Cover Story

Has Newt Gingrich changed?

"Has Newt Gingrich changed?" Continued...

Issue: "Tour d'America," June 18, 2011

One of Gillon's sentences is particularly memorable: "While listening to a Republican debate about censure, Gingrich stuffed his tie in his mouth and bit it-a sign of his frustration at keeping silent on an issue about which he felt so strongly."

Gingrich also suggested a look at press coverage. That also does not help his case. Reporters who followed Gingrich were surprised to see him, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution put it in September 1998, "publicly urging caution and forgoing by the dozen opportunities to speak out." Many other journalists were also surprised, as were numerous Republican leaders and Marianne Gingrich herself.

Gingrich's third suggestion, to look at the work of James Rogan, did provide support to his contentions, because Rogan has just published a detailed and well-written memoir of the Clinton impeachment process, Catching Our Flag. Although Rogan does show Gingrich blowing hot and cold, he explains that Gingrich hung back at the request of other Republicans, who saw Henry Hyde as a better face for the House GOP on this issue. Furthermore, Rogan repeatedly reminded Gingrich that he should lie low because of a constitutional conflict of interest: Should Clinton leave office and be replaced by Vice President Al Gore, the speaker of the House was next in line of succession.

Rogan argues that a Gingrich facing White House pressure "would have behaved far differently than he did in my presence," but other congressmen who interacted with Gingrich smelled a rat. Tom DeLay, for example, said, "Newt Gingrich's heart was not in the impeachment. You could tell that he was against everything that was going on." Dornan claims that Gingrich at one point ordered Hyde to "wrap up this investigation or I'm taking it away from you," with the result that the case moved forward without adequate preparation: "Gingrich had cut Henry Hyde's legs off."

Hyde died in 2007. His friend David Schippers, whom Hyde hired to be chief investigative council for the impeachment inquiry, is still angry at Gingrich for, he says, "pulling the plug on everything" except the Lewinsky matter. Clinton committed a wide variety of impeachable offenses, Schippers told me, but Gingrich and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., merely "released all the sexual stuff. That killed us." Schippers, a Chicago Democrat, says Republican Judiciary Committee members were "100 percent Yankee Doodle Dandy Americans. The sellout came from the leadership."

With other parts of the investigation sidelined, Schippers says, the Clinton forces could plausibly claim "it's all about sex." Schippers argued that the ­constitutional conflict of interest problem Rogan cites "could have become overcome immediately" by Gingrich dropping out of proceedings completely, "but he stayed involved. He kept putting up roadblocks."

This investigation started with Dick Armey's contention about Gingrich's meetings with Clinton. Gingrich insists there was no blackmail, and my sense is that he's telling the truth-but knowing blackmail is possible plays on a man's mind. Based on all the interviews, it's clear that Gingrich had secret meetings with Clinton and that Democratic Congressmen Beryl Anthony and Barney Frank knew about Gingrich's affair. It seems highly likely that the White House knew about the affair and that Gingrich suspected Clinton knew. It seems likely that this concern affected his conduct in some way.

One other aspect is clear: Gingrich's affair contributed powerfully to the conclusion reached by many Americans that the GOP was a party of moral hypocrites who talked about family values but did not practice them. He hurt not only his wife but the "Republican revolution" and the followers who trusted him. He cannot succeed now by referring to the harm he did in an offhand way. If Gingrich wants to show that he has changed, he needs to review what he did in greater depth and tell the whole story. He won't win by showing himself as a master of public policy. He needs to show an understanding that honesty is the best policy. He needs to show that he has mastered himself.

What now? Former Rep. Hoekstra's view is mine as well: "Newt is a person I am conflicted about. I like him. He is very smart. But he appears to have an 'I complex' (similar to Obama) that may be a fatal character flaw if he hasn't addressed it. We all make mistakes. We should all learn and change from them. That's the question that needs to be answered about Newt."

Has he changed? One congressional ally of his during the 1990s says, "I don't know. He's struggling." As are many-but they're not all running for president.


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