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The Proto-Trump


I think this argument that Newt — currently arguing that members of Congress should be imprisoned for exercising their basic oversight powers — is the crucial bridge connecting the closely related strands of Reganism and Trumpism is correct:

This past weekend, Newt Gingrich appeared on Fox News to denounce the Democratic voting-rights bill before veering — as he is wont to do — into other topics on his mind. Gingrich segued into the January 6 commission, which was cruelly “pursuing innocent people, causing them to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on legal fees” — a tactic Gingrich himself pioneered in the 1990s but which was now not only wrong but somehow illegal. When Republicans gain control of Congress, he warned, they will prosecute the commission itself for unspecified crimes: “When you have a Republican Congress, this is all going to come crashing down, and the wolves are going to find that they are now sheep, and they’re the ones who are going to face a real risk of jail for the kind of laws they are breaking.”

Gingrich’s host, Maria Bartiromo, rather than recoil in horror at this authoritarian-tinged threat, or even ask what crimes he had in mind, instead gushed, “This is such great analysis!”

The man casually threatening to imprison members of a bipartisan commission investigating a violent attack on the Capitol is not some marginal screwball. His influence is ongoing, most recently through advising House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on strategies to win the midterm elections, and long-standing. Donald Trump’s combination of bombast, ridiculous hair, and explosive political success would have been totally impossible were it not for Gingrich’s prototype.

A popular belief, especially among political centrists, holds that Trump is the antithesis of the old Republican ethos. On one side of this divide sits idea-oriented, Reaganite, small-government conservatism, and on the other, an angry, reflexively oppositional, authoritarian personality cult.

Gingrich belies that simple and comforting dichotomy. His career shows how the two strands are so closely intertwined as to be indistinguishable.

The idea that Trump represented some kind of fundamental break within the Republican Party has always been wrong — the ultraestablishment John Roberts has been fanatically opposed to voting rights his whole public career. But Newt is probably the clearest Trump avant la lettre.

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