‘A human hand grenade’

    The Obama re-election team should be thrilled about Newt Gingrich’s rapid ascent, given his unique propensity for dividing the Republican ranks. The intramural abuse hurled at Newt this week is proof of that. If Obama’s people were not so busy archiving the various anti-Newt insults for their own future use, they might be tempted to sit back with popcorn and behold the entertainment.

    The backlash against Newt arguably began last Sunday when Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn buried the knife into his former colleague on Fox News. Coburn, a charter member of Newt’s ’94 conservative House revolution, said: “I’m not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich’s….I just found his leadership lacking.” (Coburn was actually far blunter in remarks last year, when he said that Newt was “the last person I’d vote for for president of the United States” because “his life indicates he does not have the character traits necessary.”)Then yesterday, a deluge.For instance, ex-New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu said, “I don’t think Newt Gingrich cares about conservative principles. He cares about Newt Gingrich.” (Earlier this week, Sununu assailed Newt as “untrustworthy.”) Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, ground zero for conservative policy wonks, said yesterday that Newt is insufficiently bold about reforming Medicare, and that, in general, “his policies often don’t match the high-decibel, sometimes grandiose nature of his rhetoric.”In Iowa, a conservative pastor named Cary Gordon circulated a savage and stylistically hip video, produced by Christian videographer Jason “Molotov” Mitchell, who says to the camera, “I can’t stand Barack Obama, but at least he doesn’t trade in his wives like used cars. If Newt Gingrich can betray a woman who has sworn her love and loyalty to him not once, but twice, what makes you think he won’t betray you?” And, in Washington, former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson contended in print that Newt’s adulteries are a metaphor for lack of character: “These traits are suited to a provocateur, an author, a commentator, a consultant. They are not the makings of a chief executive….Gingrich’s problem is not the weakness of a moment, it is the pattern of a lifetime.”But perhaps the most important Newt critique was offered yesterday by Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan-Bush speechwriter who functions as a reliable barometer of party establishment sentiment. Check this out:”He’s philosophically unanchored, an unstable element. There are too many storms within him, and he seeks out external storms in order to equalize his own atmosphere. He’s a trouble magnet, a starter of fights that need not be fought…What is striking is the extraordinary divide in opinion between those who know Gingrich and those who don’t. Those who do are mostly not for him, and they were burning up the phone lines this week in Washington…”He is a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, ‘Watch this!'”Obviously, some of these Newt critics are committed to other candidates, but that’s the point: They are committed elsewhere in part because they find Newt so distasteful. No other Republican politician inspires such divisive rhetoric, and so much animus, within the party ranks. And we’re likely to hear a lot more at the Republican debate in Iowa tomorrow night, when it will be Newt’s turn to run the gauntlet. The result? Future sound bites for the Democrats to exploit, in the event that Newt becomes the nominee. All told, Team Obama could not have received a better gift this holiday season. ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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