WASHINGTON — President Biden recently received praise — underhanded and qualified, but praise nonetheless — from one of the figures least likely to give a favorable assessment of a Democratic administration: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
In a new column on his website, Gingrich bluntly warned his own party: “Republicans must learn to stop underestimating President Joe Biden.”
It was a remarkable concession for a man who practically invented today’s partisan struggle, which allows for few concessions or compromises. Gingrich secured President Clinton’s impeachment; later, after leaving Congress amid ethical errors, Gingrich attacked President Obama as a supposed “socialist” in disguise.
Gingrich is certainly not a Biden supporter, and he takes a lot of cues from Biden’s alleged “wake up” agenda, intended to usher in what he calls “Big Government Socialism,” an apparent reference to the trillions of dollars the president has spent, with approval of Congress, for coronavirus relief, infrastructure projects, and green energy initiatives.
Yet he also believes GOP attacks on the president have been ineffective, citing the Democrats’ surprisingly good results in last month’s election as proof.
“The Biden team had one of the best first-term elections in history,” he wrote, a claim supported by recent trends in electoral politics. “They weren’t rejected. They didn’t have to pay for their terrible mismanagement of the economy.”
Republican attacks have often focused on Biden’s age and perceived senility. Some of the current president’s opponents made similar attacks — albeit much less harshly — during the 2020 primary for the Democratic presidential nomination. They didn’t work then; Gingrich doesn’t seem to think they’re working now.
“We hate Biden so much, we narrowly focus on his speech problems, odd behavior at times, obvious amnesia and other personal flaws. Our distaste for him and his policies causes us to underestimate him and the Democrats,” Gingrich wrote.
He even compares the current president to Republican predecessors Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, both of whom at times benefited from similarly low estimates.
As legendary journalist Murray Kempton wrote of Eisenhower in Esquire, “He was the great tortoise on whose back the world sat for eight years. We laughed at him; we talked wistfully about moving; and all the while we never knew the cunning under the shell.
Like Biden, Reagan was eternally haunted by questions about his age and mental prowess. In a 1983 New York Times column, former Nixon speechwriter William Safire urged Reagan to retire. “I think President Reagan could better serve the country by passing the torch to someone who is ready to start over on the course he originally set,” said Safire, who was very similar to the Democrats. who now want Biden to step aside.
Just over a year later, Reagan would triumph in his re-election campaign, with a 49-state victory that remains unparalleled.
While it is not yet clear whether Biden will seek re-election, his success in helping the Democratic Party avert disaster in the midterms will almost certainly serve as a case for re-running. Biden, his family and longtime advisers expect to make a final decision during the holiday season.
Republicans, meanwhile, are struggling to reconcile the return of third-running Donald Trump with a wave of younger candidates eager to challenge him. That eventual nominee will likely face the same challenges Republicans face in 2022, when many of them campaigned on culture war issues such as public safety and transgender rights.
That would be a mistake, Gingrich seems to say, despite having waged plenty of culture wars himself. “Today, there is not nearly enough understanding (or recognition) among leading Republicans that our system and approach have failed,” he writes.