Column: Newt Gringrich, Mr. Off and On
SAN DIEGO -- If the Republican presidential primary campaign were an amusement park, the popular attraction voted most likely to make people's heads spin would probably be called: "Mr. Newt's Wild Ride."
Here's how it goes. Newt Gingrich will say something brilliant on Monday. Then he'll say something crazy on Tuesday. Then, on Wednesday, he'll regain some credibility by taking a bold position on a tough issue that needs to be addressed. On Thursday, Gingrich will be back to crazy -- and maybe a tad offensive. Then, by Friday, he'll offer a history lesson and act like he's campaigning for department chair instead of president. On Saturday, he'll be brilliant again. And, on Sunday, if we're lucky, he won't make any public statements at all so we can catch up and decide how we really feel about him.
That is sometimes difficult. Mitt Romney is a lot easier to track from day to day, since he tends to play it safe and not say many things of great consequence. Lately, you actually have to feel bad for him. He doesn't know who to be anymore. He wants to cut Gingrich down to size so badly yet doesn't know how to do it. So he is sending mixed messages.
One minute, Romney is calling Gingrich "incendiary" and a radical "bomb-thrower" -- the kinds of things you say about a serious person. The next minute, he is dismissing Gingrich as "zany" -- or a not-so-serious person.
Luckily for the former Massachusetts governor, while it might be hard for him to defeat Newt Gingrich at the ballot box, the former House speaker seems to be an expert at defeating himself.
His latest self-inflicted wound was his broadside against what he characterizes as "activist" judges on the federal bench. During a recent appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation," Gingrich suggested the president could dispatch U.S. Capitol Police or the U.S. Marshals Service to arrest judges who make controversial rulings and force them to justify their decisions before Congress.
This is a wild ride. Gingrich needs to take a minute and justify this proposal. After all, this is the former history professor's idea of what it means to have three equal branches of government -- the executive and legislative putting pressure on the judiciary until it bends to their will. That's equal? No, it's coercive.
Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who served during the George W. Bush administration, wasn't having any of it. He said some of Gingrich's ideas were "dangerous, ridiculous, totally irresponsible, outrageous, off-the-wall and would reduce the entire judicial system to a spectacle."
That sounds about right. Where exactly did Newt lose his bearings? And, more importantly, can he find them before Republicans go to the polls in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early voting states?
Gingrich showed flashes of courage and common sense a few weeks ago when he announced that, if elected president, he would keep immigrant families together by issuing "red card" work visas that would let the undocumented remain in the United States legally. But alas, a few days later, he showed neither courage nor common sense when he tried to patch things up with cultural conservatives by promising to build yet another wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and make English the official language of the United States.
Then Gingrich went back to making sense by highlighting Americans' diminishing work ethic and suggesting that government should provide ways of teaching young people how to hold down a job. But he took another wrong turn by applauding those states that have turned federalism on its head by passing immigration laws only to see them slapped down by federal judges as unconstitutional, and saying that, if he were elected president, he'd drop the lawsuits brought against these states by the Obama administration. He also said he would dry up job opportunities for the undocumented by cracking down on employers, and that he would require millions of illegal immigrants to go back to their home countries before being able to come back into the United States legally.
So, let's see. If you're keeping score at home, Gingrich seems to believe in a strong executive branch when it comes to apprehending judges that issue rulings he disagrees with but a weak one when it's time to rein in rogue states who are violating the Constitution and trampling on the rights of the individual.
This must be one of those crazy days.
Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.