The Real Newt Gingrich: 5 Things Georgians Know That the Rest of Us Should
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Newt Gingrich’s meteoric rise and fall in the 2012 GOP presidential nominating contest is not just the turning point in his latest political quest. It is a reflection of his volatile political personality, which is well known to Georgians and others who have watched him for years.
There are five things that those of us who have weathered Gingrich’s triumphs and travails know very well that others are still learning, starting with our expectation that Gingrich—despite losing in Florida—will not consider stepping aside, but would rather go down in flames all the way to the doorstep of the Republican convention.
Here are snapshots of what more there is to know about Newton Leroy Gingrich, a complex, driven, mercurial man who was born to a teenage mother and adopted in infancy by a stepfather who was a career soldier.
1. Never Is Not in Newt’s Political Vocabulary
Gingrich vows to remain in the fight for the nomination until the GOP Convention this August in Tampa. How can that be? Like a character in a gothic novel who sees a path to salvation, Newt believes politicians who stay on their feet can eventually win.
Insiders say he’s really counting on a big boost on Super Tuesday, March 6, when some key Southern states vote: Georgia and Tennessee. Gingrich may also do well in the Texas primary, April 3. In fact, Martin Baker, the candidate’s national political director, sent out an email the other day, citing these upcoming state contests and saying they give Gingrich “a distinct advantage” over his Republican rivals.
More reasonable assessments of his chances of securing the GOP nomination posit his momentum (if there is any left) will now stall because the next big contests are in late February, and he may not have enough money or grassroots support to survive. However, Gingrich's greatest asset is one Romney’s allies cannot silence, even with millions of dollars of negative television ads: his prowess in debates.
2. A Lifetime Spent Tuning the Art of Arguing
Gingrich rose from the campaign ashes last autumn, largely because of what many call his superb performances in those endless candidate debates. He actually honed that skill decades ago when he was a faculty member at West Georgia College (now the University of West Georgia), teaching history and geography. When Gingrich decided to run for Congress, he approached the head of the college debate team and asked if he and the students could help him to improve his debating skills.
Chester Gibson, the now-retired coach and communications professor, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the debate team spent countless hours videotaping Gingrich debating issues. Why not? The tiny titans on the debate team from rural West Georgia had qualified for national debate tournaments for 30 straight years, facing off with prestigious schools from the Ivy League and elsewhere. It didn’t help Gingrich at first because he lost his congressional races in 1974 and 1976. But he did win in 1978 and ultimately served 10 terms in the House.
Gingrich learned to pick a fight at West Georgia, Gibson told the AJC. “You do not want to engage Newt in a series of caustic barbs. He will get the best of you every time.”
3. The Dawn of Newtspeak
Gingrich did not come out of the 1960s throwing his war medals over the White House fence like future Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry; he entered public life as a verbal bomb thrower. He not only perfected the us-versus-them mentality that is uniquely resonant in Southern politics—due to the South’s racial strife—but perfected using phrases and accusations filled with dark innuendos and overtones.
The tough talk began decades ago. In his first two losing campaigns for the House, he hurled take-no-prisoner epithets at his opponents, calling them corrupt and incompetent and saying one of them disgraced every Georgian he might represent. Newtspeak was born and refined over the years. And he did not confine his negative comments to immediate opponents. Gingrich famously called Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, “nuts.”