Editorial: On Newt Gingrich tour, it’s all about the moolah

Last modified: Friday, December 13, 2013
Which Newt Gingrich was it who came Wednesday to Amherst College to lecture and collect a $35,000 fee?

It turns out it was professor Gingrich, traveling with stacks of his new book, “Breakout,” not the political provocateur who for a while in 2012 led polls as the potential Republican Party’s presidential nominee, derided Barack Obama as “President Algae” and promised that if elected gas would cost $2.50 a gallon.

We leave it to others to decide which is the real Newt. But the two sides of the man come together in events like this, and in the big love that people who are supposed adversaries in Washington, D.C., show one another when it comes time to cash in.

Take for example the recent interview conducted by Van Jones, the African-American lawyer who is cast as one of Gingrich’s political opponents on CNN’s “Crossfire.” Though billed by CNN as a kind of “look who’s going to grill Newt!” piece, the exchange — posted as an “online exclusive” — is a naked effort to advance the author’s sales and CNN’s brand.

In the course of it, Gingrich tees up talking points from his book and tour and plugs his wife Callista’s new children’s book several times. Close listeners will notice that Jones does Gingrich the favor of referring to “breakout” moments in American politics — using the book’s title as a subliminal plug.

Newt likes to do that, too. In a blog post this week, he wrote: “As I describe in my new book, ‘Breakout,’ there are many new developments which could be used to shrink spending, cut out waste, improve services, increase competition, grow the economy and get back to a balanced federal budget. ... Sadly, the opportunities to break out are ignored, while the opportunities to tax more and spend more dominate.”

He was at it again in Amherst, telling the friendly crowd: “We are at the edge of breakouts that are unbelievably exciting. And the challenge to your generation is to help make them real.”

Perhaps the best you could say about that advice is that it wasn’t cheap.

These could all be scenes from “This Town,” Mark Leibovich’s brilliant new book on how members of The Club, as some refer to the permanent D.C. political class. Leibovich is chief national correspondent for the New York Times Magazine. His book rips away the Washington veil to show insiders swimming in a flood of special interest money. Occasionally, members of The Club go on book tours. The agenda often arrives before they do. In Naples, Fla., a TV station was fully on the marketing script when it “reported” that “in his new book ‘Breakout,’ Gingrich proposes a bold vision of America’s future and talks to parents and adults about keeping America ‘exceptional.’ ”

Facing a question Wednesday in Amherst about fracking, from two apparent environmentalists, Gingrich sought to deflect attention from his claim that hydraulic fracturing poses no risk to drinking water supplies. He turned the tables with a question: What power sources kills the most birds? he asked.

“Wind power,” Gingrich said to applause.

Give him this: The professor knows something about wind.