Marc Lewyn
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
January 3, 2012 - 1:00am

Newt Gingrich for president? My gut reaction is that he so weighed down by personal baggage that his candidacy will ultimately evaporate. Recent trends in Iowa and New Hampshire suggest that Newt’s campaign is losing steam. On the other hand, he is a remarkably resilient politician, and candidates who lose early primaries often bounce back to win their parties’ nomination.

So would President Gingrich be good for the Jews? Does he have the right temperament to help address the intractable problems the State of Israel faces? My personal experience with the former Georgia congressman may offer a clue, albeit a dated one. Gingrich was largely responsible for me getting my first job, and he helped me in a decisive and forceful way that that gives me confidence. On the other hand, he helped me with such limited information that I worry that his decision making process lacks substance, and is based more on intuition than information.

In 1981, when I was fresh out of the University of Virginia, I went to Capitol Hill seeking a job as a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution. Like all good soldiers I persevered in the face of adversity, but after having probably 200 congressional doors slammed in my face, my resolve wavered. My friends wanted me off their couch, and my daily ration of $1.25 egg salad sandwiches from the US Senate cafeteria increasingly tasted like sawdust.

Enter Newt Gingrich. Having made friends with the staffers in his office early in my trek through Congress (I and they had both grown up in Atlanta), I decamped there frequently to lick my wounds and share my stories with sympathetic Georgia ears. After a particularly galling rejection (I was a finalist for a typing job for a New York congressman but lost out to a dazzling young woman), I stormed back to Gingrich’s office to vent.

As I shared my story, nearly the whole office emerged from their cubicles to commiserate. I suddenly felt a hulking presence behind me, tapping me on the shoulder, demanding to know who I was and why was I distracting his team from the taxpayer’s business.

I blurted out something about being a constituent, and in short order Gingrich ushered me into his office, cross-examined me about tax reform, abortion rights, gun control, capital punishment and foreign policy. Having passed the ideological litmus test, he picked up the phone, called his friend Senator Paula Hawkins, and voila – I was employed as a legislative correspondent for Senator Hawkins!

Now, I am all for instinctual decisions based on limited information, especially when they pull me off the icy breadlines of a Washington, DC, winter and into a warm office with a paycheck. I have often wondered, however, whether our 20-minute interaction should have been enough for a congressman to risk his reputation in a nobody.

All of which brings us to Gingrich’s fitness for the presidency and the related question of his alignment with the State of Israel. At the risk of being ungrateful for the kindness he showed me many years ago, I suggest that both my personal experience and his recent statements are consistent with the observation that he operates more from the gut than from a place of careful thought.

Take his recent statement that the Palestinians are an “invented people.” While this statement has obvious emotional appeal to Jewish voters and Christian Zionists (and may in some sense be accurate), Gingrich’s remark seems to me to be an unnecessary exercise in pandering to a large segment of the American public. Merely repeating the Republican mantra of unwavering support for Israel would have sufficed to show his pro-Israel bona fides. Instead, Gingrich staked out a politically extreme position which may create future barriers in dealing with the Arab world should he win.

In addition to a history of erratic statements, Gingrich has a record of erratic actions.

His history of brinksmanship is what endears him to his supporters. In 1995, as speaker of the House of Representatives, he presided over the literal shutdown of the government. This behavior set a dreadful precedent; in 2011, Republican Congressmen seeking to follow Gingrich’s path refused for weeks to raise the debt ceiling, almost causing the US government to default on its financial obligations.

Shortly after the debt ceiling crisis was resolved, Standard & Poor’s (a leading credit rating agency) downgraded the United States government’s credit rating because “the effectiveness, stability and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenge.”

I worry that this kind of confrontation is not going to serve Gingrich well in the fluid and violent environment of the Middle East. Principle is one thing, effective politics is another.

The reason for these behaviors might have something to do with Gingrich’s inflated sense of his place in history. For example, in 1994 he told a journalist: “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.”

And in notes unearthed during the 1997 House investigation of Gingrich’s business activities, he wrote; “Gingrich – primary mission: advocate of civilization, definer of civilization, teacher of the rules of civilization, arouser of those who fan civilization, organizer of the pro-civilization activists, leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces.”

These examples are particularly interesting in light of the Torah’s description of Moses (Numbers 12:3): “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” Can a politician as apparently unhumble as Newt be an effective leader?

Of course, none of this directly relates to whether a Gingrich administration would be any more or less pro-Israel than a Romney administration or a Santorum administration. In all probability, on the issues dividing the world today, a President Gingrich, like a President Romney, would take a strongly pro-Israel position. But what about the issues we don’t see coming, or the issues that cannot be divided into a simple “pro-Israel vs anti-Israel” categorization? On these issues, it matters more whether a voter trusts a candidate’s judgment.

These are the questions of judgment that are open questions for would-be supporters of Newt Gingrich.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017