When a friend caught iconic comedian W.C. Fields reading a Bible shortly before his death, he asked Fields what he was doing. "I'm looking for loopholes," Fields replied.
In recent weeks, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- one of American politics' most colorful and unlikeable political figures — has seemed like someone frantically looking for loopholes as he slides to the end of his political life. And what a sad ending it had become.
No more print reporters are embedded with his campaign. Gingrich was reportedly charging $50 to have a picture taken with him at campaign events. Who does he think he is? Charlie Sheen? Sheen was "Winning!" and Gingrich in recent months has been "Losing!" — losing primaries, losing his status as the surging Anti-Romney to former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, losing respect among establishment GOPers who wanted him out of the race, and losing his briefly refurbished image due to his over-the-top political rhetoric.
It's finally time to write the political obituary of Newt Gingrich. And it couldn't happen to a (less) nicer guy.
Walter Shapiro, The New Republic's columnist, who has followed Gingrich for many years, captured this final phase of Gingrich's political career perfectly.
"Despite Newt Gingrich's best efforts, it looks like the world is going to have to save itself. A humiliating third-place finish in [the] Louisiana primary should have extinguished the last embers of Gingrich's wildfire dream of a second-ballot victory at the GOP Convention ... How hard it must be for Gingrich at 68 to accept that his active political career is over for good," Shapiro wrote.
"Gingrich's long Harold Stassen-esque good-bye from the 2012 campaign has already obscured memories of how stunningly close Newt came to dethroning Mitt as the king of inevitability. Resurrected through compelling debate performances, Gingrich led all the Iowa [polls] for a month during the late fall. What deflated Gingrich in Iowa was his own puffed-up sense of entitlement as much as the pro-Romney Super PAC attack ads ..."
Due to solid debate performances, Gingrich rose from a baggage-weighted, Clinton-era political polarizer has-been to self-rebranded, serious, thoughtful conservative. Then, just as all his polls soared, he talked about putting a permanent colony on the moon, jailing "activist" judges, putting kids to work in schools as janitors and how he didn't need to respond to other Republicans because he was GOING to be his party's nominee.
The new Newt morphed into a blowfish.
In recent months, Gingrich seemed to be pursuing a bitter, personal vendetta to deny former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney the nomination. He was also widely condemned for saying President Barack Obama's comment that slain teen Trayvon Martin "could have been my son" was "disgraceful."
Gingrich, the Daily Beast's Jesse Singal wrote, is "the last person you'd expect to feel a trace of pity for. But watching [him] mortgage every last trace of dignity over the last few days, watching him say asinine thing after asinine thing in a flailing, desperate, futile attempt to stay in the news and wrench approval out of millions of hard-line conservative voters who wouldn't support him if the Gipper himself rode down from heaven on a B-movie steed and personally told them to, it's hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for a rather unlikable man, for a guy who suggested just a few months ago that child labor laws are 'stupid.'"
Gingrich is popular with the media because he's an endless quote machine. Begged the New York Times Frank Bruni: "I implore Fox News to pull up its drawbridge, CNN to bolt its doors. If a Newt falls in the forest and not a single news anchor listens, can he really hang around?"
He'll be around. He'll sell his books and DVDs. But, in the end, Gingrich is doomed to political hell. He'll be marginalized and disdained, his image forever damaged by destruction of his successful rebranding — a rebranding he himself brilliantly engineered, then obliterated.
Maybe one day he'll be elected to a council on a colony on the moon.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He can be reached at email@example.com.