The sudden capsizing of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign, as aides departed en masse Thursday, leaves Newt with few remaining supporters, a position he has found himself in frequently throughout a tumultuous career that left many burned bridges in its wake.
Katon Dawson, a top aide and fixture in South Carolina politics quit on Thursday, and conceded to TPM only weeks earlier that Gingrich had a history of working in isolation.
“Newt’s a guy who’s been alone in these fights a long time,” Dawson told TPM. “If you look into the 1990s when they were taking on big stuff — welfare reform, when Clinton vetoed him before signing the budget, reducing the deficit — those were big, big things and he didn’t have a lot of partners then.”
Several Republicans who worked closely with him in the House GOP leadership and knew him well told TPM they were just happy he imploded so quickly before he could do more damage to the GOP primary and Republican policies like privatizing Medicare and reining in entitlement spending.
Gingrich’s sudden campaign meltdown also didn’t surprise John Feehery, a veteran GOP communications strategist who worked for his predecessor, Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-IL), as well his successor, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), and his biggest rival, Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
“Newt has a lot of strengths—discipline is not one of them,” Feehery said. “He obviously was extraordinarily bright, but I just think he wasn’t disciplined enough to lead, disciplined enough to run the House in a way that can be sustained. He lacked message control and the ability to keep his story straight…he made all kinds of promises to people…he was more of a revolutionary but wasn’t going to survive over the long haul.”
Already considered a long shot, Gingrich has collapsed in Republican polls since condemning Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan as “right wing social engineering.” While he’s spent the last several weeks trying to repair the political fallout by lavishing praise on Ryan, his campaign has also been nagged by an incomprehensible flip-flop on military intervention in Libya and lingering questions over $250,000 in debt to Tiffany’s that his wife reported in a disclosure form several years ago.
Another former longtime senior GOP leadership aide said the problems Gingrich has encountered so far on the campaign are proof positive that he hasn’t learned any lessons since his controversial tenure as Speaker and his unceremonious departure following losses in the 1998 midterm elections.
It’s the same type of erratic, thin-skinned behavior he displayed while leading the House, say those who worked closely with him. His outrage over being asked about the Tiffany’s bill reminded some of the telling New York Daily News headline “Cry Baby,” which captured Gingrich’s outrage after President Clinton made him sit in the back of Air Force One.
“He’d tell the bankers he was with them in the morning and the credit unions he was with them in the afternoon,” the aide said. “It got to be very frustrating for staff. Man, pick a position and stick with it.”
Gingrich displayed the same type of zig-zagging behavior on his short-lived presidential campaign.
“We need to be in Libya — we don’t need to be in Libya,” the former GOP aide complained. “He just seems to live in a world that because he’s smarter than everybody else, that normal political rules shouldn’t apply to him, but they do.”