I received the photo in the mail a few weeks after it was taken, back in 1996 when I was a just-out-of-college staffer at the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego. Out there on the left coast, three hours behind DC time, my colleagues and I sometimes felt a little bit detached from the momentous goings-on under the still new (and still amazing) Republican leadership in Congress. So it was extra-special to us when the architect of the new Republican majority and a hero to most of us, Speaker Newt Gingrich, took the time to swing by and see us during a California trip. I lined up with everyone else, shook his hand and smiled for the camera, and some time later there it was in my in-box: a signed photo of me with the Speaker. "Thanks for all your help, Dan - Newt."
That photo has followed me in the years since, sitting in its cherry wood frame on my desk, or on the wall, or on a book shelf as I moved from San Diego back to DC, then on to law school, to a big law firm, to the Massachusetts State House, and finally to my current office. Except for when I was traveling, hardly a day of my professional life has gone unobserved by Newt's silent, grinning visage, even as the other occupants of my political "ego wall" have mostly fallen to the wayside.
Newt always represented something very particular to me. Asked to defend his photographic presence in my office (and I was, on more than a few occasions), I'd invariably say Newt was the guy who everyone says they want - the politician who knows what he believes and says what he thinks, and does so coherently and with historical perspective. If his ego sometimes seemed out-sized, well, that tends to happen to people who become celebrities, political and otherwise. As to his personal foibles... I didn't defend those. And of course I was never in a position to vote for the man anyhow.
That all ended today. I wrote a post last week about Newt's petulant Iowa hangover. At the time I hoped his sulking and revenge-plotting would dissipate. Instead it has only gotten worse, culminating in a raft of articles like this, this, and this. Gingrich, it seems, has resolved to do everything possible to destroy Mitt Romney, even if he self-immolates in the process, and even it he destroys our chance of relegating the President to one term while he's at it.
What a difference a month makes. Here's what the pundits were writing about Newt way back on December 6:
As Mitt Romney continues to struggle against conservative Republican complaints that his claim to be one of them is no more than an expedient makeover, the latest candidate to emerge as his principal rival for the party's presidential nomination is striving for quite a makeover of his own.
That would be Newt Gingrich, famed for his slashing and often over-the-top attacks on critics and inquisitive members of the news media. Buoyed by his recent televised debate appearances that he has converted into a showcase of how smart he is, Mr. Gingrich has vowed to take the high road, at least against fellow Republicans.
The former House speaker has pledged to supporters in a fund-raising email that "every penny contributed to this campaign will be used to advance an honest campaign that the American people can be proud of." He promises "there will be no 30-second attack ads against my friends who are also seeking the Republican nomination; I will focus my criticism on President Obama."Seems to me more than a few Gingrich donors might be due a refund.
So it is with a small amount of regret that today I took down my Newt photo from the shelf, said a testy goodbye (and something else), and tossed it in a drawer. I'll use the frame for another photo eventually.
It turns out, you see, that Newt Gingrich is - to paraphrase Bill Parcells - exactly what his record says he is. If the term "Napoleon complex" didn't already exist we'd henceforth be accusing peevish, scorched-earth egomaniacs of having a Newt complex.
None of which is to suggest that Gingrich - or any candidate - does not have the right to stick until the end, fight the good fight, go down swinging, etc. But there is a line, and at some point during the last week or so the former Speaker dashed across it and sped off into the distance.
So long, Mr. Speaker. Good luck with the post-politics thing.