Good for Newt, bad for the GOP

The voters of South Carolina succumbed on Saturday to the considerable charms that former Speaker Newt Gingrich holds for conservatives. As a conservative myself, I too had succumbed to those charms not too long ago — before we learned that Freddie Mac had made Gingrich the world’s highest-paid “historian”; before Gingrich unveiled his bizarre ideas for bringing recalcitrant judges into line; and, most importantly, before he blithely threw capitalism under the bus in his vengeful rage against Mitt Romney. These and other things eventually brought me to my senses about Gingrich. If the GOP is to have any hope of defeating President Obama, Republicans who are getting swept up in the second coming of Newt-mania will also have to come to their senses.

Gingrich attempted to display some uncharacteristic modesty in his victory speech, demurring at the suggestion that he was “a good debater.” Alas, that modesty could not even survive into the next sentence, where he declared: “I articulate the deepest-felt values of the American people.” You’re supposed to let other people say that, Newt.

But speaking of American values, it is precisely on this score that Gingrich has shown himself to be unfit to be the Republican nominee. Gingrich’s ham-fisted attack on Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital has inflicted considerable collateral damage on the cause of economic liberty. And economic liberty, as embodied in free market capitalism, is the one cause that unites all three branches of modern American conservatism: fiscal conservatism, foreign policy conservatism and religious conservatism. We do not have a separate branch called “free market conservatism” because such a term would be redundant — every conservative is presumed to subscribe to the principles of free market capitalism. Libertarian Ron Paul, a fiscal hawk and foreign policy dove, is a staunch defender of free market capitalism. Rick Santorum, a religious conservative and foreign policy hawk, is a staunch defender of free market capitalism. Mitt Romney’s impressive career exemplifies free market capitalism. And with the departure of Rick Perry, whose clownish blabbering about “vulture capitalism” fittingly capped off his unfortunate campaign, Gingrich’s assault on Romney’s business record has left the former speaker isolated in the Republican field.

Gingrich wants to have his cake and eat it too, persisting in attacking Romney over Bain Capital while protesting that he is not attacking capitalism in general. Gingrich, however, has displayed an understanding of capitalism that is no better than that of your typical, well, community organizer. In the days before the South Carolina primary, Gingrich asserted that Bain’s business didn’t qualify as “venture capital” because “[v]enture capital is when you go in and put in your capital and you stick it out.” That’s actually not what venture capital is; venture capital involves making early-stage investments in promising but risky young companies (like Staples, in Bain’s case), nurturing them through their crucial initial growth phase and then getting out.

Gingrich also suggested that Bain’s business model was not “good capitalism.” He went on to say: “I’m proud of real capitalists. I’m proud of guys who say to their workers, ‘I’m in it with you. If I lose money and you lose a job, we lost together because we both tried.’” Gingrich was of course implying (rather presumptuously) that Romney was not a “real capitalist.” Gingrich’s description of “real capitalism” comes off sounding like a European-style model where the state forces businesses to accommodate the demands of various societal “stakeholders.”