editor and arch-birther Joseph Farah will be there; so will Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of Arizona’s harsh immigration law.
One confirmed speaker, however, is not like all the others: Bradlee Dean is a Minnesota radio host, anti-gay activist, and drummer for the band Junkyard Prophet, voted "the second-best unsigned band in the nation" in 1996 by Heaven's Metal magazine. Dean is likely the only scheduled speaker with a tattoo of Abraham sacrificing Isaac on his forearm; he is almost certainly the only scheduled speaker who has ever gone more than a decade without cutting his hair—a lifestyle decision that gives him a more-than-passing resemblance to Poison's Bret Michaels.
Last Friday, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich suggested to the Georgia state Republican convention that Barack Obama is our "most successful food stamp president in history," sparking the inevitable to-do over whether Gingrich was or was not playing to his base's basest racial fears. Newt says he wasn't, and that's plausible, for the simple reason that he has always hated food stamps, blaming pretty much all of society's ailments on the "corrupt welfare state." But this part of the speech, via Matt Yglesias, is also pretty controvesial:
You know, folks often talk about immigration. I always say that to become an American citizen, immigrants ought to have to learn American history [applause]. But maybe we should also have a voting standard that says to vote, as a native born American, you should have to learn American history [applause]. You realize how many of our high school graduates because of the decay of the educational system, couldn't pass a citizenship test.
The good news for Newt is that we already have laws that say that, if you're a child of school-going age, you have to go to school. And we also have curriculum standards that say that, if you attend public schools, you have to learn American history. So what Gingrich is really suggesting is some sort of system of literacy tests focusing on American history—which, per American history, are illegal.
But putting aside the racial element to all of this, what's the next step? What elements of American history does Gingrich believe are so essential that an improper understanding should automatically disqualify you from being able to exercise your constitutional right to vote? The Civil War was a pretty important event in American history, but if you asked Americans to name the primary cause, a good portion of otherwise civic-minded Republican primary voters would probably fail. Meanwhile, in his book Real Change, Gingrich writes that President Obama is "the most radical President in American history," and has elsewhere suggested that Obama will undo 400 years of American progress. That was all news to me, but it sounds pretty important. Should that be on the test too?
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is giving a major speech in Ann Arbor, Michigan today on what experts agree is the signature crisis of his candidacy: the landmark health care reform bill he signed into law in 2006, requiring all residents of his state to buy health insurance. The Wall Street Journal editorial board, as good a source as any for what the conservative establishment is thinking, calls Romney "Obama's Running Mate"; over at Politico, Kasie Hunt lays out the stakes:
For Romney, there's no getting around it. The perceived similarities between the two measures are a deal-breaker for the Republican base, which loathes the president’s plan. At the same time, the former governor can't afford to completely repudiate the centerpiece of his four-year-term without reinforcing the flip-flopping knock on him.
In an attempt to put the issue behind him—something he hasn't come close to doing yet—Romney will outline his health care plan in a PowerPoint presentation that is designed to explain his views on federal policy but also to distinguish the Massachusetts plan from the president’s in a way that is convincing to Republican primary voters.
Yeah, that is kind of awkward. But here's another way of looking at it: Mitt Romney's support for providing poor people with affordable health insurance is only a problem until the Republican establishment decides it isn't a problem. There are sincerely held conservative arguments against the Affordable Care Act, but the party's most fundamental objection to Obamacare is reflected in that nickname: President Obama signed it.
From there, the individual mandate follows naturally as an unconstitutional, un-American villain. But it wasn't considered toxic by Republican activists in 2006, when Romney signed the bill, or in 2008, when he ran on it—and won the endorsement of tea party ringleader Sen. Jim DeMint (R–S.C.). In other words, there's an on–off switch to all the outrage. Romney can talk himself hoarse trying to explain why his health care plan is different than President Obama's; or he can just sit tight and hope the GOP establishment decides, once more, that an individual mandate really isn't that big of a deal.