Sunday, December 18, 2011

Newt Gringrich: Mercurial or Machiavellian?

Newt Gingrich, former college instructor and Speaker of the House, has emerged as the front runner among Republicans for our party's nominee for President.This trend is both surprising and alarming.

It is surprising given Gingrich's situation as the campaign began. He had served a Speaker of the House between 1994-1998 and had helped win the first Republican majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. The Republican majority promoted a number of necessary reforms suggested by the Heritage Foundation and spelled out it the Contract with America. He quickly fell from grace, however, and was deposed by his own party. He's haunted the halls of power ever since, but never  in an official government capacity. When the campaign began, many considered him a "washed up" politician with little chance of winning the nomination.

It is alarming, too, because no one knows what to make of him. Critics (and supporters) has labeled him mercurial, undisciplined, erratic, and most recently, zany.  Many people concluded that this temperament doomed his candidacy  when he decided to go on a cruise at the beginning of the campaign, prompting many staff members to quit. Moreover, he has proposed a number of unusual ideas . Finally, he has reversed himself on a number of core issues. Perhaps the most interesting primary debate would involve Newt Gingrich vs. Newt Gingrich:

Republicans cannot be certain which Newt we are going to get.

There may be more to Gingrich's gyrations than mere lack of discipline. It may be deliberate.

In the 16th century, a Florentine diplomat named Niccolo Machiavelli wrote of couple of books spelling out his theories about republican government and advising prospective leaders on how to maintain their states. The main goal for leaders, he wrote, was to achieve glory, fame, and honor for their states. (This sounds like the vision of  "big government" conservatives, including Reagan, who did not reduce the size of government but merely turned it to conservative ends). He also noted that people are easily deceived. “Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.” A leader, therefore, should be more concerned with appearances than reality. If a leader does not possess religion and virtue, according to Machiavelli, then it must appear that he does. "Appear as you wish to be." In addition, a leader must to willing to change.  “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” And Gingrich himself has admitted that "I do change things when conditions change."

Mercurial or Machiavellian?

Maybe both.


PT Bohan said...

VL, I am not too sure what to make of the Gingrich rise in the polls. When the campaign started I always figured a former govenor would rise to the top (someone with executive experience). What is most concerning to me is that I am not very convinced any remaining GOP contenders can defeat Obama. I hope I am wrong.

Thanks for visiting my site. I will check out the book. It makes sense - the future of people will depend upon critical decisions they make in the present.

CW said...

“Mercurial or Machiavellian?”

Great question and great post. I have at times been a bit surprised at the amount of vitriol aimed at Gingrich, but it seems there is nothing that elicits anger like the sense of having been betrayed. When his staff left him and everyone was piling on, I felt bad for him.

I don’t really believe Gingrich is Machiavellian. My own thought is that he is simply a man conflicted between what he knows is principle and what he thinks is practical. But that can be a dangerous combination.

V.L.Ewell said...

Newt seems to have risen as others--Perry and Cain--have fallen.
I,too,am concerned about not fielding a strong candidate. And the two that polls show most likely to beat Obama are unconvincing as conservatives.

V.L.Ewell said...


Thank you for your compliment.
I don't recall Gingrich under attack until his high polling numbers. I do not remember him attacking other candidates either. In the early debates, he confined most of attacks on Obama.

The dilemma of choosing between principle and pragmatism is a problem. That ties in with Machiavelli's advice in The Prince. Leaders should follow principle as long as it works, he argues; but a prince must be willing to do anything to preserve his state.