Newt Gingrich stumbles out of the gate on presidential campaign

Candidates for the Republican presidential nomination haven’t even held their first debate yet, but former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is already scrambling to recover from a series of embarrassing miscues that threaten the candidacy he is widely expected to launch.

So far, he’s angered the conservative intelligentsia with an ostentatious defense of ethanol subsidies, botched the announcement of his exploratory committee, bombed on explanations for his repeated adultery and three marriages, been seen as flip-flopping three times on Libya within a month and awkwardly warned about a future atheist America dominated by Islamic radicals.

“Lots of candidates make mistakes and gaffes,” said Dr. Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, “But Gingrich is offering himself as the tested senior statesman. He doesn’t get any mulligans, as he is discovering.”

“It definitely has not been a great start for Newt,” said Ford O’Connell, a veteran of the 2008 McCain campaign and chairman of the conservative Civic Forum PAC, “his team doesn’t seem to realize campaigning has changed a lot since he was last running for office. I think it really plagues him.”

Gingrich’s troubles began in Iowa in January when the GOP “ideas guy” took his defense of ethanol subsidies to a whole new level, suggesting critics of the subsidies are motivated by hatred of farmers.

“Obviously big urban newspapers want to kill it because it’s working, and you wonder, ‘What are their values?’” Gingrich said.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page, a key engine of conservative thought, blasted Gingrich’s unusual defense of the subsidies, calling his record on cutting spending “mixed” and saying his take “raises larger questions about his convictions and judgment.”

Then, at the beginning of March, Gingrich’s campaign fumbled the announcement of his exploratory committee, a key legal step in the process of running for president. After aides spent an entire day confirming to numerous news outlets that Gingrich would be announcing the committee, the campaign mysteriously pulled back. Now a spokesman says he’s in a nebulous exploratory “phase.”

Next, Gingrich bombed on explaining one of his most sensitive weaknesses as a candidate: his repeated adultery and three marriages.

“There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate,” Gingrich told David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network in an early March interview.

He’s “too patriotic to be faithful,” joked the American Spectator’s Philip Klein. “Memo to Newt Gingrich: Seriously, Don’t Even Bother Running,” blasted the the headline from Commentary’s John Podhoretz.

Gingrich later claimed his affairs and divorces gave him a special perspective on how serious it is to lie about adultery under oath.