Burst of Candor

Newt Gingrich Faces Reality, Admits Conservatives Were Out of Touch

Gingrich says conservatives were ‘kidding themselves,’ while Ann Romney blames the press. By Howard Kurtz.

Cliff Owen/AP

Welcome back to reality, Newt.

After passing through the mind-bending distortion field known as the presidential campaign, the former House speaker is acknowledging what most conservatives are loath to admit: that the movement can get trapped in a bubble of its own making.

Others have made the point that constant exposure to the Fox/Rush/Journal editorial-page axis can foster the impression that Barack Obama is a deeply unpopular president imposing his socialist ideas on the American people. But for Newt Gingrich to make that case is an act of candor worth exploring.

Gingrich, after all, is the guy who earned thunderous applause at the debates by ripping everyone from John King to Juan Williams, even Chris Wallace, as media malefactors peddling gotcha questions.

In an interview with Salon—he even talks to liberal websites!—Gingrich offers this assessment of 2012:

“I think conservatives in general got in the habit of talking to themselves. I think that they in a sense got isolated into their own little world. So [did] our pollsters, many of whom were wrong about turnout … You just sort of have to say that to some extent the degree to which we believed that the other side was kidding themselves, it turned out in fact in the real world—this is a part of what makes politics so fascinating—it turned out in the real world we were kidding ourselves.”

That’s a stunning admission. He’s obviously including himself in this indictment, saying he was simply out of touch with objective reality.

Gingrich calls Karl Rove the “final symbol” of this disconnect for arguing with the Fox News decision desk’s election night call on Ohio. That moment, he told Steve Kornacki, “personified a mindset that I was part of and that an amazing number of people were part of.”

That is not to say conservative media outlets and commentators didn’t report valid stories and make important points during the campaign. Many right-leaning pundits weren’t thrilled about Mitt Romney—and some whacked Gingrich as delusional—but most closed ranks behind the Republican nominee.

Thus it was that Romney told Wallace in a Fox interview on Sunday that he headed into Election Day expecting to be elected president. It wasn’t until he saw the exit polls from Florida, which Romney expected to win handily, that he realized he might not be moving to 1600 Pennsylvania.

Keep in mind that when virtually all media polls showed Obama beating Romney in the eight or so key swing states, some conservatives denounced the polls as skewed. That, as Gingrich says, is where they lost touch with reality.

Gingrich is an astute analyst of politics, even though his own campaign was erratic and he couldn’t withstand the scrutiny and attacks after winning South Carolina. Outside the hothouse of that environment, he is making sense—though his is a message that many conservatives may not want to hear.

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Contrast Gingrich’s assessment with what Ann Romney said in that Fox interview on Sunday. She was disarmingly honest, admitting that she’s cried at times since November. And she also said she was frustrated with the campaign for not letting Mitt be Mitt.

But, she added, “I believe it was the media’s fault as well, in that he was not giving—being given a fair shake, that people weren’t allowed to really see him for who he was … I’m happy to blame the media.”

Blaming the media is an easy out, considering her husband’s failure to connect with voters, the blunders that made him appear like an out-of-touch plutocrat, and the campaign’s failure to make the country comfortable with him. Romney, and his top aides, provided so little access to the press that they forfeited a golden opportunity to paint a richer portrait of the candidate. Hey, Mitt even blew off The View.

At times the media did seem to pile on Romney, whether it was pounding him over his Bain Capital days or dredging up incidents from high school. But when the other guy wins 332 electoral votes, it’s hard to argue that the media cost you the election.

If Republicans learn from their mistakes, they have a prime opportunity to rebuild their party for 2016 (although Gingrich, in another flight of candor, says they have no one who can beat Hillary Clinton). But that will take some reality-based therapy of the kind that Newt is now embracing.