Conservatives should think twice about Newt

Newt Gingrich’s surge to the top of the Republican presidential field has some conservatives imagining the former house speaker as the anti-Romney. Gingrich is encouraging such a view with his claim that he is “certainly more conservative” than the former Massachusetts governor.

The Manchester Union-Leader’s endorsement for the New Hampshire primary added to the perception of a growing “Newt-mentum” to anoint Gingrich as the preferred conservative in the Republican presidential field. But there are substantial reasons why thoughtful conservatives should think very carefully before jumping on this bandwagon.

There are, for example, gaping holes in Gingrich’s conservative credentials. As the American Spectator’s David Catron pointed out Monday, Gingrich has long been a fan of Dr. Donald Berwick.

Berwick just resigned as President Barack Obama’s director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees Obamacare. Obama put Berwick there because of his professed love for Britain’s socialized medicine.

Berwick’s views are so radical that not even a Democratic Senate would confirm him, yet Gingrich wrote this in a Washington Post op-ed published in 2000: “Don Berwick at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement has worked for years to spread the word that the same systematic approach to quality control that has worked so well in manufacturing could create a dramatically safer, less expensive and more effective system of health and health care.”

Gingrich’s wonkish delight in industrially-rationed health care may come as a shock to some on the right, but it is entirely consistent with his longtime enthusiasm for individual mandates in health care. In his 2005 book, “Winning the Future,” Gingrich put it this way: “We need some significant changes to ensure that every American is insured, but we should make it clear that a 21st-century intelligent system requires everyone to participate in the insurance system.”

Gingrich’s most frequently repeated claim to the mantle of conservative leadership, of course, is the Contract with America and the Republican revolution of 1994. But Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., made a strong case in his 2003 book, “Breach of Trust,” that Gingrich’s affinity for the trappings of power led him to undermine the momentum for fundamental change. As Coburn described it, the fervor of the freshmen lawmakers of 1994 quickly put them at odds with the first Republican house speaker in four decades: “Gingrich would receive our input, but he rarely took it seriously … We were from the outside and wet behind the ears in terms of politics and we obviously didn’t know as much about history as he did. It would not take long for us to become ‘the conservatives’ to him.”

More recently, as The Washington Examiner’s Byron York noted yesterday, Gingrich has been seen as an ultimate Washington insider, as exemplified in that $1.6 million he was paid to represent Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and his work with Rep. Nancy Pelosi on behalf of cap and trade. Such facts make it difficult not to view Gingrich as an exemplar of Washington’s professional Republican politicians who talk the talk to get elected, but often don’t walk the walk once in office. He has an answer for such worries, no doubt, but will it persuade Republican voters, many of whom watched in frustration as the Contract with America faded into political oblivion?

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