The General Patton style of leadership which allows Newt to see a hole and drive straight through it does not lend itself to winning friends or building lasting coalitions based on loyalty. His self-confessed people problems --the inability to connect easily with others-- could handicap him in ascending to a higher platform. It may even be a problem already. One of the shrewdest Democratic movers in recent congressional memory defines the Speaker's position in terms of "no depth of loyalty" from his party in Congress. "And he doesn't show loyalty, either."
"Newt read books," says Eddie Mahe. "He doesn't do friendship." Newt's former best friend in Congress, Vin Weber, has also admitted that Newt has problems with interpersonal relationships. "I told him so every day," Weber remarks.
"He always tried to be one of the boys," says Kip Carter. "He never quite was." To illustrate the point, Carter tells a down-home kind of story from the 1970s. Newt and Carter, who was then his campaign treasurer, used to barbecue hogs in the Gingriches' driveway in Carrollton, Georgia. They would go to a friend's farm and pick out a hog --and shoot it.
"One day, Newt says to me, 'I need to be the one to kill the hog. It's only right, just morally.'"
Carter showed Newt how to use a Walther P-38, a W.W. II German pistol. "I said, 'Put some corn in your left hand. When the pig comes over to get it, put the pistol against his head and shoot him between his eyes.'"
"So the pig comes over and he starts eating," says Carter. "Newt flinches as the round hits the pig on the side of the head and ricochets down." But the shot only stunned the hog and sent it fleeing back into the pen. "Newt keeps trying to get this pig to come back to him. Newt's getting madder and madder. I said to him, 'You just shot the son of a bitch in the head, Newt, why do you think he's gonna come to you?'"
Carter recalls urging his comrade-in-arms, "'You gotta get in there, in the hogpen, and go get him.' But Newt wouldn't do it. So I ended up going in the pen and killing the hog."
Unlike Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich cannot easily transmit empathy to the camera or a gathered audience. Like Nixon, he does not easily communicate sympathy, trustworthiness, or compassion. His eyes do not meet the camera. He meets the world with the gaze of an outsider whose attention is inwardly engaged. People willingly give to Newt for quite an extended period of time because they are electrified by his tenacity and vision. But as time passes and they expect their relationship with the man to deepen, it doesn't. And when he is finished using them, he moves on, discarding former loyalists like so much used ammo. Gingrich routinely dismisses any negative public statements as the work of disgruntled former employees, but the depth of feeling among his former allies is remarkable. "There are no former disgruntled employees," says Dot Crews. "We're all just sorry that we ever went to work for him in the first place and that we didn't get out sooner."
Ladonna Lee, president of the Eddie Mahe Company, did many projects with Newt in the 80s. She sums up one aspect of his people problem this way: "He's a very tough taskmaster. A lot of different people who have been his chief of staff or A.A., no matter how well they do, it's never enough."
Newt's style of leadership, described by Eddie Mahe as "the mountaintop philosophy," may be a further complication. Says Ladonna Lee, "He would always get people started on a project or a vision, and we're all slugging up the mountain to accomplish it. Newt's nowhere to be found...He's gone on to the next mountaintop."
Echoes Dolores Adamson, "He would say, 'You have to understand that I am a think tank, I can save the West, and when I come up with a new idea, we need to move on it immediately.' We'd have this big project going, and all of a sudden it just faded away. Everybody went into swarms to try and get something accomplished. And then he turned on them and did something else."
Vin Weber says, "I never saw a lot of crackpot ideas. I saw a lot of good ideas. But there was difficulty in assessing a cost-benefit ratio. Even if every idea is good, resources are limited. With Newt, it didn't matter if we were overreaching, we had to do everything."
In 1978, in the G.O.P.'s first election victory in rural Georgia this century, Newton Leroy Gingrich was elected to Congress. Party pros, dubbed "the $1,000 suits" by the Georgia good old boys, hit town to offer tips to the new star. But without them, Newt had already impressed no less than Eddie Mahe, then deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee. Mahe well remembers the summer afternoon in the mid-70s when he first met the young politician. Hot sun was pouring through his office window; Newt was dressed in sky-blue polyester pants and a madras jacket. "How did this dork get in here?" Mahe thought. Then the visitor began to speak: the unknown renegade sweating it out in polyester impressed the seasoned campaign strategist with a shrewd, concise ("Three points --boom, boom, boom") assessment of his Democratic foe in Georgia. Mahe saw a very live wire --and began to spread the word.
The 1978 victory closed a remarkably ugly campaign which foreshadowed the next chapter in the annals of Newt, who had now begun his metamorphosis into the Che Guevara of conservatism. During a recent interview with David Frost, Gingrich was asked about a leaflet-part of his '78 "Let Our Family Represent Your Family" campaign --which said that if Newt's Democratic opponent, Virginia Shapard, were elected she would have to break up her family to move to D.C. and hire a nanny to assume her maternal responsibilities. Newt maintained that the leaflet was sent out without his knowledge by an operative he later forced to resign --Kip Carter. "It was a mistake to have used it, and I would have told him at the time, frankly," Newt maintained. Carter says that the candidate himself not only approved the leaflet but was also involved in television advertising where a Shapard stand-in was shown "wearing an iron bracelet that looked like she belonged to the SS."
The family-values campaign might have seemed a bit risky to some candidates who had done a bit of philandering. But Newt, it appears, does not see himself as vulnerable to the trip wires that ensnare others. His blind spot may be his own personal invulnerability, his faith in his ability to always manipulate opinion. By the time the Gingriches moved to Washington, however, at least one old loyalist, his wife, was no longer swayed by Newt's bluster. When a friend paid a visit, she found Jackie and Newt quarreling about his refusal to dump the trash. It was the classic argument of the woman's saying, "When you go to the Hill, you are the god that everyone waits on. But when you come home...It's still your job to be part of the family!"
Jackie had reason to make demands. "I'm sure Jackie's income as a teacher was very essential between 1970 and 1979," says Richard Dangle, Newt's dean at West Georgia. "Most of their income went into Newt's political campaigns." According to Dangle, Newt's assistant professor's salary of $11,000 was cut by a third each time he took a leave to run for Congress.
During 1979 and 1980, Newt Gingrich --despite his political success-- entered a period of crisis. He almost, to borrow a phrase, "wiped out." "He went through a real down period, ducked his head, retreated from the battlefield," says Eddie Mahe. According to other sources, Newt was drinking heavily. "There were people concerned about his stability," says Kip Carter.
"It was a very, very bad period of my life," Newt has admitted. "It had been getting steadily worse. I ultimately wound up at a point where suicide, or going insane, or divorce were the last three options." In April 1980, he told Jackie, who was suffering from uterine cancer, that he was filing for divorce.
He was soon having an affair with a woman known to a member of his staff as "the mystery lady." Fifteen years younger than Newt's wife, she had "big cow eyes," says one former congressman. It was the future Marianne Gingrich, whom Newt had met at a Republican fund-raiser in Ohio in January of 1980.
Newt tried to explain what he was going through to his mother. She remember his words: "He said, 'I'm going to deal with Jackie.' I asked, 'But why?' He had no idea. He said, 'I'm either going to get a divorce or I'm going to have a nervous breakdown. I can't take it.'" Kit adds, "I've often wondered if she had taken that weight off maybe they would still be together."
One of the "$1,000 suits" from Washington suggests that Newt's attitude might be "a delayed adolescent rebellion." But another observer cites a different factor, "He thought that she was not transferable to sophisticated Washington, which he considered himself --Mr. Backwater-- to be able to manage."
Dot Crews learned about the divorce from Newt himself. "I was driving him one day, and...I asked if there was another woman, knowing full well that there was one." He denied it. But Crews realized, "You don't ask questions you know they're going to have to lie about."
For some time, Jackie tried to hold on. "He can say that we had been talking about it for 10 years, but the truth is that it came as a complete surprise," she told Lois Romano of The Washington Post. "He walked out in the spring of 1980...By September, I went into the hospital for my third surgery. The two girls came to see me, and said, 'Daddy is downstairs. Could he come up?' When he got there, he wanted to discuss the terms of the divorce while I was recovering from my surgery."
Jackie's divorce lawyer, Edward Bates, expected that Newt would want to have the divorce handled quietly and diplomatically. But it started off very badly. "We went to court to get the basic financial necessities met." The utilities were about to be cut off --it was dire. Jackie's testimony at a hearing to determine alimony --revealing Newt's $34,000 personal debt, his spending habits, his refusal to pay forwarded bills-- appeared in detail on the front page of the hometown newspaper, the Carroll County Georgian, on October 23, 1980. It was two weeks before Newt's bid for re-election to Congress.
"Holy shit, how are we going to survive this?" was the first reaction of Frank Gregorsky, then a staffer for the National Republican Congressional Committee who worked in the Gingrich camp. But as it turned out, Newt carried the country and added to his majority in the rest of the district. Gregorsky developed a theory: "There must have been some quiet, angry, white males out there...who felt trashed by women. He now had a badge of honor."
The slim, dark-haired stranger who began to appear around the Gingrich congressional office about the time of Ronald Reagan's inauguration in 1981 did not impress all the members of the Gingrich team.
"Well, I don't want to be unkind to her, but Marianne didn't know how to dress," says Dolores Adamson. "She was smart enough, I think, but she was somehow a little naive...In staff meetings, she'd go away in tears, because she didn't really understand. She would just be totally frustrated and confused."
Marianne Ginther's perspective was formed by the small-town culture of Leetonia, Ohio, a speck of a village so tiny that it has only one traffic light. Harry Ginther, Marianne's father, an insurance manager, was at one time the town mayor.
Although she rather proudly characterizes herself as strong-willed, Marianne admits, "I was not like what you'd call the best student. I was not a bookworm...I was a tomboy. I could outrun all the boys on the block." She enrolled in an architecture program at Kent State, but fell away after her second year, which followed the tragic shootings of Kent students in the spring of 1970.
Marianne made her way in the world with a little help. She eventually became a community planner for the Trumbull County Planning Commission. "I watched her and I thought, Here's a lady who can function in a man's world," says Lyle Williams, then the Republican congressman from her district. Despite the fact that Marianne had no professional degree, Williams maintains that she became a very effective community planner. "She could get along with men," he repeats several times. Williams was part of a board that replaced the longtime director of the planning commission, Ed Kutevac, with Marianne. ("Within 24 hours," she recalls, "I was it!") Kutevac, however, fought back and ultimately regained his job. Williams allows, "Politically, it kind of put Marianne on the spot."
"I didn't think I was going to rise quickly or do anything fancy," she says, "but if you show up and you're the one who's working, you just end up to be the person getting promoted."
Shortly before meeting Newt Gingrich, the 28-year-old Marianne ended her affair with Marlin "Whitey" Ford, the head of a United Auto Workers local. His relationship with the younger woman had been strained, Ford told Kim Masters of The Washington Post, because he had been married at the time --and the father of three. I asked Marianne if her relationship with Ford was an important one. "I don't want to explain it," she says. "I think it's irrelevant to bring it up."
"Very quickly after the breakup of Marianne and Whitey, she and Newt went on a camping trip," says an old Leetonia friend. "She said Newt's divorce wasn't final yet." Marianne doubted that her romance with the congressman would be more than a fling, says Betty Sekula, an Ohio planning official who worked with Marianne. Lyle Williams was also surprised when the couple stayed in touch. "I didn't think it was spectacular fireworks," says Williams. Others, however, have noted the contrast between Jackie, the maternal sparring partner, and the adoring acolyte he acquired in the younger woman. His sister Candace explains: "Jackie was his equal. With Marianne, initially, he was the authority, the high power."
The second-term congressman married the country girl in Leetonia, Ohio, in August 1981 (six months after his divorce). A family friend who knew both wives observes, "He became the 'only child' in a world where she worshipped him." In the first few years of their marriage Marianne turned herself inside out to please her man, who had admitted to "the habit of dominance." She went back to school and earned an undergraduate degree in business administration from Georgia State University. She tried wearing bows in her hair and did beauty makeovers and became an image consultant for BeautiControl Cosmetics. Knowing her husband's devotion to reptiles, she gave him an emerald-tree boa for his birthday. They kept the snake in the bathtub. She worked hard to make Newt happy. But there were problems.
"Newt was indifferent to Marianne right from the beginning," says a sympathetic Betty Sekula. "It was him, not us."
I ask Marianne if their marriage was a one-sided equation from the beginning. "That's true...I was necessarily happy being married to someone like Newt," she admits. Later on, she says, "I made it very clear I wasn't happy with certain behaviors." She gave him a copy of the book Men Who Hate Women & The Women Who Love Them, by Susan Forward and Joan Torres. The book describes men who are socialized to dominate and control. One variation is the "Henry Higgins" type of man, who is "often charming and even loving," but who switches to "cruel, critical, insulting behavior on a moment's notice...They gain control by grinding the woman down. They refuse to take responsibility for how the attacks make their partners feel."
"Oh, boy, does that sound like Newt!" exclaims a family friend. Another family observer agrees with this assessment and says, "She may not be Eliza Doolittle, but he sure as hell is Henry Higgins. I feel sorry for Marianne."
"When their relationship is good and strong, he's at his very best," says former congressman Vin Weber. "If there's any tension in the marriage, it just drives him to distraction." In 1982, Newt fairly exploded in frustration when his chief of staff, Frank Gregorsky, objected to having the Gingrich campaign pay to have Marianne fly around the country with him. Gregorsky argued that it was the wrong thing to do politically. But the congressman wouldn't bend. Gregorsky describes him banging his arms against a door and wailing, "Why don't you all understand? Why don't you understand what I need?" He won the argument, of course. Gregorsky says, "If you ever fight with Newt on one of those things, he will either go ballistic or he will break down. It is dangerous."
By the mid-80s the marriage had been perforated with separations. One issue may have been the fact that Marianne was expected, as Jackie had been, to contribute her times and earnings to Newt's political advancement. "I felt that Marianne had a mission," says Betty Sekula. When Marianne turned up in Leetonia in 1988 and tried to outfox Sekula in a situation involving a federal grant for a former employee, Sekula challenged her. "You forget that if anything happens in this town, I know about it by early afternoon." Marianne, she says, grew very uncomfortable and pleaded, "I had to do it." Sekula gathered that "it was her marriage, it was money, I think she was desperate."
At one point, Newt publicly described the chances of his second marriage succeeding as 53-47. He confides during our interview that he really had not learned to express emotion until he married Marianne --when he was nearly 40.
"It's been one of the most painful things I've ever been through in my whole life," Newt tells me, "trying to understand the degree to which behaviors that I thought were totally appropriate were destructive." He pauses, looking glum.
"You mean you drove people away that you loved?"
"Sure. I had stupid, unthinking assumptions."
"About women, among other things."
Today, Newt asserts unconvincingly that the presidency is not "one of the three highest items" on the checklist for the rest of his life. "But," he says, "hanging around with Marianne is pretty high on the list...I really do want to experience a lot of marriage."
When I ask what else is on the list, Newt rolls out a wish list that sounds like the contents page from Men's Journal. "I've always wanted to cross the Owen Stanley Range in New Guinea...I would love to go and collect dinosaur fossils for a while. Probably in Montana or northern Arizona. I would really love to spend six months to a year in the Amazon basin, just being able to spend the day watching tree sloths."
But in Washington there are many demands on the Speaker's time. Since Newt became a national celebrity, he has no shortage of female admirers --from Callista Bisek, a former aide in Congressman Steve Gunderson's office who has been a favorite breakfast companion, to the ubiquitous Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, who has become a self-appointed guardian to the newly desirable Newt.
Marianne Gingrich, however, doesn't see her husband very often.
"I like adventure," Marianne tells me. "I just don't like the public."
A year ago, she and her husband bought their first home, in the affluent Atlanta exurb of east Cobb County, a former pasture now paved with new money. Cobb County subdivisions have names such as "Beverly Hills" and "Falcon Crest." She spends most of her time there alone.
Marianne's world is a small "cluster house" on a cul-de-sac. "We have two bedrooms and an office room," Marianne says proudly. "We also have a living room with no furniture. I haven't had a chance to go shopping."
What attracted her to Newt Gingrich?
"Good question," she says, adding, "Newt says we started talking and just kept talking. There's some truth in that."
Does she want children of her own?
"Let's not touch that one," she answers.
Newt suggested I ask his wife if he has changed.
"I would have to honestly say that Newt has worked very, very hard to change," concedes Marianne. He has even helped her build an independent career. Last September, a job was arranged for her as a marketing representative for an Israeli-based company seeking a free-trade zone there. She was recommended by Vin Weber after Newt's intercession with top Israeli officials on behalf of Weber's interests as a lobbyist for the company.
Marianne tells me that the job takes a lot of her time. But she has been "hanging on to it for dear life," since Newt's enemies have added it to their list of the Speaker's alleged ethical lapses. "My job has been on semi-hold, because the company has decided basically to shut down some operations," Marianne confides sadly. "But I'm still involved, because they made me vice president of marketing."
I ask Marianne how often her husband takes a vacation with her.
"Let's see, last August..." Her voice drifts off. "But not what you'd call a real vacation." She finally recalls a time, two years ago, when they stayed several days in Stephen Hanser's cabin in the north-Georgia mountains. "We went for hikes, I cooked at home a lot, but we kind of hung out and read and talked."
"He completely ignores her," observes a Washington journalist who has interviewed Marianne. "It's my impression the marriage is a dead letter. He is so self-obsessed, she could open the door wrapped in plastic wrap and he wouldn't notice."
But Marianne has at least made the Speaker notice when she asks him to take out the trash. "Lives are at stake here," he protested one day when she made her request. He had been on the phone dealing with the Nicaragua situation, says Marianne.
"No, no, no," she shot back. "It doesn't matter. Take the garbage out."
What was Newt's greatest test of courage? I ask his press secretary. "Maybe taking on Jim Wright," says Tony Blankley. "He wasn't taking on one man, he was taking on essentially a whole town, relatively alone. He knew what the danger was going in." But by 1984 he was ready for the attack that would be the equivalent of his Normandy.
Wright, a 30-year veteran of Congress, represented Newt's Faustian pact for fame and power. Newt's ultimately successful campaign to unseat the Texas Democrat began in 1987, when he unleashed an extensive round of ethics charges against the Speaker, but the first hostilities came in May 1984, inspired by Newt's recognition that the C-SPAN cameras in Congress offered his main chance for national exposure.
Frank Gregorsky, then a Gingrich staff writer, had worked for nine months on a paper which cited particularly controversial Democratic statements on foreign policy in Vietnam, Cuba, and Nicaragua. According to Gregorsky, Newt said, "We're going to read this on the record. We're going to pick a fight." Democrats were apparently informed that Gingrich was to deliver a Special Order that afternoon. "They just thought it was another Newt thing," says Gregorsky. At the close of the legislative day, Newt read the incendiary paper --before an empty chamber and for the benefit of the C-SPAN audience. He accused the Democrats of believing that "America does nothing right." It was pure theater.
Yet the attack so violated the traditional comity of the House that then Speaker Tip O'Neill "lost his cool" (in Gregorsky's words) and a few days later --in a full session of Congress --accused Gingrich of "the lowest thing I've ever seen in my 32 years in Congress." Representative Trent Lott demanded that O'Neill's words be stricken from the record, and the presiding congressional officer ruled in his favor. Gingrich's tour de force made all the network news shows that night --and a star was born. "I am now a famous person," Newt crowed to the press.
But in his mania for immediate headlines, Newt had drawn blood, and his enemies still swear vengeance.
The mid-80s saw the debut of a new storyteller in the land. Cultural myths are what we live by. And Newt brought us a new myth --the Angry White Man Strikes Back-- delivered in a voice sharpened by Newt McPherson and Bob Gingrich, a voice with the swagger of John Wayne and the stridency of Sergeant Stryker, a voice perfectly pitched to the tenor of the times. In The Ambition and the Power, John M. Barry reports that in 1985 Newt was already aware of the new myth he intended to create for America. As he had done during his lonely childhood, Newt used words as weapons, perfecting a politics of personal destruction. At one lunch, writes Barry, Newt grabbed a napkin and drew a diagram illustrating how he intended to define the opposition "out of existence." On other occasions Newt said that Democratic leaders were "corrupt," that they associated with "thugs," and that they followed Neville Chamberlain's philosophy of "withdrawal from the planet." Their policies, he warned, would bring to American shores "the joys of Soviet-style brutality and the murder of women and children."
The more outrageous his rhetoric became the more "hits" he got on television and in magazines. "We are engaged in reshaping a whole nation through the news media," Newt himself acknowledged to The Washington Post. "Newt's used the media from the beginning," boasts Tony Blankley, who goes on to emphasize that Newt's style and approach actually pre-date the rise of Rush Limbaugh. Newt's press secretary even draws a comparison to the Ayatolah Khomeini, another charismatic leader who created a revolution by audiotape. Newt took over GOPAC in 1986 and transformed the PAC once associated with former presidential candidate Pete du Pont into his personal marketing and money-raising machine. Every Republican candidate for state or local office got a new audiotape once a month; these tapes transmitted the conservative gospel straight from the mouth of Newt to the ear of every young, ambitious true believer behind the wheel of a car traveling the back roads of politics. "Over the years he has put out a total of something like 2,000 tapes," says Blankley.
"Not many of us had much confidence in the post-Watergate era that we would be the ruling majority in our lifetime," says Wilma Goldstein, who was director of survey research for the National Republican Congressional Committee in those years. "Very few, maybe nobody. But Newt was always writing memos to all of us about what a Republican majority would look like."
And on November 8, 1994, Newton Leroy Gingrich triumphed over all the doubters and detractors from his past. He became King of the Hill and spiritual leader of the first Republican majority in both houses in 40 years.
Can Newt Gingrich change? Can the wild-haired warrior tame himself into a silver-haired statesman? "He reminds me of Daniel Ortega in a way," quips Democratic senator Christopher Dodd. "These guys never take off their fatigues after they've won the revolution."
The fact is that Newt Gingrich has been concerned about his ability to shift into a more presidential persona for at least a decade. Ten years ago Wilma Goldstein asked him point-blank, "Are you the right person to be the leader of the movement if we ever become the majority?"
"I've been thinking about that," Newt said. He had just returned from England and a debate at the Oxford Union, lugging a stack of books about leaders who had played both backbench attack dog and seasoned leader. "I want to see if I can learn what it takes to do that," he told Goldstein. "But if I'm not the right person, I won't be that leader."
The point is that Newt's inner dynamic, the single-minded drive that has fueled his quest, is so all-consuming that it may distract him from the need for consistency on issues he sees as peripheral. In July, Newt blurted out his support for U.S. recognition of Taiwan as a free and independent country, drawing fire from even his friend Henry Kissinger. Chastened, he admitted he didn't care much about Taiwan; he was re-enacting a scene from Allen Drury's novel Advise & Consent. "I don't do foreign policy," he said, adding, "I wanted their attention."
Under the pressures of his racing internal time clock, Newt is likely to betray the core issues he sounded so passionate about yesterday. "Newt is decisive but changes his mind, so whatever he's doing might change in six months," says Frank Gregorsky. "But when it changes he is blindingly defensive and assertive about it." The biggest change may be yet to come. Newt, who started out as a moderate, may shed another skin when the pain of the budget revolution kicks in. Newt's loyal point man, Congressman John Kasich, head of the Budget Committee, may be the fall guy.
Newt's military mind-set, formed by Bob Gingrich and the battles of his psychic heroes, is deeply ingrained and an essential part of the way he operates. In a recent appearance on the Charlie Rose show, Newt quoted Mao: "Politics," he intoned, "is war without blood." Gingrich's pal Stephen Hanser says that part of Newt's strategy in the House is based on combat theory, namely the German armed-forces doctrine of Auftragstaktik, or "mission orders." The problem is that in the heat of battle subtleties are lost. Standards fall. Atrocities are forgiven. Especially if the action is rapid-fire.
And with Newt, it always is. Speed is unfailingly of the essence. The 100-day Contract with America is the best proof. The Speaker has the tendency to set up accelerated timetables and artificial deadlines, based on the necessity to keep his "frenetic psyche" within some boundaries. In Newt's world, dominated by hungry media perpetually in need of bigger jolts of adrenaline, there is no debate, no moderation. As Marcella Mc Pherson said, "If he wants something, he wants it now."
"I think the manic part of Newt's personality is troublesome," says one moderate Republican in Congress. "The hyperactivity, the racing thoughts. He flits from one subject to the other and sometimes fails to make the connections."
"You can't sprint when you're in a marathon," frets Stephen Hanser, "and this is a marathon...He does need time to read, he does need time to reflect." And basically, says Hanser, since July of last year, Newt hasn't taken a moment to reflect. His aide-de-camp tried to coax the Speaker to his cabin in north Georgia during his recess that followed his triumphant first 100 days. But Newt was already "laptopping" for his treatise, To Renew America.
One well-known television interviewer recently observed Newt at very close range. "When Gingrich was being made up for his interview, he looked beat, lifeless, exhausted." Once the interview started, he came to life. "But you know from seeing people that wrung out and still under high pressure, their judgement isn't great and they can make disastrous decisions," says the interviewer. "I think Gingrich will inevitably self-destruct."
Five different accusations have piled up against Newt Gingrich in the House Ethics Committee over the past year. Two of the major complains concern Newt, Inc. (as the Speaker's multimillion-dollar fund-raising empire is known), and the activities of GOPAC. Critics charge that the secretive PAC has acted as a legislative fix-it shop for Newt's major contributors and has also been used to support the Gingriches' personal lifestyle.
Newt's handpicked Ethics Committee chair, Congresswoman Nancy "Stonewall" Johnson, failed to question many of the most obvious witnesses until a frontpage story in The New York Times in late June pushed her to open the hearings on Newt's $4.5 million offer from publisher Rupert Murdoch. Privately, even some G.O.P leaders have expressed distaste at the spectacle of the new Speaker rushing into a commercial book deal with one of the barons of the telecommunications revolution, namely Murdoch, whose interests are at the fore of the Gingrich legislative agenda.
"The volume of published evidence clearly calls for investigation...It is vital that the Ethics Committee hire outside counsel and pursue these questions thoroughly. The trust of the public and the integrity of the House will accept no lower standard."
That statement was not issued by Congressman David Bonior or the Democratic National Committee's NewtGram. These were the sentiments of Newt Gingrich himself, issued in a 1988 press release where he demanded an outside counsel --with no restrictions--to investigate the activities of then Speaker Jim Wright.
Since Newt Gingrich helped set many of the snares that brought down his fellow congressmen, the ultimate enigma in his character is this: Why would he court disaster by stepping anywhere near the very same snares? "It's easy to tiptoe through the perils of Washington by reading history," points out Stan Brand, a former counsel to the House now known as "an ethics doctor." Continues Brand, "As the facts begin to come out, the parallels between Newt and Wright become more consistent."
The rap on Jim Wright's book deal was that it was an elaborate ruse to allow a friend to funnel him money by publishing a book of prepackaged anecdotes and excerpts from speeches. Newt Gingrich's book To Renew America is based partially on repackaged material from Gingrich's course at Kennesaw State College in Georgia, material allegedly generated by the tax-exempt Progress & Freedom Foundation and GOPAC. "What does that look like?" asks Stan Brand. "Jim Wright with more zeros."
I ask Gingrich himself, "A person as brilliant as you obviously knows what the trip wires are in Washington."
"I'm probably the leading expert in the House on it," he boasts.
"So why would you step anywhere near close to the perils that brought Jim Wright down, like the controversial book deal? You yourself have said, 'I might have been crazy.'"
"I made a public-relations mistake," he replies.
Shouldn't you be suspicious if Rupert Murdoch asks to meet with you?
"Rupert Murdoch is a leading right-wing conservative who was very close to the Reagan administration...I've been on Rupert's side ideologically from day one."
"Do you see anything obscene about Rupert's publications?"
Tits and ass as a formula? That's what he's known for all over the world.
"I don't particularly like Fox Broadcasting, some of their shows. But I can tell you that in the Reagan years he was very helpful editorially."
So because he's helpful politically to you, you can overlook the fact that he contributes to the moral decay of America?
"No. I don't overlook that fact. I'm saying that I meet with everybody who comes by me."
Will the quest of the hero be cut short by the posse because of this blind spot --his faith in his own powers? If he does fall, Newt Gingrich would not be the first politician to get what he's always wanted, only to self-destruct.
Perhaps Gingrich doesn't quite believe the mythology in which he has cloaked his long, unglamorous march to the top of the Hill. As was the case with Gary Hart before him, one part of Newt is truly confident that he would make a magnificent national leader. But there may be an inner voice of doubt --the voice of the past, Big Newt and Bob Gingrich-- which is silenced only by the attempt to prove he is so worthy, so tough, so heroic that he is above the rules that apply to ordinary mortals.
But what happens to the country while Newt Gingrich immerses his insecurities in a cause meant to justify himself?http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/newt/vanityfair1.html