I'm going to say something uncomfortable to many of you, but it has to be said:
Newt Gingrich has a history of flip-flopping on issues which rivals that of Mitt Romney.
There, I said it. I'm not the only one to say it, either.
Let's look at Gingrich's record:
On global warming: He supported government sponsoring of alternative energy programs (Solyndra, anyone?). He supported cap-and-trade. He supported ethanol subsidies. "Green" was fad, people were spellbound by it, and Newt being the clever politician he is, he got behind it, too.
And then there's Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. When asked about his lobbying efforts on their behalf, he lied. He claimed he never lobbied for them. When proof of payment from them to him was made public, he claimed he worked for them as an historian. Do people seriously believe this? A financial institution hires an historian about as often as the Marine Corps hires an interior decorator.
And then there's the substance of the "historical analysis" he allegedly gave them (from the National Review link two paragraphs below):
It wasn’t obvious until 2007… Initially, it wasn’t Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Initially, it was things like Countrywide, but the minute you started getting people who could buy houses with no credit, no money down, I mean, these things are insane. And I was cheerfully saying that in my public speeches.Gingrich contradicts himself here: It certainly was obvious, long before 2007, that a policy of government guarantee of loans without proof of the borrower's ability to repay was a bad idea (and defies basic common sense). The existence of this program was well-known within government circles and by "policy wonks" (such as your truly), but largely ignored by the media and the public at large. I have also criticized Herman Cain for the same failure of common sense in this regard.
On government-run medicine, Gingrich's record rivals that of many prominent Democrats. He was an early champion of the individual mandate, more than a decade before Romneycare. He now excuses himself from the criticism Romney recieves, claiming that his endorsement of an individual mandate was an effort "to block Hillarycare". Let's state this another way: Gingrich's response to a massive government healthcare initiative was to offer a slightly less-massive initiative of his own.
Gingrich was also one of the minds behind Medicare Part D. Newt again excuses himself from criticism for this multi-trillion-dollar giveaway, claiming that it helped reduce the cost of government-provided health care by subsidizing medicines in lieu of more-expensive surgeries, ignoring one of the basic principles of government interference in the market: Subsidizing a product makes it more expensive in the long-run. If the government gives people a dollar to buy an apple, the cost of an apple goes up by a dollar.
Gingrich, in keeping with his long-standing record of favoring greater government intervention in the health care industry, described Paul Ryan's proposal to convert Medicare into a premium support plan as "right-wing social engineering". Of course, Gingrich changed his tune when he caught flak for saying this, and has spent the last six months crafting an "alternative history" of his 17+ year record of supporting socialized medicine.
Jacob Sullum from Reason made an excellent point on this topic: Gingrich's rhetoric actually endangers real reforms while giving the public a painless-sounding but totally ineffective placebo of "cutting waste, fraud and abuse"- a rhetoric he (along with numerous Democrats) also applies to other areas of government spending by advocating 'modernization', rather than actual cutbacks, as his primary concept for controlling the cost of big-government programs, as if new computers will make big government acceptable.
In sum: I'm frankly disturbed by the recent fascination with Gingrich and the amnesia regarding his record. Somehow, conservatives have developed a belief that intellectualism and con artistry are mutually exclusive. Voters have been lulled by the superficially-impressive nature of his speeches.
This means the Tea Party effort to push out slick salesmen in favor of principled, fiscally-minded, small-government representatives is failing. And "slick salesman" is an apt description of Gingrich's career: People wanted free medication for Grandma and Grandpa, and Newt delivered. People wanted a house they couldn't afford, and Newt delivered. Gingrich will give the public whatever they want, and sound convincingly principled while doing it. The fact that Newt also participated in welfare reform and budget balancing isn't a demonstration of his bona fides, it's merely another thing the public asked for and got (for a brief period).
The notion that Gingrich is the ideal "not-Romney" candidate is wholly misguided: Newt Gingrich is Mitt Romney without running shoes.