05.18.11

Newt Gingrich Presidential Campaign Goes Kaboom

Torpedoing a GOP favorite son's budget plan, racking up a $500,000 debt at Tiffany's, succumbing to a confetti shower—Newt Gingrich has self-immolated in record time. And he's taking his party with him, says Mark McKinnon.

OK, I'll just say it because it's getting pretty obvious. Things are not going so well in GOP presidential land right now. Team Obama has got to be looking on in amused bewilderment.

First the frontrunner, Mike Huckabee, decides to take a pass.

Then Newt Gingrich decides to blow up his own ass and take the party with him.

Gingrich used to be the man Republicans could count on to deftly hurl ideological grenades from the back bench and create an insurgency. Today, he has become a campaign suicide bomber throwing shrapnel, indiscriminately wounding his own people and creating chaos.

As I wrote last week, we all knew that Gingrich would be controversial. Knew he would shake things up. But no one expected him to self-immolate in less than a week.

By attacking the plan of the House Budget Committee's Republican chairman, Paul Ryan, as "right-wing social engineering" that would be "radical change," Gingrich handed Democrats an invaluable weapon against Republicans next year. Now they can say, "Hey, don't take it from us, take it from the former GOP speaker of the House."

And a $500,000 debt to Tiffany's? That's a lot of bling for an old guy who's married (for the third time).

Gingrich is not the change Republicans have been waiting for. He was the change in the early '90s. By 1996, he'd worn out his welcome so much that President Clinton made him the de facto nominee of the GOP—remember all the ads about "Gingrich/Dole"? Elections are about the future, not the past. And Newt is anchored to another era.

We all knew that Gingrich would be controversial. Knew he would shake things up. But no one expected him to self-immolate in less than a week.

Newt is not ready for the new media, or for prime time. First there was the Ryan fiasco. Then he got a brutal beatdown from a GOP foot soldier that was captured on camera and has gone viral. Then confetti was dumped on his head by a protester.

Hall of fame for disastrous political launches.

Somewhere out of the mess a nominee will emerge, and by the time he (or she) takes the convention stage, he will look as if he has a cape and an S on his chest. But for now, it looks like Republicans are surrounded by kryptonite.

As vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton and Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations, and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. He is cofounder of No Labels and co-chair of Arts & Labs.