Nice Newt vs. Nasty Newt: A campaign asset or liability?

Jan 10, 2012

On the campaign trail with Newt Gingrich these days, one never really knows who's going to show up: the Newt who loves or the Newt who hates.

The tale of two Newts is more than a parlor game for politicos. It has become an emblem of a politician who is acting as his own senior adviser - to a candidate who can be his own worst enemy. But one adviser suggested that Gingrich's tendency to strike out at Romney one day and be "nice" the next shows the former speaker's ability to read different moments and different crowds.

What do you think? Live chat with Amy Gardner about Nice Newt vs. nasty Newt, and whether or not his personality is a campaign asset or liability.

Submit questions and tell Amy what you think now!

Read: Newt Gingrich veers from nice to nasty, with few advisers to guide him

Hello folks! I'm coming to you live from Concord, N.H., here to answer your questions about today's story about the Two Faces of Newt Gingrich -- or anything else you'd like to ask about today's very exciting New Hampshire primary. 

One thing I will say in Newt Gingrich's favor is he loves animals. I have long ago observed to be suspicious of anyone who hates animals. Newt Gingrich wanted to have a zoo built in his hometown as a child. He loves animals, and I give the nice Newt credit there. Of course, I am not certain how he compares his love of animals forhis love for divorcing spouses and people in safety net programs, but he does love animals.

Hi there -- thanks for the comment. I completely agree -- there's a really fun photo gallery on Newt's campaign web page (maybe the producer Haley can find the link for us?) of him with all manner of exotic animals. He also has a list of favorite zoos. You can almost imagine him as a kid being taken to the zoo by his parents. He is truly passionate about the subject, and it offers a very human and sympathetic side to him. 

Gingrich's attacks on Romney are spot-on, and the Democrats congratulate him. The problem is that Gingrich has no realistic chance of beating Romney in the primary: he is on a vanity trip and fails to appreciate that he is weakening the likely Republican candidate very effectively. I cannot imagine he has much of a future in the Republican Party (even after his miraculous, post-scandal resurrection this election cycle). - Post commenter erinoconnell

This is an interesting observation but honestly I think it's too soon to say what Gingrich's future in the party will looklike. He has a lot of longstanding relationships, a long history building the party and frankly, his message resonates with an awful lot of people. I've been on the trail with him for weeks and weeks. It's remarkable how many voters connect with him and love his perspective, his references to history, etc. 

I think Gingrich has a mood disorder. He is not quite bipolar, but he has always had this mean streak that would pop out even 20 years ago when he was Speaker of the House. He occasionally makes some grandiose statement about winning the nomination and then his mood changes drastically. I wouldn't be surprised if he is taking antidepressants to moderate his downswings. - Post commenter weather3014

Well, I think I'll decline to comment on Gingrich's mental health, but I will say that after spending an awful lot of time with Gingrich on the trail, including several hours on his campaign bus with him and his wife, Callista, I was struck by how the "nasty" Newt that sometimes comes out on the public stage was nowhere to be found in more private settings. He seems relaxed and seems genuinely to be having a good time on the trail.

Speaking of Newt's love of animals, check out Pets With Newt, launched by his campaign staff.

What do you think is the most true to Newt's personality - the hard, mean Newt or the nice, bubbly Newt?

Well, if you look at my previous answer, obviously I'm struck by how relaxed and happy he seems in his more private moments. But an awful lot of associates who've known him way longer than I have talk uniformly of the "seething" Newt that's always been just under the surface.

Have you ever met Newt Gingrich yourself?  If so, what did you think about him personally?

Yup -- see above. He likes to talk about his grandkids, his wife Callista, his mother-in-law. He's a very regular person when he's taking a moment to rest in a hotel lobby or restaurant. In fact, for all of Newt's substantial fame and reputation, he is the most accessible candidate I've ever covered. He sits down with reporters and chats. Even in the days leading up to today, reporters can get to him and ask question, something that's very difficult to do on the Romney campaign, for instance.

Ms. Gardner - thanks for your in depth reporting. We can assume that best case Gingrich is going to place in 3rd-5th tonight. With the millions being spent by Winning America's Future in South Carolina, can we assume that if he fails to win in South Carolina and become the solitary anti-Romney that his candidacy is over?

I think his path forward would be very difficult if he doesn't perform well in South Carolina. And frankly, he's said as much. He has lowered expectations in NH in part by pointing his sites directly at South Carolina. He has made very clear that he has to do well there if he is to move on to Florida.

How do you see Newt stacking up to Romney now?

I think Newt's only hope is the very same as it is for Rick Perry and Rick Santorum. They are all battling to become the strongest conservative alternative to Romney. The trick is that they're all competing for that mantle, so they risk dividing the vote -- with Romney walking away with a victory again.

Did you know that when you go to it redirects you to  And it says it's supported by his campaign.  What do you think of this move? What does this say about the direction of his campaign?

Yes, it's very interesting. Newt has basically conceded that throwing everything he's got against Romney is his only chance. So much for staying nice!

I think what Newt is doing is smart.  He's showing us that he can be a true, stick-to-your-guns leader, stepping up to the table when he needs to be. And at the same time, he's showing us that he can also be a good friend, and a good person to be around.  I think that makes him appeal to a much wider audience.

Certainly there is a segment of the electorate that feels this way. The question is whether it's enough. After $3.5 million in negative ads hurled against him by a super PAC supporting Romney, there's also a very different portrait of Newt out there. Not to mention his own tendency to veer between positive and not-so-much.

I think between the philandering and the hypocrisy it's hard to take anything Newt says as genuine. His track record of treating women disrespectfully appears to be a pattern. But I concede appearances may not tell the whole story. The thing the sticks with me again and again is the pompous hypocrisy of trying to oust a successful president for cheating on his wife WHILE Newt was cheating on his then-wife. Then to accuse Mitt Romney of "pious baloney" seems hilarious coming from Newt. Why isn't he called out more on his breathtaking immorality, grandiosity and self-importance? I just don't get it.

It's interesting that his marital history has not become more of an issue this year. Certainly the media has written about it, including me (Haley -- how about the Callista story from She the People? Thanks!). But the other candidates have steered clear of it -- perhaps out of fear that it would backfire? Newt also organized a little effort to reach out to the faith community in Iowa in order to talk about his trangressions. J.C. Watts, the former congressman from Oklahoma, did a great deal of work on Newt's behalf, meeting with pastors, etc.

Here is Amy's piece on Callista: Callista Gingrich, America’s Camilla Parker-Bowles

He's smart but not as smart as he thinks. And he is so ideologically rigid in some areas that it makes him say things that aren't that smart. For example, calling the Palestinians an invented people (if anything, Americans are more of an invented people; and the area currently occupied by Israel was not historically settled just by Jews). He even said, in his oft-mentioned dissertation, that the administration of the Belgian Congo wasn't as bad as some made it out to be. His comments on Islam being a dangerous religion might not go over well with the over 1 billion Muslims in the world, and makes me wonder how he could possibly deal with Muslim leaders should he be elected.

It's interesting that you mention his remarks about Palestinians being an "invented" people ( link here ). I think there's a strong case to be made that Newt knew exactly what he was saying and that he was hoping that the very hardline pro-Israel voices (and donors) in this country, who have long supported him politically, were listening. Don't forget that we just learned the other day that Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner, just gave the Gingrich super PAC $5 million. Adelson was quoted in the news agreeing with what Gingrich said about the Palestinians.

Newt should run against himself. Would the good Newt win, or would the nasty Gingrich tear himself apart with negative ads? 
Newt has become NASTY NEWT. As such, he's unelectable, but the Republican party doesn't seem to know it. - Post commenter Benson

Maybe so -- we're about to find out! I do think that he's a complex man. His words get him into trouble sometimes. But his words also elevated him to the height of political success. It's quite remarkable to watch him in a town hall setting, talking endlessly -- and I mean endlessly! -- about all manner of policy and history. And the audiences love it. Love it. I swear the other day he went on a riff about the efficacy of long-distance power lines in Sweden. He got an ovation for that talk.

Alright folks -- gotta head back out to the polls here in New Hampshire to see what the voters are saying. Thanks so much for tuning in! Talk to you next time.

In This Chat
Amy Gardner
Amy Gardner has covered local, state and national politics for 20 years. She joined The Washington Post in 2005 after stints at The News and Observer in Raleigh, The Daily Press in Newport News, Va., and The Corning Leader in Corning, N.Y. Amy grew up in Westchester County, N.Y., but as an I.B.M. brat also lived in Atlanta, Dallas, Paris, Connecticut and Vermont.
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