The more time he gets to talk, the more likely he is to say something outrageous. Throughout his career, his speeches and extended interviews have been spawning grounds for odd or even grotesque Gingrichisms.
Shortly after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., Gingrich blamed liberals for the killings, and he threw in the Balkans conflict as well. “I want to say to the elite of this country — the elite news media, the liberal academic elite, the liberal political elite — I accuse you in Littleton, and I accuse you in Kosovo, of being afraid to talk about the mess you have made and being afraid to take responsibility for things you have done, and instead foisting upon the rest of us pathetic banalities because you don’t have the courage to look at the world you have created.” This was his first major speech after leaving Congress.
Eight years later, after the Virginia Tech massacre, George Stephanopoulos asked him on ABC if he still stood by his Columbine comments. Gingrich said that he did, and when Stephanopoulos asked what liberalism had to do with violence and dehumanization, he answered: “Well, who has created a situation ethics, essentially, zone of not being willing to talk about any of these things?”
If Gingrich made such remarks in a presidential debate this fall, the public would recoil. If he didn’t, Obama could still use the Georgian’s long history of verbal overkill to paint him as divisive and destructive. When he’s under criticism, Gingrich’s standard operating procedure is to interject that people are taking his words out of context. In a Lincoln-Douglas format, he would just have to sit and seethe until his turn came. As we’ve witnessed several times during the current debates, Gingrich is very good when he’s pretending to be angry; he’s very bad when he is angry for real. After his poll numbers fell late last year, he hurt himself by using scarce debate time to complain about attacks by a pro-Romney super PAC; his peevishness compounded his fall. Knowing this history, Obama would try to play with his head.