Newt Gingrich has had his hand in just about every single issue being debated in the 2012 presidential race -- health care and the housing crisis, most obviously, but also in this week's payroll tax fight. Even as some Republicans privately despair that they're losing the public relations war with President Obama over extending the tax cut, House Republicans, especially the freshmen are digging in, Politico's Marin Cogan reports. But Gingrich's history suggests that they're doomed to lose.
Gingrich reluctantly discussed the tax issue in Iowa Wednesday, The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny reports, and warned Republicans they risked wandering into the swamps of sadness. "Incumbent presidents have enormous advantages," Gingrich said. "Republicans ought to do what’s right for America. They ought to do it calmly and pleasantly and happily, and over time people are smart and will figure this stuff out... I’m not trying to micromanage or second-guess the Congress... “It’s fairly hard for a legislative branch to outperform a president in communications."
Gingrich's handling of the budget negotiations that led to a government shutdown in 1995 is one of the favorite datapoints for his former colleagues to cite as evidence why he shouldn't win the Republican presidential nomination. "He was like a whipped dog who barked, yet still cowered, in Mr. Clinton’s presence," now-Sen. Tom Coburn wrote in a book. "That's the main reason I think we ended up losing that fight, is because it looked like Newt being petulant," Rep. Peter King said this month. But Republican leaders in the House don't appear to be listening to Gingrich's advice, even in one of his rare moments of humility.
Politico reports that House Republicans are not starting to sweat their bad press: "As they have for so many of the major legislative battles of the year, the freshmen framed the showdown with the Senate as a time to fight on principle, a prime example of why they were sent to Washington in the first place -- the D.C. establishment be damned if they don’t see it similarly." Boy that sounds familiar! Here's a November 15, 1995, headline from The Hill: "GOPfrosh take risky gamble on showdown." Rep. Zach Wamp, Republican of Tennessee, said then, "Forget popularity, who cares about popularity? It is popular to overpromise and overspend."
Today Florida's Dan Webster told Politico, "If we came here for one election cycle and all we did was pass bad policy what reason would there be to return?" Rep. Mike Kelly said, "Only in this town can being right be wrong. It’s the only place in the world where if you do the right thing you’re wrong. Are you kidding me? … If you can’t start doing what’s right for the American people then why the hell did you come here?" Why does it seem like we've read that before? Oh, here's Gingrich on November 13, 1995: "We were elected to clean out the smoke and mirrors. We were elected to get rid of all the phony promises and the phony excuses and to be honest with the American people." And here's then-Rep. John Kasich a couple days later: It isn't politics as usual at all. In fact, this is one of the best times in our nation's history because we are fighting over deeply held principles."
But maybe Republicans in Congress have learned one tiny thing from Gingrich: Beware predictions. "By Christmas, people will think we've done a pretty good job," Gingrich said November 14, 1995. Bill Clinton was reelected the next year, and Democrats netted up eight seats in the House. Rep. Nan Hayworth only said, "We're making our case to the media..."