I never, ever ever thought this day would come.
I never thought that one day, I would find myself publicly defending the reputation of Ronald Reagan against the likes of Newt Gingrich. But that day having arrived, I will take up my heavy burden and proceed.
As you may have noticed, Gingrich has fallen in love with Donald Trump. This is not an unusual or unexpected event. The former speaker has always had a 13-year-old boy’s romantic view of history, always prone to man-crushes for the latest “Great Man” to appear on the scene. Back in the day, his aides and colleagues refused to let him meet alone with President Bill Clinton, because the besotted Gingrich could so easily fall prey to Clinton’s charms. His lieutenant Dick Armey likened Gingrich to Ado Annie of the musical “Oklahoma,” a character who confesses that she just “cain’t say no” to suitors.
That adolescent, romantic sense of history also extends to a fondness for revolution against the establishment. It doesn’t matter who’s perpetrating the revolution against what establishment, for what reason. All it takes is the idea of some Robespierre sending thousands to the guillotine, overthrowing whatever “ancien regime” that happens to be around, and the 72-year-old Gingrich gets weak in the knees.
Throw in the fact that Trump’s campaign style is the epitome of that advocated by Gingrich for years, and his infatuation with The Donald becomes not just comprehensible but inevitable.
Take a look at this interview with Gingrich at Slate, in which Newt is downright giddy about Trump (h/t Political Insider). It doesn’t matter what policy positions Trump may take, or whether he holds positions in the first place. It doesn’t matter that Trump has no concept of foreign policy, that he dabbles with violence as a political tool, that he is crude and crass in seeking this nation’s highest honor. What matters is that Trump projects strength and authority, attributes that bring out Gingrich at his Ado Annie-est.
But throughout that interview, and in comments elsewhere, Gingrich repeatedly likens Trump to Reagan. Both challenged the establishment, Gingrich says. Both were underdogs in the polls. Both make the left uncomfortable, both are “really big change agents.” “He may do more to break up the Left than any conservative in our lifetime except maybe Reagan,” he happily told Fox News. ¹
I’m no fan of Reagan, but it’s a deeply insulting comparison.
Reagan, unlike Trump, knew what he wanted to accomplish as a politician and president. Like it or not — I did not — he had a policy agenda, and it extended beyond mere personal self-aggrandizement. Reagan respected the system, he respected the office of president and he respected his opponents. Reagan would never — in public or private — have bragged about the size of his sex organs or belittled women. He rarely stooped to childish taunts and personal insults. And despite the later mythologizing, Reagan was an incrementalist, a fact that at the time infuriated Gingrich.
Again, it’s hard to believe that I find myself writing this. But if Donald Trump is the modern equivalent of Ronald Reagan, as Gingrich would have us believe, then the collapse of our political culture over the past 35 years is more complete than I imagined.
¹In reality, Trump is breaking up the right, not the left, another indication that love as deep as that of Gingrich is truly blinding.