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In a town dominated and controlled by phonies, Newt Gingrich rose to the top of a political culture that thrives on illusion and triumphs over reality.
As he prepares today to formally exit the Presidential campaign that many hope is his last hurrah, Gingrich will still exhibit the bravado driven by a massive ego and the feeling that he is always the smartest man in a culture over-populated with Type A personalities.
He leaves behind a legacy of broken promises, shattered careers and unfulfilled expectations. Yet he will blame his many failures on others and claim without hesitation that despite the wishes of voters that he is still the best candidate for President who ever sought the job.
To quote an old bromide, Newt Gingrich is a legend in his own mind. He will doubt the wisdom of voters who rejected him and a GOP leadership that no longer wants to have anything to do with him but he will never, ever, doubt his own infallibility or himself.
First elected to Congress in 1978, Gingrich was into his second term when I came to Washington in 1981 as press secretary to then Illinois Republican congressman Paul Findley. Findley asked me to get a copy of one of Gingrich’s statements so I wondered over to his office and found the sophomore Congressman standing next to his receptionist’s desk when I walked in.
Not wanting to bother the Congressman, I asked to see the press secretary.
Gingrich asked: “What do you need?”
“A copy of your statement on the President’s budget,” I said.
“Then you see me,” he said. “I write my statements young man, not my press secretary.”
It was my first contact with the man who would later become Speaker of the House. It wouldn’t be my last. I eventually would work for the consultant who helped mold Gingrich into one of the most decisive political figures in Washington and – in 1992 – for Gingrich as a consultant to GoPAC, his political action committee. As a Capitol Hill aide, political operative and later publisher of Capitol Hill Blue, I have watched Gingrich confound the skeptics, annoy his critics, defy the odds and push the already-stretched the limits of political hypocrisy.
In his “Contract With America,” Gingrich promised a Congress ruled by ethics, devoid of old-boy politics and moderated by term limits. As Speaker, he abandoned term limits, put his cronies in charge of leadership posts and ruled with a dictator-style ruthlessness. He also landed in ethical hot water more often than not, including a huge fine by the House Ethics Committee.
At the GOP nominating convention in Houston in 1992, I watched Gingrich fondle the butt of a female aide while talking to Republican contributors about “restoring moral values” to Washington.
Married three times, Gingrich dumped two wives for then-current girlfriends and engaged in numerous affairs during his time on Capitol Hill. His sexual appetite matched that of President Bill Clinton, whom Gingrich publicly scorned for his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky while the Speaker was – at the time – bedding Congressional committee staffer Callista Bisek.
In 1989, at the annual Presidential dinner in Washington, Gingrich attended as a guest at the table purchased – for $25,000 – by the National Association of Realtors. As Vice President for Political Programs, I was also at the table and watched Gingrich put the moves on an attractive female staff member of the association.
Gingrich repeatedly invited her to his room at the Washington Hilton. She repeatedly refused. Finally, I had to intervene and tell Gingrich to back off. He stopped and turned his attentions to another woman at the next table. Later that evening, I saw them head for the elevator.
At the time, Gingrich was married to his second wife and also screwing Bisek. In later years, Gingrich would claim to have found God and also claim that his sexual misadventures were part of the “intoxication of power.” He also entered into “vow to be faithful” to Bisek.
He made the same vow while married to the former Marianne Ginther – his second wife. He and Ginther had an affair while he was still married to his first wife, the former Jackie Battley.
Over the years, Newt Gingrich screwed lots of women. He also screwed the country and the political party that supported his rise to power. In the end, he screwed himself out of the Presidency and – if there is justice in the world – any future on the political stage.