In South Carolina, we live for this quadrennial moment in time, the Republican presidential primary. Not since April 12, 1861, have so many eyes been on our little state. And this political event evokes many of the same passions as did the firing on Fort Sumter a century and a half ago.
I am not going to put South Carolina on the couch in this column. I have been doing that for years, and I think my sanity has been more damaged by the effort than this state's has been repaired.
But there is one sick soul I would like to analyze at this moment: Newt Gingrich. I have been following the former Speaker of the House with a mixture of amusement and horror for more than two decades. It was Gingrich, and his infamous GOPAC training films and memos, who did more to create the polarization and acrimony that dominate today's political climate than any other individual.
He led the GOP revolution that took over the U.S. House in 1994 by railing against the "corruption" of the Democratic Party. Yet, by the time he was forced out of the speakership four years later, he had been fined $300,000 by the House Ethics Committee for his own transgressions.
Newt Gingrich has an ego that is truly frightening. He has called himself a "transformative historical figure" and has said, "People like me are what stands between us and Auschwitz."
Being out of office for more than a decade, he now casts himself in the image of Lincoln and Churchill, two politicians who were defeated and left to "wander in the wilderness," until destiny called them back at the moment of crisis.
Driven by such delusions, he now finds himself effectively out of the running for the GOP nomination following major losses in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. After peaking in the polls last month, his surge collapsed under a savage barrage of TV ads from the Mitt Romney campaign and its allied Super PACs. Now as Gingrich begins to see the bleak end of his checkered career, we get a look inside the dark mind of the man who would be our leader.
Gingrich knows that he will never be president. He has that much of a grasp on reality, but he has determined that he will not let Romney be president as well. In what some have called a kamikaze campaign, he has launched his own TV blitzkrieg against the former Massachusetts governor here in the Palmetto State. Curiously, he has chosen to attack Romney for what many are calling "vulture capitalism."
As founder and head of Bain Capital, Romney oversaw the buying, restructuring, and sometimes liquidation of numerous companies. Whether the companies were saved or not, Romney and his Bain directors and shareholders always had a big payday. Over the years, Romney and his friends destroyed thousands of jobs and Romney personally pocketed an estimated $400 million. It was a grubby business and Romney undoubtably expected it would be an issue during the campaign. What he did not expect was that a fellow Republican would be the one bringing it up.
As I write this, 10 days before the S.C. primary, Gingrich is promising to unleash a 30-minute "documentary" exposing Romney and Bain Capital. Republican leaders are warning him to back off, lest he become a pariah in his own party. At this writing there is no evidence he intends to heed the warning. He blames Romney for robbing him of his destiny; now he will return the curse. Like the demented Ahab, Gingrich seems intent on pursuing his quarry, even unto his own destruction, even unto the destruction of the Republican Party scow.
In other endorsement news, Jim DeMint, the state's junior senator, is playing coy with perhaps the most coveted endorsement in the GOP. Perhaps DeMint's blessing could save the party from its self-destructive spiral, but only if he gives it to Romney. It's inconceivable that the godfather of the Tea Party could ever support the "Massachusetts moderate."
And so we may be witnessing a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. For a man of Newt Gingrich's grandiose ambitions and delusions to finally come to the end of his career, to witness his own downfall and debasement on the national stage, is perhaps more than his own jaded psyche can endure. We may be in for a great meltdown, a man personally and publicly humbled before the gods.
It's fitting that Newt should bring the penultimate act of his long, theatrical career to this little state, which still suffers from its own delusions of grandeur and which has never recovered from its own epic downfall. Newt Gingrich and South Carolina were made for each other.