To political observers of a certain age, the news that Newt Gingrich was on Donald Trump’s short list for the vice-presidential nomination was both startling and predictable. Gingrich has been buried politically so many times — as a Rockefeller Republican in the 1970s, as an annoying gadfly House member in the 1980s, as a national pariah in the 1990s, and as a failed presidential candidate in 2012 — that yet another resurrection at the age of 73 seems preposterous yet at the same time fitting in such a preposterous political year.
It’s possible Gingrich’s name is being whispered aloud by Trump intimates like Roger Stone as a matter of simple gratitude: For months the former Speaker has defended the mogul like few other respectable voices in the GOP. But there is undeniably a certain congruence to the idea of Trump-Gingrich: A presidential candidate with no coherent worldview could use a front man who cannot go five minutes without articulating some sort of historical or metaphysical perspective on the most banal of subjects.
Indeed, despite the crackpot nature of many of Gingrich’s many policy enthusiasms (his obsession with colonizing Mars is emblematic), his is what passes for a Big Brain in American politics, and as a veep prospect would happily occupy political media in babbling defense of Trump, leaving the Big Guy to wage more strategic battles. His résumé is long enough to cover Trump’s lack of political experience many times over (Newt’s first congressional campaign was on the cusp between the Nixon and Ford administrations), yet his reputation as a bomb-throwing “revolutionary” is as fully developed as Trump’s own. And at a time when Trump is looking for deep pockets to help finance a general-election contest, Newt’s ability to shake money trees could be helpful as well. Just as his name has surfaced as a potential veep, his 2012 sugar daddy Sheldon Adelson has announced he’s one billionaire Trump can count on to write some checks.
You could even make the argument that Newt’s failed 2012 campaign paved the way for Trump’s unlikely candidacy in this cycle. Gingrich made Islamophobia a central part of his presidential bid, constantly citing the phantom menace of Sharia law in his pandering appeals to Christian-right and nativist audiences. He also anticipated some of Trump’s economic-policy heresies, getting into very hot water by disrespecting one of Paul Ryan’s budgets and then going crudely populist in attacks on Mitt Romney’s career as a corporate downsizing consultant.
But Gingrich’s compatibility with Trump has its downside, and choosing him might represent a doubling-down on some less-than-savory aspects of the mogul’s record and personality. Like Trump, Gingrich has been known to flip-flop and backtrack; I once wrote a profile of my fellow Georgian based on decades of close observation that stressed his chameleon-like ability to change with the times (most famously by becoming the epitome of True Conservatism after an early career as a very nearly liberal Republican running to the right of a Georgia Dixiecrat). While he would superficially help repair Trump’s relationships with Republican regulars and movement conservatives, none of them have much reason to trust Gingrich, either.
And then there’s the personal stuff. Between them, Trump and Gingrich have six marriages and enough admitted adultery to turn the average politician into a pillar of salt. Perhaps not coincidentally, Gingrich struggled as much with the hostility of women voters in 2012 as Trump has in the current cycle. As Republican nominee Trump seeks to reverse historically poor numbers among women, does he really want to invite fresh recital of the story of his running mate’s alleged presentation of divorce papers to his first wife (who was, in an added creepy-sounding note, his former high-school math teacher) while she was in a hospital battling cancer? Everything else being equal, probably not.
Trump’s done pretty well, however, defying political logic, and perhaps Newt is just too complementary to him — the nerdy sidekick to the big man on campus — to pass up. If it happens, the happiest man on Earth would be Bill Clinton, who turned Gingrich into his punching bag and perfect foil in the mid-1990s and would probably enjoy beating him up all over again on his wife’s behalf. And for all I know, Trump’s just cruel enough to make someone his running mate solely to provide an even more tempting target than himself.