Why I Secretly Root for Newt

Are members of the "elite liberal media," as Newt Gingrich would put it, secretly rooting for him? That's the claim of New York Magazine's John Heilemann. And, says Heilemann, this covert sympathy for Newt "may turn out to be a crucial asset--especially if, as seems likely, he falls short in the Florida primary and is forced into survival mode."

It isn't that many journalists actually want Newt to be president, says Heilemann. Some just want the horse race to continue, since they are, after all, in the horse race covering business. For others, there's something fascinating about the spectacle of Newt, and their lives would be poorer without it.

I have to admit that I fall into the latter camp. The horror I feel when I imagine Newt assuming a position of responsibility can give way to melancholia if I contemplate the prospect of life without the feisty, aging smurf. Here are some things I'll miss should anyone ever succeed in driving a stake through Gingrich's heart:

1) The bizarre hyperbole. In his famous dressing down of John King, Newt said that the media's focus on his previous wife's testimony about his character was "as close to despicable as anything I can imagine." Anything you can imagine? Come on, Newt, think harder. Jeffrey Dahmer? The Jonestown Massacre? Stop me when I get to something closer to despicable than John King.

2) The vision thing. The first President Bush was derided for lacking "the vision thing." With Newt that's not a problem. My favorite part of his visionary mode is the part where he... just... keeps... going. Take the space colony thing. It's not crazy, if you're trying to win the Florida primary, to say that you'll increase spending for NASA. I don't even think it's necessarily ill-advised to set as your eventual goal a continuously inhabited base on the moon. And I suppose, if you want, you could call this base a "colony". But at that point you're at the outer limits of the vision an aspiring president should evince. Newt boldly goes where no aspiring president has gone before. He has pledged that as president he would support something that he (who else?) dreamed up as a congressman: "the northwest ordinance for space," which says that, once you have 13,000 Americans on the moon, the moon can apply for statehood.

The problem isn't the conundrums this would raise. (With one senator per 6,500 moon residents, would lunar interests be overrepresented in Congress? Or might this effect be partly offset by the difficulty senators would have flying home to take the pulse of their constituents on three-day weekends?) The problem, rather, is that this sounds like a crazy person talking!

What's not to like?

3) The instinct for the jugular. Newt's ruthlessness might bother me if he were running against a Democratic presidential candidate. But that doesn't seem to be in the cards. So I can just watch with bemusement as he besmirches Mitt Romney's good name. Some people have criticized Sheldon Adelson, the sugardaddy Casino magnate who bankrolled Newt's South Carolina and Florida media campaigns. (Oops! I mean, "who donated to a SuperPac not affiliated with Newt Gingrich.") But my hat's off to any Republican who will spend several million dollars trying to drive up the unfavorables of the inevitable Republican nominee--and in a swing state, no less!

Godspeed, Newt Gingrich.

Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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