Yes, you all know I'm an easy mark for a little Newt-bashing. And Ed Kilgore delivers very nicely, with a great history lesson about the snake-oil salesman.
The example they offer is the conservative battle against the Panama Canal Treaty, which failed to stop the “giveaway” in the U.S. Senate, but led (say Shirley and Gingrich without a single shred of empirical evidence) to GOP gains in 1978 and then to Reagan’s victory in 1980.Newt Gingrich did two things extremely well in his political career. One was duping House conservatives into accepting him as their leader, despite the plain facts that (1) he wasn't anything close to a true believer, and (2) he was temperamentally ill-suited for leadership. Both of which were plainly evidence to anyone paying attention. The other, and very relevant here, was to convince everyone in Washington that he was responsible for the 1994 Republican landslide.
I think there’s a bit of projection going on in this column, at least for the Newtster. While Reagan’s visibility in the Panama fight did keep him in the public eye following his narrow loss to Gerald Ford in the 1976 Republican presidential nominating process, he was already the universally acknowledged leader of the conservative movement and the putative front-runner for 1980. As for Republican gains in 1978 and 1980, there were a few other things going on (e.g., “stagflation”) that were vastly more important than the Panama Canal, which was pretty much forgotten as an issue once the treaty was ratified. But there was one politician whose rise to national power was intimately associated with the Canal fight: Newt Gingrich.
So I like Kilgore's idea that Newt has convinced himself (or is pretending; it doesn't really matter, and it's probably all the same for a huckster like him) that it was Panama that got Republicans elected in 1980, and that therefore Republicans should find some battle to lose now in order to win in 2014 and 2016.
Of course, there's plenty more to this, including that the party Newt is giving advice to now is a Newtified party which does practically nothing except picking losing fights.
And that even if "pick a losing fight" was good advice, presumably there's more to it than that -- there must be particular types of losing fights to fight. Newt might even have something to say about shutting down the government in order to fight for a party's principles.
Oh, and the underlying column is pretty funny, by the way, even without any of that. Newt and Craig Shirley are arguing that the Canal fight was critical because Republicans were standing by their principles. Yet, if you think about it, it's an odd principle indeed that was absolutely critical in 1978 but utterly forgotten once Republicans regained the White House in 1980. It's almost as if Newt doesn't know the difference between principle and expediency. Which, of course, is one of the things that Kilgore gets to with his history of Newt in the 1970s.
At any rate: as I've said many times, the most important thing to realize about all of this is that the current Republican Party isn't so much the party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, as it is the party of Nixon and Gingrich.
And: nice catch!