Newt Gingrich says he welcomes the scrutiny that comes with being a well-paid Washington insider for more than 30 years. Well, at least he’s resigned to it. As one who brought down a former House Speaker (Jim Wright) and went after a sitting president (Bill Clinton), he knows how the political attack system works.
“Somebody who is a front-runner for the presidency of the United States should get a thorough vetting,” he acknowledged during an appearance at Harvard University Friday. “That’s fine, it’s the nature of the process. If I’m able to answer them in a way that the American people feel comfortable, then I think I’ll be a legitimate front-runner.”
Faced with an unfolding story about the millions of dollars he’s made through various business ventures tied to political influence (plus continually repeated stories about his marital history), the Gingrich campaign has just launched a new website called “Answering the Attacks.”
IN PICTURES: Newt, now and then
“Now that our campaign to rebuild the America we love is gaining momentum, those who want to see us fail are on the attack, digging through Newt’s past to try and stop us,” the page states. “See an attack that is not answered?” site visitors are asked. “Let us know here. This page will grow as we receive more feedback to help you answer the attacks.” “One can easily see Gingrich simply citing this page as a blanket, ‘we’ve-answered-that’ response to future inquiries,” notes Jonathan Martin at Politico.com. “But the sheer volume of issues, and anticipation that more will come, is a reminder of the difficulty the former speaker could have as the glare grows more intense in the weeks ahead.”
The website “menu” of charges and answers so far is long: Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, the health insurance mandate, ethanol, the Fairness Doctrine, global warming and cap-and-trade, the immigration DREAM Act, agriculture subsidies, TARP, zero-based budgeting in foreign aid as it relates to Israel (“one of America’s closest friends and a key strategic ally”), the government shutdown when he was House Speaker, the ethics investigation of him when he was in Congress, lobbying, his relationship with housing mortgage giant Freddie Mac, and his “personal life.”
(You can also “read more about the remarkable Newt Gingrich record … advocating, explaining, and achieving conservative reforms in government.”)
Gingrich’s defensive push-back comes as the list of his big-name clients continues to grow: Freddie Mac, Microsoft, General Electric, I.B.M., the US Chamber of Commerce, and the pharmaceutical trade group PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America).
Details of Gingrich’s dealings with the health-care industry continue to emerge. His health-care think tank reportedly has collected at least $37 million over the past eight years from health-care companies and industry groups, offering special access to the former House speaker.
After he said his consulting firm had earned just $300,000 for “advising” Freddie Mac, it was revealed that his firm in fact was paid at least $1.6 million at a rate of $30,000 a month.
Gingrich has sought to downplay his work on behalf of Freddie Mac.
“I think less than maybe once a month, they would drop by,” Gingrich told Fox News. “We’d spend an hour. It would always start with me listening. I’d always say, ‘What are you trying to solve? What are your concerns? What are you trying to get done?’ And I’ve done this with many, many clients.”
Though he was not a registered lobbyist, Gingrich was hired because of his connections – as a way of influencing conservative lawmakers, for example.
Not surprisingly, Democrats and liberal commentators have jumped on what they see as Gingrich’s flip-flopping (on issues like cap-and-trade and the DREAM Act) and his hypocrisy in railing against the evils of political influence peddling while being one of its most skilled practitioners.
“Newt Gingrich’s profession since he got kicked out of Congress under a cloud of ethics charges related to fundraising, his full-time profession has been selling access to himself as someone who is influential because of his time as a public servant,” Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC Friday night. “He has been marketing the Speakership of the House for his own private financial gain to anybody who will pay him.”
If that sounds harsh, consider what conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin has to say in a piece headlined “Gingrich: The phony intellectual.”
“When many in the mainstream media and far too many conservatives who should know better swoon over his pronouncements, the cannier on the right and left justifiably roll their eyes in disgust,” she writes. “Gingrich’s mind is an attic of throwaway, unusable and downright goofy ideas, piled high like newspapers in the room of a troubled subject on ‘Hoarders.’ The volume is great, the quality is shoddy.”
In the New York Times magazine last summer, Andrew Ferguson, a senior editor at the conservative Weekly Standard, reviewed the nearly two dozen books written by the person Ferguson calls “the self-proclaimed ideas man of politics.”
“Gingrich’s vagueness was always a problem, but the books show something more: a near-total lack of interest in the political implementation of his grand ideas – a lack of interest, finally, in politics at its most mundane and consequential level,” Ferguson writes. “Gingrich’s inattention to detail is one reason his speakership was so chaotic, as readers of a certain age will recall, and the primary reason he was shunned by his own party after four years with the gavel.”
Lack of interest in politics at its most mundane and consequential level is what caused most of Gingrich’s campaign staff to quit in protest last summer. The next few weeks should be very interesting for Gingrich-watchers.