Gingrich recalls another impressive, flawed political figure. I have in mind a Southerner, attracted to big ideas, fascinated by management theories and scientific paradigms, prone to grandiosity and moralism, capable of both insight and bullying, leading through the cultivation of constant alarm. Al Gore was also transformed by defeat, which coincided with an “assault on reason,” a failure of “rational analysis” and the “shocking decay and degradation of our democracy.” The political failure of a figure so large required cosmic explanation. Gore’s opponents became “digital brown shirts” and “un-American” and a “renegade band of right-wing extremists” who had “betrayed the country.” Grievance merged with self-importance. It is easy to imagine Gore delivering Gingrich’s words: “If you want to smear people who are trying to think, fine.”
Newt Gingrich is becoming the Al Gore of the Republican Party — but with one large difference. By accepting the role of vindictive prophet, Gore appeals to a subset of the progressive coalition — the sort of people who find Keith Olbermann fair and balanced. (Gore, in fact, employs him.) Whatever Gore’s flaws, he is the leader of a cause.
It is currently difficult to discern any cause in the Gingrich campaign apart from Gingrich himself. He is the party of one — one world-historic leader, supported primarily by one billionaire. This is not a movement; it is the prosecution of a feud. Like Samson, Gingrich is willing to pull down the temple around him. But, in this case, it is not the Philistines who suffer. It is Republicans in the rubble.