Declaring victory in the South Carolina Republican primary on Saturday night, a glowering Newt Gingrich declared himself apart from the "elites in Washington and New York." These elites, Gingrich declared, "have no understanding, no care, no concern, no reliability," and are trying to "force us to quit being American."
There's nothing new or particularly original about a candidate seeking to distance himself from the East Coast establishment. Richard Nixon famously displayed the chip on his shoulder throughout his aggrieved political life, and Spiro Agnew once memorably denounced the "nattering nabobs of negativism," by which he meant the news media. (The phrase, incidentally, was coined by speechwriter William Safire, later a leading member of the Washington media elite). Jimmy Carter campaigned as a humble peanut farmer and Washington outsider. But it's particularly rich to have Gingrich attempt to position himself as an outsider.
Gingrich served 10 terms in Congress and was speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999. In that post, he was two heartbeats from the presidency, and he was the galvanizing force of the GOP's return to power. In other words, he was near the pinnacle of the rarefied Washington elite. As for the "New York" half of his sneering denunciation — a reference to the media he's been lambasting for weeks — it is worth recalling that Gingrich is a prolific book writer who once received a $4.5-million advance, which he was forced to return after ethics questions were raised about it. And need one even mention that he has made his fortune in Washington (he earned $1.6 million, for instance, giving "strategic advice" to Freddie Mac, the quasi-governmental mortgage giant) or that he and his wife maintained a credit line at Tiffany? Surely that qualifies as admission to some sort of elite.