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Joe Conason
Joe Conason
11 Feb 2016
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The GOP's Toxic Tea Party


When Newt Gingrich warned Republicans that they were making a grave "mistake" by driving out moderates and enforcing the angry orthodoxy of the far right, the sober tone of his remarks was stunning.

This is a politician who is no stranger himself to the wilder shores of extremism, a populist and a purist who rose to great power against the GOP establishment, and a demagogue whose lexicon lacerated the "Democrat Party" as decadent, elitist, unpatriotic and immoral.

In his day, Gingrich channeled the same phobias and fury as the Tea Party activists whose growing influence in Republican ranks seems to have shaken him so badly. Why is Newt scared now?

Despite his habitual ranting against the Eastern elites, the former House speaker is a professional historian and an intellectual with wide-ranging interests — making him a figure of potential suspicion to radio talkers without much formal education and the raving mobs that follow them.

Much as he exploited the prejudices of the religious right and fantasies of the conspiracy crowd, Gingrich has always affected a more sophisticated and urbane attitude. He may be troubled to realize that he suddenly ranks far lower than Sarah Palin, who can barely muster a coherent political thought, or Glenn Beck, who enthralls his audience with weird, weepy rants.

Leaving aside any lingering presidential ambitions, Gingrich understandably feels that brand of leadership will have a very limited appeal for most Americans — and that the more voters see of it, the less they will like it.

Is it fair to stigmatize the tea-baggers and their leaders as a movement of the fringe? In New York's 23rd congressional district, Douglas Hoffman, the right-wing carpetbagger who drove out moderate local Republican Dede Scozzafava, apprenticed himself to Beck, obsequiously flattering the Fox News host as his "mentor."

Hoffman signed a pledge to uphold the "912 principles and values" endorsed by Beck — a juvenile tract that demands honesty, thrift, humility and charity even as it complains that government forces citizens to "share" when they don't want to.

(As far as Beck is concerned, all Democrats are "Marxist" and almost all Republicans are "Marxist lite.")

No doubt Hoffman is eagerly studying the collected writings of the late Cleon Skousen, the Beck-endorsed prophet whose speeches used to stir up meetings of the John Birch Society, mostly against Republicans of the Rockefeller and Kissinger variety. He has plenty of time for reading now, after losing the special election to Democrat Bill Owens.

If the revival of Birchite mania troubles Gingrich, then the Palin phenomenon, now breaking loose with the publication of her memoir, must be equally disturbing. The former Alaska governor has a long, Beck-like history of affiliation with bizarre causes and characters, including an Alaskan secessionist party and a Kenyan witch-hunting evangelist who conducted an exorcism rite in her Wasilla church. She will ignore or minimize those episodes in "Going Rogue," but putting extra lipstick on this pit bull may not help.

Most Americans don't know much yet about the idiosyncratic ideology of the Tea Party crowd, beyond their conviction that President Obama was born in Kenya (and that his birth announcement in the Hawaii newspapers is therefore part of a plot that dates back to the Kennedy era). But what they have seen so far, they don't seem to like: The more that Beck, Palin and kindred spirits appear to represent the Republican brand, the less appeal that brand possesses.

From the perspective of Gingrich and other veteran Republicans, there is deep irony in these untoward developments. Many of the Tea Party types actually hate Republican politicians, unless, like Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater, they are already dead. They hate Democrats, too, of course — and lots of other people — but their invective against Republicans is suffused with special outrage.

If they have their way, every Republican who doesn't adhere to the Beck canon will be driven out at the end of a pitchfork, just like poor Dede Scozzafava.

Fifteen years ago, when Newt rode to power on the resentments of the religious right, the gun lobby and the economic royalists, he celebrated their extremism as the political style of "normal Americans." Today when he hears the violent rhetoric, the hateful threats and the fanatical intolerance, he knows they are talking about him, too.

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer ( To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



7 Comments | Post Comment
Amazing that Newt Gingrich is suddenly this prophetic, mature, down-to-earth guy in your eyes, Conason. Remember the 1994 Republican Revolution that he led in Congress? Back then he was an "extremist," a cold-hearted thug trying to take food from the mouths of hungry schoolchildren (as Dick Gephardt intoned.). Remember "How the Gingrich stole Christmas?" Now you're sitting here telling us that RINO pro-abortion, pro-card-check, Democrat-lite DeDe ScoffLaw is what Republican voters really wanted. I also noticed you aren't particularly interested in the fact that the Democrat Party got their heads handed to them in Virginia and New Jersey last night, or that gay marriage lost its 31st popular vote, or the utter embarrassment and setback this represents for the Obama Administration - much less how it's going to be a harbinger of utter and total defeat of the Democrat Party at the polls next year. No, instead you crow about a single congressional race electing a moderate Democrat for a ONE YEAR term by a three point margin in a three-way-race. Hang it up.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Matt
Thu Nov 5, 2009 2:54 AM
Please! Where did this Conason guy come from? How did he gain his expertise? This writing is worse than drivel. At least drivel at times rises to a level which makes sense. How can a guy with any intelligence condemn Hoffman as a "carpetbagger" and still be a supporter of Hilary Clinton? And, of course, Newt Gingerich is correct now that he has slid far to the left, but he was dead wrong in 1994. This Conason guy is about as logical as Elmer Fudd. I expect him to yell "Kill the wabbit" in his next diatribe.
I sometimes give liberals a chance to pontificate just to assure myself that my supposed "far right" opinions are correct. This stunted intellect validates the condemnation of liberals as lock-step lemmings like no other writer. Wow! No wonder they have mired us in the most toxic downward spiral in the history of the country.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Jobe
Thu Nov 5, 2009 6:58 AM
Newt isn't a consevative, liberal, moderate, libertarian, or anything. Newt's stance on nearly everything blows with the political wind. The only thing Newt stands for is...come to think of it he may not even stand for that.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Kevin Eggers
Wed Nov 11, 2009 3:29 PM
Hey Joey, Who must you be?....David Corn's cousin?? LOL! Seriously, this twisted psychotic spin is worthy of his mindnumbing illness where it's obviously contagious.

There's nothing “moderate” about Scuzzafufu. The only people we know who are more treasonous in their policies and positions are the Comrade In Chief, his Czars and the Politburo who were previously known as the United States Congress. Therefore, your laughable attempt to throw that monicker on her is pathetic.

We know why you're drooling and you will pay the price sooner or later. Care to bet on whether it's sooner??
Comment: #4
Posted by: Chris W. Sanders
Wed Nov 11, 2009 6:56 PM
This is ridiculous. I am assuming that you were not at the 9/12 rally in D.C. If you were, you would have seen hundreds of thousands, yes, you heard me right - hundreds of thousands of freedom-loving patriots. I brought my children. Everyone was kind and friendly, it was a great rally. I know you want to paint us as hateful and racist, but that is just untrue. I have been to countless rallies with families, older couples, young adults - diverse age, race and social status. None of that mattered, we were all there to support one cause.
Too bad that Newt does not understand that regardless of your party, no American should follow any political group blindly. There is nothing wrong with asking questions when things seem amiss. The woman in NY was not a Republican, she was running as if she were, but her stances were clearly not. This is why she was rejected by the Tea Partiers. We are trying to bring the Republicans back to their conservative roots, where they belong. Would you be happy with your party if they ran someone with conservative values as if they were a Democrat? I didn't think so...
You have demonstrated with your article that you are as in the dark as Mr. Gingrich when it comes to what is brewing in this country. You have also demonstrated your own predjudice against an entire group of people you disagree with, you would sound more credible if you did not resort to name calling. But, if that makes you feel better, then do what you have to do. Maybe you will understand more about the Tea Parties on Judgement Day 2010 ;)
Comment: #5
Posted by: Laura
Wed Nov 11, 2009 7:27 PM
Blah blah. Doesn't matter if you big heads get it, a storm is brewing, and the conservatives will be...(oh dear) conservative. We will not vote for the "poor"scozzafava-type liberals with a Republican T-shirt in their closet. Games up, political correctness loses, we will not be intimidated by your disapproval.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Art Mueller
Thu Nov 12, 2009 1:41 AM
Wow! I read this article b/c it was sent to me by Creators, Inc., and now I have to ask, who does this Conason idiot know who gave him a license and a job so he could be published? Obviously he didn't make it on his knowledge, wit, or talent! I have little reason to believe that Newt gives any credence what-so-ever, nor is he even remotely concerned about, what this Conason moron has to say about anything. Newt is more likely proud of the way things are turning out - can't help but give Kudos to the Dems for this! - and proud as well of the notion he is well identified with those who are being scapegoated by this liberal drivel! Why is Newt scarred? Perhaps he sees the writing on the wall and is merely conflicted as to how to "inform" the citizens of America what is really in store for them! Maybe he doesn't want to let the cat out of the bag! Lots of PS3s were bought with the stim-bill money and all one has to do to learn what goes on in the minds of those who bought them is visit the PS3 virtual mall! Which not only speaks volumes but is way too funny! Maybe Newt honestly feels what's in the heart of serious citizens and wants to "marginalize" what that is. Obviously messengers are still killed today but the jig is up, it's too late Creators dot com, and publishing this guy Conason only proves that you know it, too! lmao!!
Comment: #7
Posted by: bill s
Thu Nov 12, 2009 7:55 AM
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