Ross Douthat has a very nice item about how Newt Gingrich has helped to spike the chances of a more conservative opponent defeating Mitt Romney for the GOP presidential nomination. I have to wonder about the final paragraph, however (his italics):

Instead, Gingrich reclaimed the spotlight, as only he knows how to do. (Romney’s a looter! Poor kids should work as janitors!) For this, if he wins the election, Romney owes him an ambassadorship, at the very least. And conservatives wondering how a man they so mistrust could be breezing to the nomination should know exactly whom to blame.

Whom to blame?

I think he means Newt, but the real answer is: themselves.

After all, by the end of 1998,  Newt Gingrich was fully exposed: the ethics problems, of course, but more to the point it was clear he just wasn’t a very good politician, at least when it came to governing. Nor was he someone who could be trusted. And his instincts, it had turned out, just weren’t very conservative at all. And that’s putting aside the marital issues, for whatever they’re worth.

And yet Republicans never blinked in rehabilitating him; he was immediately welcomed as a senior statesman and important person within conservative policy and particularly media circles. Just as Oliver North had been, and Gordon Liddy before that. I’ve talked about this before…the Democrats, for the most part, just don’t do this: Jim Wright and Dan Rostenkowski were hardly ever seen again after leaving office in disgrace.

The caveat is that Democrats are willing to forgive one category of disgraced former official: those who were Republicans but are now willing to turn on their old party (John Dean, David Stockman).

Anyway, Republicans in Washington knew exactly what Newt was, but for over a decade they’ve chosen to pretend otherwise, either because he was useful to have on TV attacking the Democrats, or just because that’s how Republicans do things. So after treating him as a distinguished statesman and brilliant conservative politician for over a decade, despite clearly not believing it (as was shown the second he spiked in the polls in December), they’re just getting exactly what they deserve.

[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.