Who Will Weep Over Newt's Ashes?
Self-immolation is the final act of defiance and surrender by those abused and tormented beyond repair at the hands of political oppressors. Americans had their first shocking taste of suicide by gasoline and a match when in 1963 a Vietnamese Buddhist monk set himself ablaze in a Saigon street to protest the Diem government.
Self immolation as political expression is tragic and macabre. As a figure-of-speech, self-inflicted wounding for a career politician is rarely an act of courage, just stupidity. Yet the spectacle is often similarly jarring for spectators, terminal for the actors.
Some self-inflicted political wounds aren't immediately fatal; they just open a few veins enabling prolonged bloodletting that hastens one's political demise. John McCain fell victim to his own hand, admitting ignorance in economics amidst the 2008 financial meltdown by declaring "I am not an expert in this stuff."
We recall Howard Dean's primal scream after the 2004 Iowa caucus; Michael Dukakis's Ghandi-like impersonation when faced with a question about how he would react if his wife had been raped; John Kerry's ridiculous wind surfing photo matched by his famous equivocation, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."
And now Newt Gingrich is the latest to choke on his own nettles.
Newt's motivation for trashing Paul Ryan's alleged "right wing social engineering" and apparently accepting fiscal insanity, while endorsing the most defective aspect of ObamaCare, the individual mandate, isn't so clear. The effect on Gingrich's candidacy, however, is obvious. Gingrich has become a political dead man walking. He sliced his own carotid artery.
McCain, Dean, Dukakis and Kerry made fools of themselves with unforced errors of optics and timing. While irreparably damaging to their electoral prospects, none of these gaffes involved kamikaze attacks on their own party or endorsing the most central and core principles held by the opposition party. Gingrich revealed his political peripatetic temperament, intrinsic beliefs and electoral calculus --a ll disavowing presumed political affiliations and adopting a creed betraying his own party -- in one swoop.
Gingrich is no dope, at least on paper, so we thought. PhD in history from Tulane, former Speaker of the House, intellectual gadfly having few peers in the brain cell count realm. His Ryan bashing and ObamaCare apologetics could have been just a bungee jumping stunt, a miscalculation or misunderstanding. Instead it was a strange confluence of arrogance, obsessive need to be loved by the wrong crowd and economic illiteracy. Worse, it wasn't an isolated derailment. His prior defenses of ethanol giveaways and global warming taxes were reliable predictors of more apostasy. We should have expected Gingrich to suffocate in his own logorrhea sooner than later.
And now we learn Newt actually thought he would run a serious campaign via email and Facebook from the Greek islands. What's astonishing is not that his entire staff bolted, but that they remained loyal for so long.
And so Gingrich has been swept from the field by his own intellectual bulimia.
Fox News, Reuters, and Quinnipiac polls recently showed Newt having Republican support in the 6-8% territory. Assuming there are 50 million Republicans who would vote in a primary, Is it possible there are over 4 million Gingrich supporters? I'm not talking about just name recognition, but professed support in a telephone survey. Who are these 7 percenters anyhow? Do you think a pollster could name a single one?
Gingrich, despite his pointless campaign, represents an endearing tradition in presidential sweepstakes: perennial losers. Socialist Norman Thomas ran for president in 1928, '32 and '38; his high water mark in '32 with 885,000 votes was just over 2% cast. After taking a breather Thomas resurfaced in 1948 capturing almost 3/10ths of a percent.
Even Eugene Debs, the first American socialist with traction on the national stage --on the ballot from 1900 to 1912 and again in 1920 -- captured over 900,000 votes while in federal prison in 1920, serving time for violating the Espionage Act.
Maybe Newt's campaigning isn't finished yet.