The Gingrich temptation: Warning to the Tea Party

Special to

By Grace Vuoto

The conservative movement is determined to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012 at any cost — even that of its most sacred principles.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is among the current crop of front-runners for the Republican nomination. This is largely due to support from the Tea Party. To nominate him, however, would be the equivalent to making a pact with the devil in order to defeat a demon. The Tea Party would embrace the very corruption it rails against by adopting Mr. Gingrich as the GOP standard bearer.

The GOP of the 1990s and 2000s, of which Mr. Gingrich was a key part, bears much responsibility for the election of the most radical president in American history. By 2008, the public was largely fed up with the corrupt political and corporate elite, ensconced in both political parties. Mr. Obama, casting himself as an outside-the-Beltway leader, promised to transform the crony culture in Washington. His grand gambit eventually failed and his administration has ensnared the republic in even greater woes. Yet, out of the ashes of the crumbling republic, there emerged a new movement: the Tea Party.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich campaigns with his wife Callista in Mason City, Iowa on Dec. 28. /Scott Olson/Getty Images

It began to transform the GOP, demanding the party return to being the champion of limited government and fiscal restraint. In the 2010 midterm elections, the movement had its greatest triumph: the House fell into Republican hands, halting Mr. Obama’s radical assault. In addition, the Tea Party also put the GOP on notice: abandon conservative principles and face our wrath in the next election. In other words, the Tea Party has become an American kingmaker. But, no sooner has the movement triumphed than it has begun to flirt with disaster, perhaps now willing to accept a candidate who is the antithesis of everything the movement is fighting for.

Polls consistently show that Mr. Gingrich’s surge is being propelled by strong Tea Party support. He is now being hailed by his defenders as an effective conservative; the genius who helped reform welfare in the late 1990s, balance the budget, secure a Republican takeover of Congress and cut the capital gains tax. Mr. Gingrich was the architect of the 1994 Contract with America, promising to pass ten bills that would in essence reduce the size of government and enact pro-growth economic policies.

In reality, however, even under Mr. Gingrich’s watch, the federal government continued to balloon. The Contract with America fell far short of its vaunted goals, as many bills were either stopped in the Senate or vetoed altogether. Soon, due to his numerous ethics violations and lack of discipline, the GOP turned on him and ousted him from his leadership role.

This is typical of Mr. Gingrich’s life story: there is more bark than bite. Yet one consistent thread remains: his bread is always buttered whether he is trending upwards or downwards in public opinion surveys.

By the time he left office he had amassed a large fortune. This personal fortune continued to grow in subsequent years. He engaged in tacit lobbying for Freddie Mac. He was given millions for promoting an individual health care mandate — the very thing he rails against in Obamacare. In other words, both in and out of office, Mr. Gingrich used his political power and prestige to line his pockets.

It is even more telling that in his personal life, sacred vows to two wives were flagrantly violated as he engaged in repeated acts of adultery and then divorce. His current third wife, Callista, is in fact his former mistress. It is difficult to see how Mr. Gingrich could be the champion of conservative family values with his former mistress standing by his side. The lesson the young would learn is that illicit sex triumphs; greed and selfishness lead to fame and success. America would resemble France.

Ironically, it would not be the Left that would lead to the election of one of the most debauched leaders in American history: it would be the Right. Even the disgraced and impeached former President Bill Clinton, despite all his philandering, still has only one wife and therefore has more honor than Mr. Gingrich. In addition, Mr. Obama, whose administration has not been marred by sexual misconduct, would look like a saint by contrast to the Grinch with Three Wives.

It is little wonder that Mr. Gingrich cannot promote a robust social agenda. His Contract with America largely avoided social issues; and the same pattern repeats itself today. It is not because these issues are too polarizing; rather, it is because Mr. Gingrich has no moral authority to advance them.

Mr. Gingrich inspires deep distrust even among his peers. It is unlikely he will not once again be embroiled in internecine struggles rather than advancing reforms the nation desperately needs.

Moreover, as one who has long made large profits from crony capitalism, he cannot clean up Washington’s cesspool of corruption. Nor is he the “outsider” the Tea Party promised America it was searching for. Electing Mr. Gingrich to purge corruption is like calling upon the kingdom of Sodom to help the people of Gomorrah. The Tea Party would never recover from its hypocritical choice.

In addition, by supporting his candidacy the Tea Party is practically handing the election to Mr. Obama. The left-wing and many independents will be galvanized against Mr. Gingrich in a way they would not with any other GOP nominee. Also, within the conservative movement, many social conservatives will be demoralized and will be unable to support him. Finally, fiscal conservatives will be on the defensive — having to excuse Mr. Gingrich’s shortcomings while they tout his few successes.

And if by some remote chance, Mr. Gingrich defeats Mr. Obama, only one person truly wins: Mr. Gingrich. The Tea Party would sell out its values only to quickly learn that power in such corrupt hands is not worth having; it is like water seeping through one’s fingers.

Better to leave the current occupier in the White House, for all his radical destruction, than to have to write in the history books that the American Right was responsible for electing a corrupt man to lead the nation in our darkest hour. And let it not be written too that America’s last great hope, the Tea Party, sold itself to a silver-tongued speaker with a decrepit track record, thus destroying itself by its own hand.

Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal