According to recent news stories, Donald Trump is considering former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as his running mate. Though research indicates that vice presidential candidates have tended to make little difference in the general election, Mr. Gingrich would break the mold. He would be a disaster for Trump and the GOP.
For starters, the national electorate dislikes him. Immediately after the 1994 GOP takeover of the House, Gallup found that 29 percent of the public viewed him favorably, 25 percent unfavorably. That four-point net advantage was his high point. After his resignation in 1998, Gallup reported that every subsequent poll had shown that his image was more negative than positive. During the 1996 campaign, Democrats took advantage with ads tying him around the neck of GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole.
When he ran for the GOP presidential nomination four years ago, he enjoyed a couple of bursts of support within the party, but remained wildly unpopular with the broader public. In the final surveys before his withdrawal from the race, his unfavorable ratings ranged from 56 percent (ABC News) to 67 percent (Fox News).
Gingrich initially earned his unpopularity through a series of gaffes and misjudgments during his speakership. In 1994, he suggested that Democrats were somehow responsible for a grisly child murder in South Carolina. The next year, his complaint about his seating aboard Air Force One led to an epic headline in The New York Daily News: “CRY BABY – Newt’s Tantrum: He closed down the government because Clinton made him sit at the back of the plane.” In 1997, the House officially reprimanded him on ethics charges and ordered him to pay a $300,000 penalty.
If memories had faded by the 2012 campaign, Gingrich renewed them with new blunders, such as running up a six-figure tab at Tiffany’s and promising a moon base by the end of his second term. Mitt Romney mocked him in debate: “If I had a business executive come to me and say I want to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I’d say, ‘You’re fired.’ ”
Trump might be thinking that Gingrich could be his link to the Washington establishment that he has so long criticized. If so, he should think again. During his speakership, Gingrich alienated his colleagues through his impetuous leadership style. There was an abortive GOP effort to depose him in 1997, and in the following year, colleagues finally forced him to leave after the Clinton impeachment backfired politically. During his presidential race, few lawmakers endorsed him.
Trump may also have heard that Gingrich is a great debater. And indeed, he did have his moments in 2012, mainly when he attacked the media. But his performance was uneven at best. When he attacked Mr. Romney for investing in Freddie Mac, Romney replied: “Have you checked your investments?” Romney then described similar holdings by Gingrich, who was unprepared to reply.
Gingrich would have additional problems if he were to debate the Democratic vice presidential candidate. On Trump’s proposal to deport all undocumented immigrants, the Democrat could quote Gingrich’s own words: “[T]he deportation of 12 million people, without regard to their circumstances, would constitute a level of inhumanity the American people would never accept.” Gingrich, like Trump, is a person of …er, considerable ego, and it is hard to see how he would subordinate his views to Trump’s.
Ego is not the only thing he has in common with the GOP presidential candidate. Like Trump, Gingrich had three wives and an extremely messy personal life.
In DC Comics, the Bizarro World is a cube-shaped fictional planet is in which everything is the opposite of earth. (Bizarro financial advisors sell bonds that are “guaranteed to lose money for you.”) It would be the perfect venue for the Trump-Gingrich ticket.
Mr. Pitney writes his "Looking for Trouble" blog exclusively for Politics Voices.