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Walter Rodgers

Gingrich rise and fall: A question of decency?

Newt Gingrich’s earlier spike in the polls, and Republican voters' enduring wariness of ‘Mr. Clean’ Romney, raise the question: How is it that voters loathe Obama, with a personal history of high moral standing and liberal policies, while supporting a conservative with a history of immorality?

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Beyond that, it is not unusual to hear a few people in the anti-Obama crowd refer to the nation’s first African-American president in highly insulting personal ways, including racist ones.  

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And yet there isn’t the slightest hint of personal scandal about Mr. Obama. He’s an exemplary husband and father, and a moral man. Indeed, the president has been the personification of decency, dignity, and unshakable civility.

Most disappointing is that Republicans seem inclined to reject their own “straight arrows” like former governors Jon Huntsman Jr. and Mitt Romney. Mr. Romney is a moral Mormon family man who can’t seem to generate more than an average 25 percent interest from likely Republican voters. Mr. Huntsman barely registers at 2 percent. Since when does hatred of someone trump a sense of decency among Americans? 

Most Americans don’t like their presidents mean-spirited. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon labored mightily to conceal their dark sides. But some conservatives are flaunting theirs. When I ask a few Republican friends why they reject Mitt Romney, you hear them unjustly answer: “He’s not a real Christian, you know. Mormons are a cult.” 

Actually, it’s the Republican Party that is becoming a cult, according to Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, who believes the GOP is in trouble because it is not winning new voters.

“There are no more people calling themselves Republican through this whole process even though they had a landslide election in 2010,” Mr. Greenburg said at a recent Monitor breakfast. “It has become a cult.”

What makes it easier for those who would take down Gingrich is his long and public history of ethical failings. Years after he left the White House, the late President Gerald Ford privately shared with me his deep personal antipathy for Gingrich because of what Ford saw as a ruthlessness of character. 

Another former House GOP colleague of Gingrich is just as blunt. Former New York Republican Congressman Guy Molinari, who worked with Gingrich in the 1990s, warns he can’t be trusted.

So where do Republicans who value personal decency go? For now they might just bide their time remembering that at this point four years ago, polls had Rudy Giuliani as the GOP front-runner.

Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.

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