Newt's Days of Rage

Article excerpt

Byline: Lloyd Grove

He's been buried by an avalanche of attack ads, and outspent 5-1. That's when Speaker Gingrich is at his most dangerous. In the bunker with 2012's comeback kid.

Newt Gingrich insists he's not angry.

He's disappointed, certainly, in the lack of substance and civility in America's political discourse. Indignant at the overweening influence of the media elite, Wall Street, and the Washington establishment, all determined to protect their power and privilege. Surprised that Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, their chosen vessel, would distort and dissemble so readily--spending tens of millions of dollars to slime Gingrich on television--in the service of his vast ambition. But not angry.

"No. Anger makes it trivial," Gingrich told Newsweek, as his big blue campaign bus, graced by a giant image of his silver-maned head, barreled down a Florida highway. "I think it damages the ability of the United States to govern itself to have leaders who behave like this."

Gingrich's critique of flawed leadership requires him to look no further than the mirror. As speaker of the House in November 1995, he boasted that he orchestrated a shutdown of the federal government largely because President Clinton snubbed him on Air Force One--relegating the speaker to the back of the plane and making him disembark by the rear door during a trip to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral. "It's petty," Gingrich explained his actions at the time, "but I think it's human."

He is nothing if not human--a roiling cauldron of appetites and emotions--and dyspepsia is never far below the surface. He comes by it honestly. In a classic 1995 Vanity Fair profile, shortly after he ascended to the speakership, he spoke at length to Gail Sheehy about his lonely childhood as the son of a manic-depressive mother, the adopted son of an emotionally rejecting stepfather, an Army officer, and Newt's biological father who was adopted by his own parents and abandoned Newt at an early age.

"My father grew up as a very angry person," Gingrich told Sheehy. "Big Newt was physically enormous ... My mother was very frightened of him. So she decides to file for divorce. He tries to talk her out of it, fails, scares her even more, so she divorces him and then marries Bob Gingrich, who is also adopted ... So that's the background, and people assume I'm some right-wing, out-of-touch Neanderthal who doesn't get it. I mean, I'm adopted! Both of my fathers are adopted! I mean, give me a break!"

It wasn't until he was 16 that Newt learned that his biological father had been all too happy to give him up, easily agreeing to his adoption by another man and allowing the boy's surname to be changed from McPherson to Gingrich. "I was furious," he told Sheehy, "because I figured out ... that my real father had agreed to allow me to be adopted." Gingrich can be proud of overcoming the obstacles of his childhood--and understandably aggrieved at how his rich, handsome, self-disciplined rival, the former governor of Massachusetts, has belittled his achievements and destroyed his character. The fit and trim Romney--who, at 64, is in the same generation as the plump, 68-year-old Gingrich, but looks more than a decade younger--denied him a second primary victory after South Carolina and administered a savage beating in Florida and beyond. The Romney campaign and the pro-Romney super PAC, Restoring Our Future, have kept their collective boot on Gingrich's throat long past the interval many would have thought necessary, or even seemly, and they show no indication of removing it.

"They can't," Gingrich said, "because they know the second they do, I'll beat 'em. Look at the national polls [in which he had been running ahead]. Any time Romney's not pouring mud, he loses. He has no ability to build himself up. He has no ideas worth rallying around."

Gingrich added: "I'm not trying to sound angry. …