The “pious baloney” problem

Has any GOP candidate ever been as helpful to Democratic ad makers as Newt Gingrich has been?

Topics: War Room,

The “pious baloney” problemNewt Gingrich (Credit: Reuters/Darren Hauck)

Newt Gingrich knows it’s over. His chances of claiming 1,144 delegates during the primary season evaporated more than two months ago and the possibility of a deadlocked convention that seemed to sustain him more recently is now essentially nonexistent. The former House speaker is still refusing to actually say the words “I quit,” but he’s already begun a ritual familiar to most primary season losers: pretending he didn’t really mean all of the nasty, horrible things he said about the guy who beat him.

On a Fox News Sunday appearance that doubled as campaign postmortem, Gingrich played off the harsh attacks he’s leveled against Mitt Romney as “part of the business” and said the two men were now at peace with each other.

“I hit him as hard as I could, he hit me as hard as he could,” Gingrich said. “Turns out he had more things to hit with than I did.”

That last part is certainly true. Perhaps the single most devastating ad of the entire GOP campaign was a Romney spot that simply ran the first 30 seconds of the “NBC Nightly News” from Jan. 21, 1997, when the lead story was the record ethics fine that Gingrich’s House colleagues had levied against him. The ad went up in the days before the Florida primary, when Romney turned a polling deficit into a double-digit landslide that marginalized Gingrich for good.

But until his disappearing act, Gingrich’s public comments about Romney were often scathing. Back in January, for instance, Gingrich said that Romney “will not survive against the Obama machine” and that the president “frankly, will just tear him apart” and warned that “someone who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president.”  He also accused Romney of peddling “pious baloney.”

You Might Also Like

Primary season acrimony is customary, but Gingrich’s attacks on Romney have been notably blunt and personal – as memorable as Bob Dole snapping at George H.W. Bush to “stop lying about my record” in 1988, or Bob Kerrey’s 1992 warning to Democrats that extramarital and Vietnam draft baggage would cause Bill Clinton “to get opened up like a soft peanut” in the fall. Dole’s public display of bitterness, which reflected a decades-long rivalry between the men, probably helped keep him off Bush’s ’88 ticket (the Kansan was the consensus choice of party leaders, but Bush went with Dan Quayle instead), and there were suggestions in the summer of ’92 that Kerrey was nixed as a potential Clinton running mate because of his own primary season conduct.

In a way, it’s easy to imagine both Gingrich and Romney moving past whatever hard feelings exist between them. Gingrich has a knack for making loud and provocative pronouncements, then reversing himself and pretending he never said anything of the sort. It’s part of the reason he’s endured so long on the public stage. And Romney seems to agree with the Gingrich line that it’s all “part of the business.” Remember how quickly he went from shredding John McCain as a conservative sellout to singing his praises in 2008?

The problem for Romney and the GOP is that much of what Gingrich has said during the primaries is excellent raw material for Democratic general election ads. Like when he argued that Romney had not engaged in “traditional capitalism” while at Bain Capital, and alleged that the private equity firm “looted” companies that it took over, callously fired workers, and “walked off with millions of dollars.” As he said in New Hampshire in January:

“Is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of other people and walk off with the money, or is that somehow a little bit of a flawed system?” Gingrich told reporters after a visit to an electric company here. “I do draw a distinction between looting a company, leaving behind broken families and broken neighborhoods, and leaving behind a factory that should be there,” he said.

Obama’s campaign badly wants swing voters to see Romney as a symbol of a protected, super-affluent class that has grown even richer while working Americans have suffered. Gingrich’s words could be useful in making this case – just as Gingrich’s claims that Romney is a dishonest political chameleon could play into Democratic attacks on Romney’s flip-flopping. Actually, we’ve already seen how this can work: In his speech criticizing the Paul Ryan budget last week, Obama cited Gingrich’s May 2011 claim that Ryan’s Medicare plan amounted to “right-wing social engineering.”

Most primary season losers aren’t as helpful to the other party as Gingrich has been. The best parallel for his conduct might be found in Ted Kennedy’s unsparing assault on Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Democratic primaries, which the Reagan campaign seamlessly rolled into one of the most effective attack ads of the fall campaign. Don’t be surprised if Newt Gingrich makes a similar cameo in a Democratic ad or two this fall.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>