Tuesday, May 10, 2011


The elite Beltway-insider journalists wanted Haley Barbour to ply them with bourbon from now through November 2012 (and possibly through January 20, 2021). They'll settle for a presidential run by someone they can have an policy mancrush on (Mitch Daniels) or a centrism mancrush on (Jon Huntsman). But if all else fails, they'll content themselves with someone who plays ball with them (every possible Sunday on the chat shows) and whose fascinatingly deep political thought makes it easy for them generate reams of copy. Thus, I give you Matt Bai of The New York Times staring up at Newt Gingrich like a dewy-eyed undergraduate at a superstar professor:

Gingrich Run Reflects His Sense of History

... The thing you have to understand about Newt is that he is, by training and temperament, an avid historian, and he is as true a believer as you will ever find in the concept of destiny.

... He imagined himself -- and, reasonably or not, still does -- as a lead protagonist in the history of his own time, a consequential character in the grand American narrative.

In particular, Mr. Gingrich is a devotee of the historian Arnold J. Toynbee, who meditated on the concept of "departure and return" -- the idea that great leaders have to leave (or be banished from) their kingdoms before they can better themselves and return as conquering heroes. One of Newt's heroes, the French general and statesman Charles de Gaulle, embodies just this kind of romantic narrative, having spent 12 years out of power before returning to lead his country. So does Ronald Reagan, who traveled the country after losing his bid for the Republican nomination in 1976, then came roaring back to win it all four years later.

Like Mr. de Gaulle, Mr. Gingrich has been out of power for about 12 years. And if elected president, Mr. Gingrich, like Mr. Reagan, would be 69 when taking the oath of office. (Mr. de Gaulle was 68.) Coincidence? It might seem that way, but I'm guessing he sees something more portentous in the parallels....

If you didn't just fall off the turnip truck, you'd probably encounter a guy like this, with a hyperinflated sense of his own importance, and see him as precisely what he is: a con man, or possibly someone suffering from delusions of grandeur, or both. But Matt Bai takes it very, very seriously.

So do other insiders, especially in news television. And yet Gingrich still has a surprising amount of cred among crazy-base GOP voters who normally loathe anyone the insiders find fascinating. That could well be the combination that wins the nomination. So be (at least a bit) afraid.

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