April 30 (Bloomberg) — Newt Gingrich never saw it ending this way. The former House speaker, who has long thought of himself as a historic figure, envisioned he would be the candidate of innovative “big ideas” and the agenda-setter for the 2012 U.S. election.
This either would catapult him to the White House or ensure a consolation prize: a vice presidential nomination or secretary of State appointment in a Republican administration. In the worst case, he would be a genuine senior statesman in his party.
Instead, as he all-but-officially dropped out of the race last week, Gingrich is seen as a candidate who trafficked in flakey ideas, incendiary rhetoric and fiscal irresponsibility — with a campaign going nowhere and deeply in debt as he traveled on expensive private jets. He has become a favorite punch line for the late-night television satirists Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and David Letterman.
Unsuccessful presidential candidates can leave political footprints: Rick Santorum this year, Ronald Reagan in 1976 and, in retrospect, Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney four years ago.
Gingrich isn’t going to join that crowd. His self-styled big ideas didn’t catch on, politically or substantively. Instead, he gave critics and comedians an arsenal of ammunition.
The thrice-married, ethically sanctioned Gingrich presented his candidacy as the moral crusade necessary to save America. Without him, our grandchildren were in danger of growing up in a “secular, atheist country” that would be “dominated by radical Islamists.” For Gingrich, those aren’t contradictory.
Some of his big ideas were recycled conservative Republican orthodoxy: slash taxes, eliminate the estate tax and the levies on capital gains paid chiefly by the wealthy.
Others were novel. In Florida, he vowed to build a colony on the moon by the end of his presidency. This, he said, was analogous to John F. Kennedy’s pledge in 1961 to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade.
On the judiciary, he called for eliminating courts that he said were engaged in “radically anti-American” decisions; if necessary, he would send federal marshals and U.S. Capitol police to arrest these radical judges. Former Republican U.S. attorneys general and some leading conservative legal scholars expressed alarm.
He took a pro-gun position to a new level, even managing to suggest that battery-powered cars like the Chevrolet Volt posed a threat to the Second Amendment. “You can’t put a gun rack in a Volt,” he told his fellow Georgians. “We believe in the right to bear arms and we like to bear the arms in our trucks.” Two weeks ago, he vowed that “a Gingrich presidency will submit to the UN a treaty that extends the right to bear arms as a human right to every person on the planet.”
He was the first to seize on rising gasoline prices as a political issue. No one was going to out-promise him: Gingrich pledged to cut gas prices by about 50 percent, to $2.50 a gallon, during his administration, without really saying how.
He offered Iowans a solution for rooting out illegal immigrants: “We send a package to every person who is here illegally,” he explained. “When it’s delivered, we pull it up, we know exactly where they are, it’s on the computer.”
He didn’t shy away from foreign policy. On the Middle East, he declared that the Palestinians were an “invented people.” He was against involvement in Libya before he was for it.