He's confrontational, volatile, and self-aggrandizing -- but those aren't the only reasons his former colleagues fear him becoming leader of the free world.
There is a serious debate among those who know Newt Gingrich well, particularly those who served with him in Congress and watched him not for the duration of a debate or speech but for hours at a time, day after day, year after year. On the one hand, there are those who fear for the country if he were ever to become president. That assessment seems a little extreme to others: they express no fear for the country because they believe (wrongly, I think) that he has no chance of becoming president. What they fear instead is the destruction of the Republican Party. The fact that those who know him best fear him the most makes it imperative to try to understand what a Gingrich nomination -- or presidency -- would mean, and to better understand who, exactly, this person is.
To this point, almost all of assessments of the Gingrich candidacy have been focused on the immediate campaign (for the Republican nomination) and the prospective campaign (the subsequent contest against Barack Obama). Those evaluations concern themselves with debate technique, ability to exploit weakness, and likeability. But this is not a sporting event, it is about who will serve as the next president of the United States. I acknowledge that I have frequently observed that the American presidency is a relatively constrained executive position, with most of the nation's ultimate powers residing with the peoples' representatives in the House and Senate. But the presidency is not a minor governmental position; whoever holds that office has some ability to do good and a frighteningly large ability to do harm. Which is why we should be assessing the campaign for the Republican nomination not in terms of who can be nastiest in a head-to-head showdown with Obama, but who can be wise, constrained, and strategic in dealing with the French, the Germans, the Chinese, the Brazilians, and the North Koreans. Newt Gingrich is not half as smart as he thinks he is, nor as he has persuaded easily-conned journalists and primary voters he is (more on that in a moment). But smart or not, nobody has ever accused him of either wisdom or constraint. This campaign is not just about 'taking it to Obama'; the current administration has not been a great success on any front and there is more than one Republican in the field who could ensure that the Obama presidency does not extend beyond the current term. The issue is not who would be most aggressive on the stump but to whom we should entrust America's future, America's prosperity, and America's safety. I am not associated with any campaign but of the choices available to us, the worst -- and that is saying something -- is Newt Gingrich.