With an announcement on Twitter and a video on YouTube, the former speaker of the House and congressman from Georgia, Newt Gingrich, has declared his candidacy to be the Republican nominee for president in 2012. In the video he told viewers, “There’s a much better American future ahead with more jobs, more prosperity, a better health system, longer lives, greater independent living and a country that is decentralized under the 10th Amendment with power once again back with the American people and away from the Washington bureaucracy.”
In a not-so-veiled shot at the Obama administration and the Democratic party he said: “there are some people who don’t mind if America becomes a wreck as long as they dominate the wreckage.” The author and historian, 67, is most famed for regularly locking horns with then President Bill Clinton and engineering the 1994 Contract with America which gave the Republican party control of the House for the first time in 40 years. However, just 4 years later, after a disastrous performance by the GOP in the mid-term elections, Gingrich resigned and has been working as a campaigner, as well as author, ever since. With his long career in Washington politics he has developed strong ties with several big GOP donors and party operatives; so a strong well structured and well-funded campaign is expected.
Gingrich does, however, face questions about his family values and fidelity as he is already on his third wife, Callista, who was a congressional aide with whom he had an affair while still married to his second wife. He blamed his aberration on his love of country and the stresses of congress. He has also recently converted to Catholicism and now has to work hard to win the religious and protestant, socially conservative base. To do so he has associated himself with a rather controversial pastor, the rather evangelical John Hagee who said on radio in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that New Orleans suffered the “judgement of God” due to its “level of sin.” (No doubt a dig at the perceived culture around Bourbon Street in New Orleans although Hagee later retracted his words.)
Gingrich’s campaign has however gotten off to a bit of a rocky start with the right of the party due to his approach to the possible reformation of Medicare. In an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, he labeled a GOP plan to overhaul the long-standing legislation as “right-wing extremism.” The comments were seen as a rebuke to the architect of the plan, the party’s conservative rising star, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. A lot of the criticism leveled at Gingrich has come from the socially conservative members of the GOP embraced by the Tea Party. South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley commented: “Here you’ve got Rep. Ryan trying to bring common sense to this world of insanity, and Newt absolutely cut him off at the knees.” Haley’s endorsement is very much sought after as she governs the state that holds the primary season’s third contest.
Later, Gingrich mentioned that he felt somewhat blindsided by Meet the Press presenter David Gregory’s line of questioning despite appearing on the show 35 times. He has also drawn fire for his position on Obama’s health care legislation as he didn’t completely denounce it initially, which is something widely expected of GOP members since not a single Republican in either House or Senate voted in favour of the bill. Regarding the individual mandate to take out health insurance, whether government or private, a key tenet of Obamacare and opposed by Republicans he said: “I agree that all of us have a responsibility to pay — help pay for health care.” He later tried backtracking on this by stating that he flatly opposed the law and backed it up signing a pledge to repeal it.
On top of this, Gingrich then encountered the latest hiccup regarding his personal life. A report by Politico stated that he previously owed approximately $500,000 to iconic jewelry store Tiffany and Co. The accounts were apparently filed by his latest wife Callista and whenever pressed for details about them Gingrich has continually declined to comment.
As it stands, Gingrich’s support amongst GOP voters has been somewhat weak. In recently published polling; CNN showed only 10 percent support amongst GOP voters and 5 percent in a Quinnipiac poll. This Republican former heavyweight may not wield the power he once did just over a decade ago but his access to the party’s largest financial backers is unmatched and the envy of his competitors, except possibly Mitt Romney, who has of course the many millions in his pockets he could dig into should his fundraising river dry up.