Recalling his late mother, the former House speaker gets emotional -- not the first time he's been brought to tears lately, and hardly out of character.
DES MOINES -- At an Iowa campaign stop Friday morning, Newt Gingrich got all choked up remembering his late mother. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise: The event was emceed by GOP opinion-researcher-cum-stand-up-comedian Frank Luntz, and tearjerking is his M.O.
The event, at a downtown Des Moines coffeehouse, was styled as a focus group of moms, so Luntz asked Gingrich to recall his own mother, who died in 2003.
Gingrich recounted his mother's final days in a long-term care facility, where she battled bipolar disorder, depression and physical ailments. It was that experience, he said, that prompted his interest in long-term care and Alzheimer's disease. As he spoke, a baby in the audience wailed, suggestively perhaps, in the background.
"My whole emphasis on brain science comes indirectly from dealing --" Gingrich paused, winced and waved a hand, pleading, "you've got me all emotional!", then continued -- "dealing with the real problems of real people in my family. And so it's not a theory. It's, in fact, my mother."
Parallels were instantly being drawn to the campaign-trail tears of Hillary Clinton, whose 2008 welling-up was thought to humanize her to voters, and Ed Muskie, whose emotionalism in 1972 helped kill his campaign. But it's worth remembering that Gingrich has hardly been the picture of stoicism up to this point.
At a Thanksgiving forum in Des Moines in November, also moderated by Luntz, Gingrich was one of several candidates who broke down in tears. That time, the trigger was thinking about a friend's baby who was born with a heart defect. Also shedding tears at that event were Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain; Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul managed not to crack.
"I feel like Dr. Phil!" Luntz joked at that earlier event, and it's clear his manipulative lines of questioning -- probing the candidates for the emotional pressure-points of family and faith -- were responsible for the orgy of tears.
Unlike Hillary Clinton, Gingrich doesn't suffer from a too-tough public persona. If anything, it's the opposite -- he's seen as a loose cannon. The momentary front-runner, now fallen to a lowly fifth in Iowa polling, isn't tanking because voters worry he's too buttoned-up. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The candidate who could most use a tearful moment to soften his image as overly controlled and cerebral isn't Gingrich. It's Mitt Romney.
Image credit: Reuters/Jim Young
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Molly Ball is Time magazine’s national political correspondent and a former staff writer at The Atlantic.