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.

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Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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