I’ve been trying to figure out how to make the case that most Republicans don’t know or don’t remember most of what’s publicly available about Newt Gingrich’s misdeeds, and I think I’ve got it, at least for baseball fans. Here’s the question: which of these 1990s stars was publicly identified, in the Mitchell report or elsewhere, as a steroids user?

Todd Hundley, David Justice, Bill Mueller, Miguel Tejada, Rick Ankiel, Craig Biggio, Benito Santiago, Kevin Brown, Eric Gagne, Mo Vaughn, Troy Glaus.

Did you pick Bill Mueller and Craig Biggio out as a two who haven’t been publicly identified? All the rest were in the Mitchell Report.

Here’s my guess, if you’re a baseball fan: you didn’t remember some of this stuff, even though you knew it about players you cared about way back when. I could do the same with the Pittsburgh drug trials from the 1980s, too. You know about Rock Raines, but Paul Molitor? Ah, you have to be old enough to know that one, I bet.

The point is that unless for some reason steroids becomes the main conversation topic surrounding a player, as it has been with (say) Sammy Sosa or Jose Canseco, it all disappears in a blur, at least until it becomes relevant again.

And that’s the story with Newt Gingrich’s various and many problems. Sure, the marriages are a big part of the story that people have told about him all year. But the ethics violations and fine? Really — how many times do you think that Fox News or Rush Limbaugh mentioned those things since, say, 1998? I sure wouldn’t be surprised if even a hint of ethics problems was never once mentioned on any Fox News program since the turn of the century, at least until this year’s presidential campaign.

I haven’t seen any polling on it, but in general you’re not going to lose a lot of bets if you wager that Americans are ignorant of something. And why should we know about the many problems of a washed-up politician, anyway? Most of us have more important things to worry about, whether it’s which day we’re supposed to drive the kids’ carpool, or whether Lee Smith has a solid HOF case (answers: Thursday, and sorry, I’m a big fan of the right-hander, but no). We can usually trust that when we need to know political information of this sort, the political system will provide it for us. Which is exactly what Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are doing in Iowa right now.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.