Those looking to understand Newton Leroy Gingrich would do well to re-read this in-depth biographical article by Gail Sheehy, written for Vanity Fair in 1995, when Newt was speaker of the House and still married to his second wife Marianne, and former aides and colleagues feared he might one day run for president.
“Newt Gingrich is playing out a personal agenda in a public forum, and it threatens the safety, health, and security of our most vulnerable people,” says Mary Kahn. “And that’s what frightens me about him. Someday he might be president.” Kahn, a reporter who covered Newt in the mid-70s, also spent time with him socially until the early 80s as the wife of Chip Kahn, Gingrich’s former campaign manager.
The personal agenda of which Mary Kahn speaks is deeper that any philosophical or material odyssey. As the Speaker himself said, “I found a way to immerse my insecurities in a cause large enough to justify whatever I wanted it to.” Inspired by the books and movies that have been his guides, Newt Gingrich has created a revolution, a mighty quest, and cast himself as hero, the John Wayne who rescues the nation from economic self-destruction and moral chaos. His childhood –shaped by the rejection by not just one but two fathers, and the manic-depressive illness of his mother– created a psychic need so great that only the praise that attends a savior can fill the vacuum inside him. He drives himself monomaniacally, obsessed only with his goal. No amount of personal deprivation –100-hour workweeks, no vacations, no time with his wife– diminishes his narcissistic vision of the global glory that will ultimately be his prize.
“It’s not altruism! It’s not altruism!” he proclaimed to The Washington Post in 1985. “I have an enormous personal ambition. I want to shift the entire planet. And I’m doing it…Oh, this is just the beginning of a 20-or-30-year movement. I’ll get credit for it…As a historian, I understand how histories are written. My enemies will write histories that dismiss me and prove I was unimportant. My friends will write histories that glorify me and prove I was more important than I was. And two generations or three from now, some serious, sober historian will write a history that sort of implies I was whoever I was.”
Until he reaches his “impossibly high ideal,” Newt will remain the unacknowledged child. Many observers see the child at the center of Newt. “Newtie is still a kid,” admits Kit. Marcella McPherson agrees: “Newtie wants things Newtie’s way…If he wants something, he wants it now. Newtie was always for Newtie.”
Sheehy spoke to those who knew Newt best: his parents and siblings, who told a tale of broken homes and marriages and stiff, unpleasant relationships with his father, who abandoned him, and his stepfather, who gave him his last name. Newt is described as a man of shifting ideologies, who would just as soon be a liberal as a conservative if he thought that was the way to gain the power and attention his bottomless ego craves. And she uncovered what is at the core of the man who styles himself Americas’s Churchill: in a word, narcissism. And not much more.
Newt with his first wife Jackie and their children. He would divorce his former math teacher while she was recovering from cancer surgery, according to Newt’s mother, at leas in past because she was fat.
Unlike Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich cannot easily transmit empathy to the camera or a gathered audience. Like Nixon, he does not easily communicate sympathy, trustworthiness, or compassion. His eyes do not meet the camera. He meets the world with the gaze of an outsider whose attention is inwardly engaged. People willingly give to Newt for quite an extended period of time because they are electrified by his tenacity and vision. But as time passes and they expect their relationship with the man to deepen, it doesn’t. And when he is finished using them, he moves on, discarding former loyalists like so much used ammo. Gingrich routinely dismisses any negative public statements as the work of disgruntled former employees, but the depth of feeling among his former allies is remarkable. “There are no former disgruntled employees,” says Dot Crews. “We’re all just sorry that we ever went to work for him in the first place and that we didn’t get out sooner.”
The piece is sprinkled with familiar names from John Kasich (now the unpopular governor of Ohio) to Rubert Murdoch to these:
But in Washington there are many demands on the Speaker’s time. Since Newt became a national celebrity, he has no shortage of female admirers –from Callista Bisek, a former aide in Congressman Steve Gunderson’s office who has been a favorite breakfast companion, to the ubiquitous Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, who has become a self-appointed guardian to the newly desirable Newt.
Marianne Gingrich, however, doesn’t see her husband very often.
… And we all know what happened with Marianne and Callista, who was carrying on an affair with Newt at the time of the Sheehy article and who became the third Mrs. Gingrich five years later.
Newt in the VF piece is described as everything from the conservative Che Guevara to the prototypical Angry White Man, whose act – to include sending out tapes of his missives to conservative activists – predates Rush Limbaugh. It’s long, but worth your while.
Read the whole thing here.