How Newt Screwed Himself Over

How Newt Screwed Himself Over April 30, 2012

I thought from the start that Newt Gingrich never really thought he had any chance of winning the nomination, that his campaign was launched only as a way of getting attention for his book and his network of non-profits and consulting interests. But that seems to have backfired on him in a big way:

In all other ways, however, Gingrich is a man reduced. And it is not at all clear he will ever be able to get back the many things he has lost.

These days, Gingrich attracts more attention for having been bitten by a zoo penguin than for a policy proposal, even a totally outlandish one. Recently, at the convention of the National Rifle Association, he proposed an international treaty to make the right to bear arms a universal human right; the nation shrugged, if it even noticed…

Prior to running for president, Newt Gingrich had built a very good life for himself. The former speaker of the House of Representatives resided in posh McLean, Va., with his third wife, who enjoyed expensive jewelry and singing in church choir.

He ran a profitable empire of think tanks, wrote and co-wrote books of fiction and nonfiction, appeared on television as a commentator, and traveled the country giving speeches, basking in his role as GOP elder statesman. Inevitably, as he finished one of his fiery orations on the endless circuit of rubber-chicken dinners, local activists would come away starry-eyed, wishing this dazzling man, with his charisma, insight and seemingly endless ideas, would find it in him to run for president.

Today, much of that empire is in a shambles.

The Fox News contributor gig is no longer, having been suspended when Gingrich became a candidate, and quietly canceled thereafter. Relations between Gingrich and the cable channel have notably soured. Recently, Gingrich told a Delaware Tea Party group that he felt the network had exhibited a bias against him, accusing it of “distortion”; the network fired back with a biting statement: “He’s still bitter over the termination of his contributor contract.” It seems safe to say that bridge, for Gingrich, has been burned.

The policy and consulting enterprise Gingrich helmed is similarly on the rocks. American Solutions for Winning the Future, his major nonprofit, shut down last August, and the Gingrich Group, his for-profit advocacy shop, filed for bankruptcy in Georgia earlier this month. Together, the two entities had grossed more than $100 million over the course of a decade, according to Bloomberg. Now, thanks to Gingrich’s quest for the presidency, they are defunct.

Gingrich’s campaign, nearly $4.5 million in debt, has stooped to renting out its donor and email list for money. On Tuesday, people who’d signed up on Gingrich’s presidential website received, under the heading “A special offer for Newt’s supporters,” an advertisement from LifeLock, an identity-protection company. “Special Offer for Newt Gingrich Fans!” the email said. “30 Days Free + 10% Off LifeLock Membership.”

This is clearly not what he had in mind when he decided to run. So what happened? I think that sudden surge in the polls, when he became the transitory not-Romney of the moment, leading to a win in the South Carolina primary, awoke his old delusions of grandeur. Over the last few years he had built that empire of organizations feeding his income based on pure pragmatism, selling his connections and his insider status. But then he got a brief taste of success and that pragmatism was quickly replaced by the ever-present vision of himself as a transformational figure, the Winston Churchill of America, and he immediately began to sense his own inevitability. And he deluded himself into thinking it was really going to happen.

I can’t really think of anyone whose fall from grace I would enjoy more than this one. He’ll be back to pimping businessmen for contributions with fake awards and giving incoherent speeches on the religious right rubber chicken circuit, likely for less than he could have commanded a couple years ago. Humpty Dumpty’s fall has been highly entertaining.

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