Republican voters see the former House speaker as an attractive alternative to the little-loved front-runner. But is Newt any more conservative than his rival?
The Republican primary voters who continue to cast about for a presidential nominee not named Mitt Romney have lately alit on Newt Gingrich as their newest infatuation. Gingrich has plenty of appealing qualities, chief among them that he's entertaining. But why, exactly, should conservatives prefer him to Romney?
Going down the list of conservative objections to Romney, every one applies equally, if not more so, to Gingrich.
* Support for health-care mandates: Romney's embrace in his Massachusetts health-care reform of a requirement that individuals buy health insurance, which he's refused to repudiate, is his scarlet letter for many on the right; he says he opposes mandates at the federal level but that the provision was right for Massachusetts and promotes personal responsibility.
Gingrich, for his part, has long been a vigorous supporter of mandates -- from the 1990s, when many conservatives championed the idea in opposition to Hillary Clinton's health-reform proposal, to as recently as 2008, when he wrote in his book Real Change: "We should insist that everyone above a certain level buy coverage (or, if they are opposed to insurance, post a bond). Meanwhile, we should provide tax credits or subsidize private insurance for the poor." In a 2007 Des Moines Register op-ed, Gingrich specifically used the dreaded words "individual mandate," saying, "Personal responsibility extends to the purchase of health insurance."
It's not clear when Gingrich's position changed to his current vehement rejection of mandates. As recently as May he was speaking favorably about "some requirement you either have health insurance or you post a bond" -- comments that were followed by a hasty retreat the next day: "I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and, I believe, unconstitutional." In making that statement, Gingrich didn't explain the dissonance with what he'd said the day before.
* Squishy on abortion: Romney's conversion (or flip-flop, depending on your point of view) from pro-choice as a Massachusetts politician to pro-life as a national one is well known. Gingrich has never been vociferously pro-choice, and, unlike Romney, he has now signed the pro-life pledge proffered by the Susan B. Anthony List, which asks candidates to promote anti-abortion legislation, make pro-life appointments and cut off federal funds for abortion providers.
But -- as social-conservative purists like Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann have lately been pointing out -- in his days as the leader of a resurgent House GOP, Gingrich advocated a big tent. In 1990, for example, he said that rather than being strict abortion prohibitionists, the Republican Party ought to "be the party that on balance prefers the fewest abortions possible." He supported some taxpayer funding of abortion, a stance that his campaign now says he has reversed.
* Squishy on immigration: In the last debate, Gingrich made an emotional argument in favor of some sort of legalization process for some illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S., particularly those brought to the country as children. The resulting dust-up revealed that Romney's stance, beneath his many evasions, isn't materially different: He'd rather talk about securing the border, he doesn't want lawbreakers to get special treatment, but he also is not in favor of mass deportation. In 2006, he told Bloomberg that he would not have illegal immigrants "rounded up and box-carred out."
If immigration hawks are looking for a candidate who'll take a tougher stance than Romney, though, Gingrich's line in the debate showed he's not their man. "I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, 'Let's be humane in enforcing the law, without giving them citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families,'" he said.
* Generally squishy -- a flip-flopper: This is the main knock on Romney, from left and right alike -- that he changes his positions based on political expediency. While few politicians with long careers have been absolutely consistent, Gingrich has an especially rich history of reversing himself when something he said proved to be unpopular.
To take just a couple of recent examples, in 2008, when being "green" was fashionable, Gingrich recorded a television commercial for an Al Gore project in which he sat on a loveseat with Nancy Pelosi and declared, "We do agree our country must take action to address climate change." Now that he's running in a GOP primary that's hostile to environmental regulation, he's skeptical that anything needs to be done.
Earlier this year, when the Obama administration hadn't taken action on the violence breaking out in Libya, Gingrich called for immediate imposition of a no-fly zone. When the administration took his advice, though, he was against it: "I would not have intervened," he said. As one of his critics noted at the time, it was hard to see this swift reversal as anything other than blind partisanship -- knee-jerk opposition to Obama's stance, regardless of its policy merits.
Gingrich has basically admitted this was the reason for his reversal on health-care mandates: In the 1990s, he told the New Hampshire Union Leader, the individual mandate "was designed to block Hillarycare." Yet Gingrich maintains that Romney's flip-flops are objectionable because they were for political reasons, while his have been authentic changes of heart: "I wouldn't switch my positions for political reasons," he said recently. "It's perfectly reasonable to change your position if ... you see new things you didn't see."
* Not all that conservative, deep down: Many conservatives suspect that no matter how many conservative positions Romney espouses, deep in his heart he's just not one of them. It's a sense based on his record, his current policy proposals (such as an economic plan that gives suspicious emphasis to relief for the middle class), and his general tone and temperament. But Gingrich's record is hardly that of a right-wing crusader.
The 1994 takeover of the House Gingrich engineered was an enormous victory for the Republican Party, one for which Gingrich is still justly revered in GOP ranks. But he didn't do it by enforcing conservatism -- he couldn't have. Much of the "Contract With America" -- which was, after all, designed to appeal to swing voters -- was technocratic. For the landmark achievements he still touts, welfare reform and balancing the budget, Gingrich worked arm in arm -- and compromised -- with Bill Clinton.
This year, shortly after launching his candidacy, Gingrich didn't win many Republican friends when he blasted the House Republican budget proposal drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as "right-wing social engineering." As Ryan said at the time, "With allies like that, who needs the left?" Gingrich quickly repented and now says, "Paul Ryan came up with some very good ideas." But there's ample reason to question the true colors of a politician who, early in his career, was a state chairman for the presidential campaign of Nelson Rockefeller -- the emblem of liberal Republicanism that sought to halt the rise of conservatives like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. In a 1989 interview, Gingrich called this "the classic moderate wing of the party," and said it was where he had "spent most of my life."
So why are the anti-Romney conservatives flocking to Gingrich? In conversations with Republicans -- some Gingrich backers, some not -- about why he's more appealing than Romney, most acknowledge it basically comes down to style. Gingrich's tone is that of an angry crusader, unlike Romney's placid assurance. And because Gingrich has such a penchant to say whatever comes into his head, his inconsistencies tend to get chalked up to a lack of discipline rather than cold calculation.
As the Daily Caller's Matt Lewis put it:
Gingrich and Romney couldn't be more different. Gingrich questions authority, challenges conventional wisdom, and disputes premises. He also has fun. He is winsome. He can be undisciplined. He enjoys politics, and seems to gain energy from engaging in the battles. Romney, on the other hand, is a consummate "adult." He is highly disciplined. He plays by the rules, accepts reality as it is, and then -- within those confines -- sets about fixing things as best he can.
It's also true that if Gingrich and Romney really are so similar on paper, voters might as well pick Gingrich. Perhaps that's why Romney's camp sees Gingrich as a threat and will seek to highlight the former speaker's personal baggage.
But as Gingrich's current surge enters the closer-inspection phase, many conservatives may discover their infatuation with him is based on equal parts bluster and mythology. In the words of conservative guru Erick Erickson, the RedState.com founder: "The conservative warrior people tend to think Gingrich is, often is not."
A series of damaging stories about the president's methods of consoling grieving Gold Star families represent the president’s latest entirely self-inflicted wound.
The question to President Trump on Monday sounded relatively innocuous: “Why haven't we heard anything from you so far about the soldiers that were killed in Niger? And what do you have to say about that?” It’s certainly not the kind of question that seemed likely to set off several days of heated controversy.
But the hubbub that has ensued, centering on Trump’s response to the deaths of four soldiers in Niger and, more broadly, the way he deals with grieving military families, is yet another example of how this president inflicts crises on himself. This pattern has happened several times since Trump entered office, with the tussle over the size of his crowd on Inauguration Day and his claim that Barack Obama “wiretapped him.” In each case, Trump’s bluster and his seeming obsession with Obama have led him to commit serious unforced errors.
In the media world, as in so many other realms, there is a sharp discontinuity in the timeline: before the 2016 election, and after.
Things we thought we understood—narratives, data, software, news events—have had to be reinterpreted in light of Donald Trump’s surprising win as well as the continuing questions about the role that misinformation and disinformation played in his election.
Tech journalists covering Facebook had a duty to cover what was happening before, during, and after the election. Reporters tried to see past their often liberal political orientations and the unprecedented actions of Donald Trump to see how 2016 was playing out on the internet. Every component of the chaotic digital campaign has been reported on, here at The Atlantic, and elsewhere: Facebook’s enormous distribution power for political information, rapacious partisanship reinforced by distinct media information spheres, the increasing scourge of “viral” hoaxes and other kinds of misinformation that could propagate through those networks, and the Russian information ops agency.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
The staggering scope of the country’s infrastructure initiative—and what it means for the international order
The Pakistani town of Gwadar was until recently filled with the dust-colored cinderblock houses of about 50,000 fishermen. Ringed by cliffs, desert, and the Arabian Sea, it was at the forgotten edge of the earth. Now it’s one centerpiece of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, and the town has transformed as a result. Gwadar is experiencing a storm of construction: a brand-new container port, new hotels, and 1,800 miles of superhighway and high-speed railway to connect it to China’s landlocked western provinces. China and Pakistan aspire to turn Gwadar into a new Dubai, making it a city that will ultimately house 2 million people.
China is quickly growing into the world’s most extensive commercial empire. By way of comparison, after World War II, the Marshall Plan provided the equivalent of $800 billion in reconstruction funds to Europe (if calculated as a percentage of today’s GDP). In the decades after the war the United States was also the world’s largest trading nation, and its largest bilateral lender to others.
A small group of programmers wants to change how we code—before catastrophe strikes.
There were six hours during the night of April 10, 2014, when the entire population of Washington State had no 911 service. People who called for help got a busy signal. One Seattle woman dialed 911 at least 37 times while a stranger was trying to break into her house. When he finally crawled into her living room through a window, she picked up a kitchen knife. The man fled.
The 911 outage, at the time the largest ever reported, was traced to software running on a server in Englewood, Colorado. Operated by a systems provider named Intrado, the server kept a running counter of how many calls it had routed to 911 dispatchers around the country. Intrado programmers had set a threshold for how high the counter could go. They picked a number in the millions.
For decades a respected but somewhat eccentric figure even within the jazz scene, the pianist and composer is at the peak of his influence as he reaches his centennial this month.
The peak of Thelonious Monk’s fame came in 1964, in his 47th year, when his painted portrait—dourly glowering or shyly guarded, depending on the beholder—improbably graced the cover of Time magazine.
Though widely respected by musicians, the pianist and composer had always remained an outlier even in the jazz world, set apart by his singular musical vision as well as his eccentricity, yet his Time cover seemed to represent his ascension to the heights of American culture as a whole.
When the cover was slated to run in November 1963, the nation’s No. 1 hit was the old standard “Deep Purple,” and jazz still seemed dominant. But after John Kennedy was shot, Time bumped Monk. By the time the story ran in February1964, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had begun a dominant run as the Beatles’ first No. 1 in the United States. Jazz was over as a mainstream force in American culture and so, arguably, was Monk. From then until his death at just 64, in 1982, he struggled increasingly with ailments physical and mental, stopped writing new music, experienced increasing critical disdain, and finally disappeared from view for nearly a decade.
A new study shows that families act on insufficient information when it comes to figuring out where to enroll their children.
A person trying to choose their next set of wheels might see that car A made it farther than car B in a road test and assume it gets better gas mileage. But that’s only true if the two tanks are filled with the same substance. Putting high-octane gas in one and water in the other, for example, provides little useful information about which car makes the most of its fuel. A new working paper titled “Do Parents Value School Effectiveness?” suggests that parents similarly opt for schools with the most impressive graduates rather than figuring out which ones actually teach best. The study joins a body of research looking critically at what it means for a school to be successful.
Take the work of Erin Pahlke, for example. The assistant professor of psychology at Whitman College saw research showing that girls who attend school only with other girls tend to do better in math and science. The trick, she said, is that those studies didn’t analyze “differences in the students coming into the schools.” As it turns out, those who end up in same-sex schools tend to be wealthier, start out with more skills, and have parents who are more proactive than students who attend co-ed institutions. In a 2014 meta-analysis, Pahlke and her colleagues reviewed the studies and found when examining schools with the same type of students and same level of resources—rather than “comparing [those at] the public co-ed school to [their counterparts at] the fancy private school that’s single-sex down the road”—there isn’t any difference in how the students perform academically. Single-sex schooling also hasn’t been shown to offer a bump in girls’ attitudes toward math and science or change how they think about themselves. In other words, it often looks like single-sex schools are doing a better job educating kids, but they aren't. It's just that their graduates are people who were going to do well at any school. They’re running on high-octane gas.
The nation’s current post-truth moment is the ultimate expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional throughout its history.
When did America become untethered from reality?
I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books.
Despite claiming he was better at consoling the families of slain servicemembers than his predecessors, Trump offended the family of La David Johnson and skipped calls and letters to other grieving loved ones.
Thirteen days after Sergeant La David Johnson was killed in Niger, and a day after Donald Trump boasted about his actions to console grieving families in contrast to his predecessors, the president called Johnson’s family Tuesday night.
It didn’t go well.
Representative Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat, was with widow Myeshia Johnson when Trump called. “She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part,” Wilson told MSNBC.
“He said, ‘Well, I guess you knew’—something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.”
By lavishing infrastructure dollars on illiberal governments, Beijing is supplanting American soft power.
Along a major tributary of the Mekong River in northeastern Cambodia sits the newly opened Lower Sesan II Dam hydropower plant. The 400-megawatt dam will produce badly needed electricity for the country, but at the cost of potential major ecological damage and the eviction of some 5,000 families from the area. Such consequences are unlikely to sink the fortunes of Hun Sen, Cambodia’s strongman leader who, for 32 years, has relied on the largesse of foreign governments to fund infrastructure projects: For this latest venture, he has China to thank for footing the more than $800-million bill.
In the past, Southeast Asian nations largely turned to the United States and its Western partners to finance such undertakings; in exchange, several of them would maintain the trappings of a democratic society. But under President Donald Trump, America’s waning regional influence is opening the door for China to expand its footprint in the region, even if that means Beijing must deal with illiberal, repressive autocrats seemingly determined to remain in power forever. “I believe I can live at least 30 more years, therefore I can continue as prime minister for 10 more years. It is not difficult for me,” the 65-year-old Hun Sen remarked at the inaugurationfor the dam last month.