Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the agreement with the syndicator means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release and gives an opportunity to see whether it stood up to subsequent events)


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How could we forget? Nov. 7 was the anniversary of the 1962 news conference during which defeated California gubernatorial candidate Richard Nixon snarled to reporters that they wouldn’t “have Nixon to kick around anymore.” As we all know, we did. He rose from the ashes to be elected president of these United States, and then flamed out again, consumed by Watergate.

Forty-nine years after the “kick around” moment, the late Mr. Nixon has been reincarnated in the form of Newt Gingrich. That can be the only explanation why their careers have followed similar trajectories. Nixon made his name “red-baiting”; Gingrich is willing to bait any convenient target. Muslims, gays, “secular elitists,” the “secular left,” secular “fanaticism.” He is among the haters’ favorite baiters.

It has worked for both of them, lifting them out of congressional back-bench obscurity. Nixon became vice president before his up-and-down run to the top job, and Gingrich rose to House speaker, before that gig dissolved in various ethics scandals. Now he’s trying to take that same, improbable upward path as his role model and become the next POTUS.

He’s certainly employing one of “Tricky Dick’s” favorite tricks. No matter what the question, he uses it as a springboard to demonize the media. Maybe Gingrich was just marking the Nov. 7 anniversary when he went on the “Today” show to chastise all the attention paid to Herman Cain’s past sexual-harassment allegations, sputtering, “There is just a huge gap between the gossip that fascinates political reporters and the average person’s concerns.”

Nixon called that “average person” a part of the “silent majority.” Whatever the tag, huge numbers of them consider us reporters and commentators total scumbags. Gingrich knows that full well, just like Nixon did.

For both it was and is payback. Newt Gingrich is the first to acknowledge that he holds a grudge, actually telling Ann Curry: “I went through two months in June and July where folks in New York and Washington said my campaign was dead, I was gone, it was all hopeless. Nobody in the country said that.”

And in true Richard Nixon style, he is beginning a turnaround. After some huge blunders, his top campaign professionals abandoned the sinking ship of his candidacy. Pack journalists, like we usually do, swarmed to pick away at the fallen runner.

Nothing was off-limits, with frankly excessive attention paid to a vacation trip with his wife and large purchases at Tiffany’s. So, his quest seemed to disintegrate.

Now, abruptly, he has more than put the shreds together again. Several polls show that he is suddenly at or near the lead among Republicans. Among others, he’s leaving Rick Perry in the dust. Maybe that’s because, unlike Perry, people usually don’t question his intellect.

Of course, he does have to account for his years as a D.C. insider. Now, for instance, he must deal with controversy over the seven-figure consulting fees he got for “strategic advice for a long period of time” as he put it, from Freddie Mac, the discredited federally backed mortgage giant. His explanation that “It reminds people that I know a great deal about Washington” might not satisfy those in the GOP base who consider such experience poison. But he finally had no choice after the nasty media stories about the million-and-a-half-dollars-plus he got because he was still well-connected after he resigned under a cloud as speaker. His response was mild at first: “Everybody will dig up everything they can dig up. That’s fine. They should.” A day later, though, he attributed negative coverage of him to “bias.”

Gingrich never hesitates to tell one and all he is the candidate of “great ideas.” So here’s a great idea, Newt: When these matters come up, how about we ask the tough questions, you provide the answers? That’s how we’re all supposed to get our kicks.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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