Atlantic's Coppins: 'Poisonous' Gingrich Owes America Apology for Rise of Trump

October 17th, 2018 4:35 PM

The November issue of The Atlantic devoted 8,000 flowery words to excoriate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. McKay Coppins followed the ground-breaking former Republican Speaker of the House and presidential candidate around for “The Man Who Broke Politics -- Newt Gingrich turned partisan battles into bloodsport, wrecked Congress, and paved the way for Trump's rise. Now he's reveling in his achievements.”

So Democratic politicians (who have reliably tarred every recent Republican presidential candidate as racist) had nothing to do with the “rise” of partisanship since Newt arrived on the scene to ruin things? That could certainly be a convenient way to excuse liberal mobs as somehow the fault of a Republican that hasn’t held political office this millennium.

Gingrich didn’t invent partisanship, of course, but successfully practiced it on behalf of conservatives and Republicans, which may be what makes the media mad. To blame Gingrich for starting congressional “bloodsport” requires ignoring incidents like the Democrat-controlled Congress seating Rep. Frank McCloskey in 1984, even after he lost a recount.

Coppins met Gingrich at the Philadelphia Zoo, where the former Speaker was eager to talk turtles. Coppins was flowery in contempt.

There’s something about Newt Gingrich that seems to capture the spirit of America circa 2018. With his immense head and white mop of hair; his cold, boyish grin; and his high, raspy voice, he has the air of a late-empire Roman senator -- a walking bundle of appetites and excesses and hubris and wit. In conversation, he toggles unnervingly between grandiose pronouncements about “Western civilization” and partisan cheap shots that seem tailored for cable news. It’s a combination of self-righteousness and smallness, of pomposity and pettiness, that personifies the decadence of this era.

Gingrich is naturally to blame for President Trump.

But few figures in modern history have done more than Gingrich to lay the groundwork for Trump’s rise. During his two decades in Congress, he pioneered a style of partisan combat--replete with name-calling, conspiracy theories, and strategic obstructionism--that poisoned America’s political culture and plunged Washington into permanent dysfunction. Gingrich’s career can perhaps be best understood as a grand exercise in devolution--an effort to strip American politics of the civilizing traits it had developed over time and return it to its most primal essence.

After a rhapsody by Thomas Mann about “institutional loyalty.” Coppins sketched his favorite kind of Republican -- one doomed to ineffectualness in a Democratic congress.

This ethos was perhaps best embodied by Republican Minority Leader Bob Michel, an amiable World War II veteran known around Washington for his aversion to swearing--doggone it and by Jiminy were fixtures of his vocabulary--as well as his penchant for carpooling and golfing with Democratic colleagues. Michel was no liberal, but he believed that the best way to serve conservatism, and his country, was by working honestly with Democratic leaders--pulling legislation inch by inch to the right when he could, and protecting the good faith that made aisle-crossing possible.

And how did that work out for the GOP for those decades?

Coppins seems a bit put out that many people really do admire Gingrich.

This has been happening all day -- fans coming up to request selfies, or to shake his hand, or to thank him for his work in “draining the swamp.” It’s a reminder that to a certain swath of America, Gingrich is not some washed-up partisan hack; he’s a towering statesman, a visionary hero, the man he set out to be.


By 1988, Gingrich’s plan to conquer Congress via sabotage was well under way. As his national profile had risen, so too had his influence within the Republican caucus--his original quorum of 12 disciples having expanded to dozens of sharp-elbowed House conservatives who looked to him for guidance.

After briefly admitting “There were real accomplishments during Gingrich’s speakership, too—a tax cut, a bipartisan health-care deal, even a balanced federal budget....” Coppins pivoted back to blame:

But by then, the poisonous politics Gingrich had injected into Washington’s bloodstream had escaped his control. So when the stories started coming out in early 1998--the ones about the president and the intern, the cigar and the blue dress--and the party faithful were clamoring for Clinton’s head on a pike, and Gingrich’s acolytes in the House were stomping their feet and crying for blood....well, he knew what he had to do.

A good thing the Clintons or their henchmen like James Carville and Sidney Blumenthal never practiced politics as bloodsport.

Near the conclusion he followed Gingrich to a speaking engagement...and hoped to hear him apologize for the damage he had wrought on American political life.

For a moment, it sounds almost as if Gingrich is on the brink of a confession--an acknowledgment of what he has wrought; an apology, perhaps, for setting us on this course. But it turns out he is just setting up an attack line aimed at congressional Democrats for opposing a Republican spending bill. I should have known.