Despite his relentless grandstanding in the 857th Republican presidential debate, this one in Sioux City, Iowa, the night’s most enduring image of Gingrich was getting his face ripped off by Michele Bachmann, who savaged him for his $1.3 million influence peddling fees from the government-backed mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
“I am shocked listening to the former speaker of the House because he is defending the continuing practice of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The speaker had his hand out and was taking 1.6 million dollars to influence senior Republicans to keep the scam going in Washington, D.C. That’s absolutely wrong. We can’t have as our nominee of the Republican Party someone who continues to stand for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. They need to be shut down, not built up.”
Newt’s lame response was to 1) offer a lengthy disquisition on the crucial difference between “lobbying” and “consulting”; 2) drone on about the historical role of “government sponsored enterprises”; 3) snarl that Michele just makes stuff up all the time, anyway.
He certainly had a point on that last one, but judging from the utter silence that greeted his answer, from a rip-roaring Republican audience that otherwise cheered everyone on stage just for blowing their nose, the issue could turn out to be one that bites Newt in his size 82-XXX butt come caucus night.
Beyond that entertaining exchange, the event was most notable for being the final – Thank you Lord! – GOP presidential debate before the January 3 Iowa caucuses. No worries though; right after we all get a break for the holidays, the Hawkeye State survivors will be back at it on January 7 from New Hampshire.
Can Newt go the distance? Going into last night’s event Gingrich was on the verge of the biggest short-term collapse since the Red Sox made baseball history by coughing up a nine-game lead and missing the play-offs in September.
Objective signs of impending disaster were everywhere: After drawing within two points of Romney on the wisdom-of-crowds futures market Intrade after a strong debate in Des Moines last Saturday night, the bottom fell out for Newt, who trailed Mittens by 43 points (!) at press time; polling whiz kid Nate Silver meanwhile ran the latest tracking surveys through the Univac and suggested the Great Man might be heading for a three-way tie in Iowa, at best.
In identifying the factors that changed the dynamic so dramatically in the five days before last night’s smack down in Sioux City, start with Newt’s own self-sabotaging idiocy; between doubling down on his belief that poor black kids should work as janitors and his self-important fulminating on brain science at the University of Iowa (where he was accused of having a “PhD in cheating on your wife”), he also found time to bash Romney for his rapacious company-wrecking at Bain Capital, a stance that made heads explode amid the ranks of the Frederich Hayek set, who think Romney’s brand of Darwinian capitalism is just ducky.
Gingrich was also subjected to yet another week of non-stop withering fire from the Republican pundit class, which started bashing him at the start of the month and never let up, a truly astonishing display of insult and invective.
The Wise Men speak: From the unctuous Charles Krauthammer (Newt “has a self-regard so immense it rivals Obama’s”) and the arch Peggy Noonan (“a human hand grenade”) to elitist barometer Michael Gerson (Newt’s “problem is not the weakness of a moment, it is the pattern of lifetime”) and our hero Ross Douthat (“the most compromised champion imaginable” for conservative Christians), along with the popular culture musings of Joe Scarborough (“a danger to America”) the maniacal ranting of Michael Savage (who offered Newt $1 million if he’d drop out) and th wing nut mewing of Ann Coulter (how much of a nut case do you have to be for Ann Coulter to assail you for “endless, nutty pronunciamentos”) the Gingrich broadsides called to mind Oscar Wilde’s comment about the “excellent man” who “has no enemies and none of his friends like him.”
Not to mention the repulsive patrician George Will (“the least conservative candidate…an enemy of capitalism”) who launched a multi-platform, one-man ad hominem jihad so ferocious - here, here and here, to recall just a few ambushes – we almost felt sorry for ole’ Newt. And that was even before National Review (“he seems unable to…even govern himself”) devoted an entire issue to attacking him and the WashPost rounded up a best-of list of anti-Gingrich trash-talk quotes (“This is ‘Newtonium.’ Newt Gingrich is radioactive material. The establishment thinks if they get too close, he could kill every Republican on the ballot”).
Other than that, they really love the guy.
In the end, however, the strongest push back to the Newt surge was the $3+ million dollars in paid advertising his rivals in Iowa put on the air within the last week – two ads from Romney front groups and one each from Ron Paul and Rick Perry – an effort even we may have underestimated.
And with the trend lines moving down, it’s hard to imagine Newt helped himself much with last night’s performance.
P.S. We’re, like, so over the “Hitler learns that (something happened)” web video trope, but this one of the Fuhrer being told Newt is winning is actually pretty good.
Electoral college degrees: The professional spinners on the Obama re-elect team say they have five different pathways to get to 270 electoral votes. To the surprise of no one, Karl Rove takes a slightly different view. Oh, who knows, maybe the whole thing will end up being a tie.