October 4, 2007
Ah Newtie, We Hardly Knew Ye
By GAIL COLLINS
Newt Gingrich isn’t running!
The former House speaker, who once shut down the federal government
because Bill Clinton gave him a bad seat on Air Force One, has decided
that his extremely promising candidacy for the Republican presidential
nomination will have to be nipped in the bud due to the tyranny of
campaign finance reform.
“The McCain-Feingold Act criminalizes politics,” he growled to George
Stephanopoulos, launching into an explanation about how the law would
have cruelly required him to sever his ties with a political advocacy
group in order to run for the most powerful job on the planet.
Who said campaign finance reform wouldn’t accomplish anything?
But, look, here comes Alan Keyes! The former Reagan administration
official and career loser-of-elections seems to have snuck into the race
while nobody was looking. There he was, in the Republican debate at
Morgan State University the other day, appearing absolutely the same as
he did in 2004, when he suddenly popped up in Illinois just in time to
lose the Senate race to Barack Obama.
Before his unhappy collision with McCain-Feingold, Newt Gingrich had
apparently surveyed the field and decided there was room for one more
recovering womanizer among the front-runners. Keyes must have checked
out the second tier and detected the need for more unelectable
right-wing candidates who are obsessed with abortion.
The front-runners, as is now well known, all ditched the Morgan State
debate, even though it was the only one focusing on African-American
issues, so they could spend the time raising money before the quarterly
reporting deadline. The ones who came were either driven by their
concern for the feelings of the black community or because they had no
money to raise and getting to be on television is the whole point of
their candidacy. I debate therefore I am.
“Well, the main reason I’m here is because I was invited,” said
Representative Ron Paul.
The Republican second tier has come to resemble a middle-aged singing
group. You only see them en masse and require helpful hints to remember
their names. There’s Mike Huckabee (the nice one), Sam Brownback (the
curly-haired one), Tom Tancredo (He Who Rails About Immigrants) and
Duncan Hunter (the one who looks like the sheriff in a 1950s B-movie).
Paul, who looks like a cranky rancher in the same movie, is the
libertarian congressman who usually performs the useful function of
complaining about the war in Iraq so everybody else can leap in and
We certainly do not want to disrespect the hopeless candidates who have
been responsible for so many good times over the long, long presidential
campaigns of yore. Keyes perked up the 2000 proceedings considerably
when he threw himself into a mosh pit and bodysurfed to the tunes of
Rage Against the Machine. It’s possible that the day Gary Bauer fell off
the stage during a pancake-flipping contest in New Hampshire was the
highlight of the primaries. Given the extremely large crowd of hopeless
candidates this time around, I think we have every reason to believe
that sooner or later somebody will fall off something again.
The problem for Republican voters is that as time goes on, the main
candidates are beginning to resemble the hopeless ones more and more.
Fred Thompson’s campaign peaked the day before he officially announced.
Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are spending most of their time taking
back everything they said during their previous political careers. And
John McCain has gone so ga-ga that he told a Web site devoted to
spirituality that he would not be comfortable with a president who
didn’t share his religious beliefs. No wonder Newt thought, for one
brief shining moment, that he might have a shot.
The political parties find themselves on two different tracks this year.
Democratic voters are resentful because Hillary Clinton seems to be
wrapping things up so fast. (It’s only October! The negative ads haven’t
even come out yet!) Meanwhile, the Republicans have more than their
share of candidates, but on many days not a single one of them seems
like somebody you could reasonably nominate. The Democrats used to give
their unsatisfactory lineups names like The Seven Dwarfs. What would you
call this crowd of Republicans? The Legion of Doom?
The front-runners are all at least two entirely different politicians,
and no voter can possibly avoid hating one version. John McCain, the
maverick reformer, is now the Superhawk friend of Falwell who thinks
Christianity is in the Constitution. The Rudy Giuliani who fought for
gun control is now the guy who learned from 9/11 how important it is for
Americans to pack heat. (Coming soon: Rudy explains how 9/11 taught him
that homosexuality is wrong.) And you could fill an auditorium with all
the Mitts we’ve got running around out there.
There is, however, only one Fred Thompson, and he appears to have been
stuffed by a taxidermist.
York Times Company <http://www.nytco.com/>