Now that Newt Gingrich has surged to the head of the Republican presidential candidate pack, there is a lot of discussion about whether he could actually win the damn thing. Most people seem to think he can’t because he’s just too self-destructive. I’m not convinced: I think he could be a very effective candidate.
The downside to Gingrich is that he’s an asshole. I don’t mean he’s asshole because of his idiotic views or horrible things he has done. I mean you look at the guy and think, “What an asshole.” Even if I agreed with Newtie, I would still think, “Well, he’s right, but, God, what an asshole.” Not only is he a stupid person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like, but he is the stereotypical obnoxious professor. Many academics are rambling and boring, but Newt is pedantic, obnoxiously so. He would turn ordering a hamburger into a discourse on the Decline of Western Civilization. To top it off, I’m sure he reminds a lot of women of the ex-boyfriend or ex-husband they hope to never see again.
So Gingrinch has a serious asshole problem. But…
The man is an unparalleled bullshit artist. He sounds convincing to the point where he believe his bullshit du jour. Sure, he was for Freddie Mac before he was against it (especially when they were paying him $1.6 million to be a ‘historian’), but for many politicians that kind of flip-flopping is par for the course (Got Romney?). Consider Paul Waldman’s take on Gingrich’s advocacy for child labor (I’ll return to that in a bit; boldface mine):
Newt believes that if you live in a poor neighborhood, there is no one you know who works. He actually seems to think that in poor neighborhoods, everyone is just sitting around, except for some drug dealers. What can you possibly say to something like that?
Now, it may be that Newt isn’t such an idiot that he actually believes that. Maybe he’s just pandering to the prejudices of his audience. As Benjy Sarlin pointed out yesterday, Newt’s campaign is being built on old people, and being that he’s running in the Republican primary, that means old white people. Telling old white people that kids today, particularly black* kids today, are a bunch of lazy nogoodniks who don’t know the value of a day’s work is going to get you a lot of nodding heads.
But this is an excellent case study in how Newt operates. He comes up with a crazy idea — why not make poor kids clean the toilets in between classes at school? — then when challenged, he comes up with a rationale for the crazy idea built on an even more insane and factually wrong socio-cultural analysis. The fact that the more he talks the crazier it gets only matters if he isn’t telling you what you want to hear.
Unlike many politicians who take a few facts, spin those facts, and then ladle a nice glaze over bullshit on top, Newt’s pronouncements are all bullshit, lock, stock, and barrel. The bullshit is so extensive you can’t pick it apart–the bullshit is a load-bearing structure. You can’t defeat this with evidence. The only way to defeat Newt is to make it clear that he is full of crap. And on that score, Obama has me worried. The corporate media won’t seriously dog Gingrich about this (at best, it will be published someplace safe in the newspaper where nobody will read it). Worse, he somehow is viewed as an ‘ideas guy’, and not a stupid ideas guy. So it would be up to Obama to make this case. If the Obama who dismissive brushed dirt off his jacket shows up, Newt would be dead. But if the Great Conciliator is present, Gingrich becomes very difficult to beat.
And don’t count on Newt’s statements to damage him. He has already accused food stamp recipients of being freeloaders (even though this program helps the elderly too). He has argued on behalf of child labor (if you’re poor), and that hasn’t seemed to hurt him. At this point, he could probably pen a defense of accused pedophile Jerry Sandusky and it would affect him.
Like I said, Gingrich has a severe, perhaps insurmountable asshole problem. But the man is such a good bullshitter, it just might not matter.