By Paul Gable
The final debate before the First in the South Republican Presidential Primary last night provided plenty of fireworks as the four remaining candidates, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, tried to separate themselves from the others in the minds of voters. However, it was the issue of Gingrich’s character that provided the most fireworks and leaves the most questions.
The exit of Rick Perry yesterday morning makes these candidates the final four of the contest. You could tell the tension level was higher and the candidates showed a clear willingness to mix it up on stage trying to elevate themselves in the eyes of the voters. There was an attitude that the man who scored the most verbal jabs last night was demonstrating his readiness and ability to take on Barack Obama in the fall. It was difficult to determine who landed the most verbal punches, but it was Gingrich who was on the receiving end of the heaviest blows.
Each candidate was trying to out-conservative the others as the debate ranged through who was most pro-life, who would cut the most social programs from the federal budget and who would support the biggest military. It also spent too much time trying to determine when each of the candidates would release his income tax returns.
The best line there was Paul saying he had no intention of releasing his income tax returns because he would be embarrassed to show how little income he has compared to the other three.
“I don’t want to be embarrassed against their income,” Paul said.
It was the issue of character, however, that drew the most fireworks. Shortly before the debate began, ABC News aired an interview with Newt’s 2nd ex-wife Marianne Gingrich. During the interview she portrayed Gingrich as a man who believes he can live his own life according to his own unique rules and his private life should not be a campaign issue.
The debate opened with a question to Gingrich about Marianne’s comments regarding Newt’s desires for an “open marriage” with Marianne so he could continue an affair with then mistress and current third wife Callista.
Gingrich was immediately on an attack of the media, “I’m appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a question like that.”
“To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine,” Gingrich raged on as he tried to divert the attention from himself to the “liberal” media.
Of course, Gingrich never answered the original question and politely thanked CNN for sponsoring the debate in his closing statement.
Santorum maybe came closest to Gingrich’s most potentially damaging issue when he spoke of Newt’s tenure as Speaker of the House.
Santorum described it this way, “Four years into his speakership, he was thrown out by the conservatives. It was a coup against him in three. I served with him. I was there. I knew what the problems were going on in the House of Representatives when Newt Gingrich was leading this — leading there. It was an idea a minute, no discipline, no ability to be able to pull things together.”
The attempted coup had tragic consequences when reporter Sandy Hume, son of Fox News’ Britt Hume, committed suicide in the aftermath.
Grand Strand Daily spoke with former N.Y. Congressman Guy Molinari two months ago about Gingrich’s character and the coup. Molinari served in the House with Gingrich until he resigned December 31, 1989.
What we reported then is worth repeating again as Gingrich is now in the final four for the nomination.
Molinari’s daughter, Susan Molinari, won a special election in 1990 to fill her father’s remaining term in the House. She was re-elected three times and served until June 1997 when she resigned after becoming uneasy with the ideological atmosphere in the House leadership under Speaker Newt Gingrich.
In 1994, Susan Molinari married Bill Paxon, Republican House member from Buffalo, N.Y., a man well thought of in party circles.
Paxon was appointed chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee in 1992 and is generally credited for putting together the winning strategy in 1994 that led to Republicans claiming a majority of House seats for the first time in 40 years.
In 1997, members of the Republican House leadership mounted an attempt to replace Gingrich as Speaker. According to a September 1997 article in Texas Monthly by reporter Sandy Hume, House Majority Dick Armey of Texas was the leader of the attempted coup against Gingrich, expecting he would succeed Gingrich as Speaker.
Hume broke the story of the attempted coup on July 15, 1997 in The Hill, a weekly Washington, D.C. newspaper that covers Congress. Writing in the Texas Monthly article, Hume related the following about the immediate aftermath of his article in The Hill.
Hume said just 16 hours after his article on the coup appeared, “Armey stood before all of his fellow Republicans in a closed-door meeting and denounced The Hill in general and my story in particular. But no sooner had the word “trash” come from his mouth than a crash came from the back of the room. One of the rebels intimately involved in the coup, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, knocked over a chair in a rush for the microphone to set the record straight before being forcibly restrained by another Republican.”
According to Hume, Armey had discovered Republican members of the House preferred Paxon for the Speakership, not him. Armey, then, broke ranks with the coup he started and warned Gingrich, blaming Paxon.
“Newt Gingrich accused my son-in-law of starting the plot to succeed him and that is absolutely not true,” said Molinari. “In the aftermath, however, Bill became so disgusted with the House leadership that he ultimately resigned his seat.”
That aftermath had tragic consequences. According to a 2004 book, “Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day”, written by former Florida Congressman Joe Scarborough, Armey went to great lengths to destroy the career of Sandy Hume catching Bill Paxon in the crossfire.
Hume committed suicide on February 22, 1998. After his suicide, Armey, according to Scarborough, spread rumors about a gay affair between Hume and Paxon. Paxon resigned his seat three days after Hume’s suicide.
Asked about the rumors about his son-in-law and Hume, Molinari said, “Many of us thought Gingrich was the author of the charges (of the gay affair). That was typical of the kind of thing Gingrich would pull.”
“Bill was so disgusted about what was being done to him by his supposed colleagues that he just quit,” said Molinari. “I can guarantee you as his father-in-law, there was nothing to those rumors and Bill is definitely not gay.”
It is interesting that Gingrich, Armey or both chose to use a gay charge against both Hume and Paxon. Gingrich has called being gay “an abomination” and supports the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits gay marriage, yet one of his top political lieutenants at the time, Joe Gaylord, is known as being gay among top Republicans.
It is this character that Marianne Gingrich was talking about in her interview and that Gingrich continues to run from during this primary season.
Gingrich told Romney, during an exchange about Romney releasing his tax returns, if there’s anything in there (Romney’s tax returns) that could be a problem, it should be known about before tomorrow’s voting.
However, the real story about the Sandy Hume suicide has never been told. That hangs over the Gingrich campaign and should be answered by Newt.
This is not a question about who is the most conservative candidate to challenge Romney. It’s a question about to what extreme Gingrich will go to obtain his goals and how many other incidents are tied up in the strange Gingrich personal and political history.