Following a brief hiatus for a failed presidential campaign/book tour, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is returning to the world of political punditry. Starting tonight, Gingrich will serve as one of the hosts on CNN's resurrected Crossfire.
As reported by The New York Times in August, installing Gingrich as part of a Crossfire reboot was “one of the first ideas that Jeff Zucker floated on becoming president of CNN Worldwide in January,” according to Sam Feist, CNN's Washington bureau chief.
The Timesprofile documents how Crossfire was scrapped in 2004 a few months after Jon Stewart appeared on the show and accused the hosts of being “partisan hacks” that were “hurting America.”
According to Gingrich, the show fell apart because “it became more of a talking-points yelling match between people who thought the job was to be smarmy.”
Though Gingrich has a reputation as being one of the big minds of the Republican Party -- the Times quotes Zucker praising Gingrich as “an incredibly smart, intellectual thinker” -- he has a long history of outlandish rhetoric more befitting a radio shock jock than a wonky intellectual.
Here's a short look back at some of Gingrich's lowlights as a pundit and political figure, and the type of commentary CNN viewers can probably expect with Newt on Crossfire:
Gays, fascists, and gay fascists
Gingrich has been invoking Nazis and fascism to attack his political opponents for more than three decades.
During a characteristic appearance on Fox News Sunday in 2010, Gingrich was asked by Chris Wallace about a line in his 2010 book, in which he claimed “the secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.” Wallace asked the former Speaker if his words were “wildly over the top,” to which Gingrich responded, “no.” According to Gingrich, Obama and progressives -- while not comparable as a “moral force” -- nonetheless pose as big a threat to “our way of life” as the Nazis, “Mao's China or the Soviet Union.”
In an email to Politico about the exchange, Gingrich defended his comparison and expressed surprise at “how much people are distorting what I wrote,” offering that he was not trying to compare “Obama, Pelosi and Reid to Nazi Germany or to Soviet Russia.” Instead, Gingrich was merely trying to explain that the two “mortal threats to the survival of America” right now are “radical Islam and secular socialism.” (The next year, Gingrich warned of America turning into a “secular atheist country” that would possibly be “dominated by radical Islamists.” )
On Fox News' Hannity & Colmes in 2006, Gingrich argued with co-host Alan Colmes over comments former Defense Secretary Donald Rumseld had made about critics of the Iraq War. In Gingrich's estimation, it was “not an insulting comment” to compare critics of the Bush administration to “those who enabled Hitler.”
Gingrich's political career also featured a steady stream of comparing his opponents to Nazi appeasers. In the 1980s, Gingrich reportedly remarked of the Democrats' foreign policy stance: “Adolph Hitler must somewhere be burning in hell, wishing he had lived two generations later, so he could manipulate Americans instead of Englishmen.” Gingrich also repeatedly compared Democratic leaders to Neville Chamberlain.
Gingrich is apparently haunted by the idea that fascism is lurking beneath several progressive movements. In what is perhaps the most absurd comment in a career full of them, Gingrich appeared on The O'Reilly Factor in 2008 to inveigh against what he sees as the “gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us.”
O'REILLY: OK, now, the culture war. I know you've been flying around the country, and you're doing stuff. In the last three or four days, this is really nasty stuff. I mean, you know, hyper -- we're gonna show you some of the video. A woman getting a cross smashed out of her hand. We had a church in Michigan invaded by gay activists. We're gonna show you the video on Monday of that -- we have exclusively. We had a guy in Sacramento fired from his job. We had boycotts called on restaurants.
I mean, it is getting out of control, very few days after the election. How do you assess that?
GINGRICH: Look, I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it. I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion. And I think if you believe in historic Christianity, you have to confront the fact. And, frank -- for that matter, if you believe in the historic version of Islam or the historic version of Judaism, you have to confront the reality that these secular extremists are determined to impose on you acceptance of a series of values that are antithetical, they're the opposite, of what you're taught in Sunday school. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 11/14/08]
“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?”
Gingrich's attacks on progressives and Democratic politicians certainly aren't limited to suggesting they are similar to fascists. In 1978, he reportedly told a group of college Republicans, “I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican party is that we don't encourage you to be nasty.” Gingrich has certainly never had that problem.
His excessive partisanship is perhaps best encapsulated in comments he made during an interview with the Associated Press in 1994 shortly before that year's midterm elections. Gingrich used the horrifying story of Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother who was convicted of drowning her children, as a way to encourage people to vote for Republicans. According to Gingrich, the story was a reminder of “how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things” and “vote Republican.” From the Associated Press:
During an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday, Gingrich was asked how the campaign was going in the final week.
“Slightly more moving our way,” he replied. "I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things.
“How a mother can kill her two children, 14 months and 3 years, in hopes that her boyfriend would like her, is just a sign of how sick the system is and I think people want to change. The only way you get change is to vote Republican. That's the message for the last three days.”
More recently, Gingrich labeled Obama the “most radical president in American history” and the “food stamp president,” and claimed his administration is trying to bring about the “end of America as it has been for the last 400 years.”
Back in 2010, conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza released his book, The Roots of Obama's Rage, which had as its central theory that Obama's actions can be explained most neatly by the “anti-colonial” ideology he supposedly inherited from his Kenyan father.
D'Souza's “anti-colonial” theory -- and the book supporting it -- was utter nonsense, but that didn't stop the usual blowhards from wielding it as a groundbreaking insight into Obama's psyche.
Gingrich reportedly endorsed D'Souza's outlandish theory about Obama in a 2010 interview with National Review, praising it as the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.” Despite Obama's sinister attempts to seem “normal” and “moderate,” Gingrich explained that the president was likely secretly motivated by a “Kenyan anti-colonial” worldview, which serves as the “most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”
In addition to promoting the ridiculous “anti-colonial” theory, Gingrich has made other racially charged comments in his career, including accusing Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor of being a “racist” -- a contention he later walked back.
In 2007, Gingrich gave a speech to the National Federation of Republican Women and derided bilingual education classes as promoting “the language of living in a ghetto.” From the Associated Press:
“The American people believe English should be the official language of the government. . . . We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto,” Gingrich said, drawing cheers from the crowd of more than 100.
Gingrich's career in media and politics marred by dubious ethical practices
Gingrich has paired his years of overheated rhetoric with dubious ethical practices.
In 1997, Newt Gingrich became the first Speaker to be reprimanded by the House of Representatives in its then-208-year history. The reprimand came in connection with the use of tax-deductible charitable contributions for political purposes regarding the financing of a college course he taught, and false information Gingrich had provided to the House Ethics Committee when they investigated the case. By a bipartisan vote of 395 to 28, the House found that Gingrich had violated ethics rules and demanded that he pay a $300,000 penalty.
During his employment at Fox, Gingrich used his platform at the network to promote his various political groups. The groups also got money from major special interests, including the fossil fuel industry and health insurance groups. Gingrich would then go on Fox and push the interests of these donors, railing against things like the public option, health care reform, and cap and trade.
While he was at Fox, Gingrich was happy to use the exposure to boost his political prospects, eventually having his contract suspended (and then terminated) by the network when he ran for president. CNN told Media Matters in an interview that Gingrich is allowed to continue working with his PACs -- which are working to retire his campaign debt and help elect Republicans -- as long as he discloses any conflict of interest.