MASON CITY, Iowa — Newt Gingrich’s first outing as a 2012 presidential candidate has confirmed and even deepened Republicans’ doubts that the former House speaker has the discipline it will take to be a credible contender.
The second day of his 17-city swing through Iowa again saw Gingrich in full damage-control mode and seeking to tamp down the backlash that he generated with remarks Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” in which he criticized a GOP plan to overhaul Medicare and defended a central tenet of the Democrats’ health-care law.
And in the middle of it all, Gingrich had a new problem to contend with: a report in Politico that he had at one point owed $250,001 to $500,000 to the upscale jewelry store Tiffany and Co. The amount was disclosed as a liability from a “revolving charge account” in financial disclosure forms for 2005 and 2006 filed by his wife, Callista, who was then employed by the House Agriculture Committee.
In response to an e-mail from The Washington Post inquiring whether he would be willing to disclose what he bought for that sum, Gingrich responded with one word and a sign-off:
With the survival of his campaign in question barely a week after he formally announced it, he spent much of Tuesday making phone calls, sending e-mails and giving interviews in an effort to change the toxic story line.
But conservatives were having none of it.
“He can’t help himself. Gingrich prefers extravagant lambasting when a mere distancing would do, and the over-arching theoretical construct to a mundane pander,” wrote Rich Lowry in National Review Online. “He is drawn irresistibly to operatic overstatement — sometimes brilliant, always interesting, and occasionally downright absurd.”
In particular, many felt betrayed when Gingrich branded as “right-wing extremism” the House Republicans’ plan to overhaul Medicare, providing a ready-made soundbite that Democratic opponents can use against the GOP members who voted for the budget that included it.
Moreover, Gingrich’s comments were a rebuke of the plan’s creator, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), a rising star revered by conservative activists as a bold visionary — much as Gingrich had been by an earlier generation.
Read more at The Washington Post.