Newt Gingrich’s No Good, Very Bad Week

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One of the raps against Newt Gingrich is that he lacks the discipline to sustain the rigors of a presidential campaign. And while an outburst or two was inevitable, it’s safe to say nobody expected the former House Speaker to melt down like this within the space of a week.

Gingrich’s dizzying pirouette on Paul Ryan’s budget plan–backing it, then bashing it, following by a bout of Clintonian hairsplitting–may have been a fatal error. As Gingrich spun, the GOP pounced. Everyone from Nikki Haley to freshmen congressmen, livid that Newt characterized the budget they endorsed at great peril as “right-wing social engineering,” denounced him as a turncoat. Campaigning in Iowa, Gingrich was buttonholed by a conservative voter who called him an “embarrassment” and urged him to “get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself.”

That was hardly the extent of the bad news. Politico reports that Gingrich racked up as much as $500,000 in debts to the jewelry giant Tiffany’s in 2005-2006, according to financial disclosure forms filed by his wife Callista. Over on Fox News, conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer declared the Gingrich experiment a bust.

“He’s done,” Krauthammer said. “He didn’t have a big chance from the beginning, but now it’s over. Apart from being contradictory and incoherent…in the course of one day on the individual mandate, calling the Republican plan which all but four members of the House have now endorsed and will be running on, calling it ‘radical’ and ‘right-wing social engineering’ is deadly.”

The noxious reaction wasn’t just because Gingrich violated Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment. It’s that he criticized the entire party by maligning its signature legislative proposal, one that the GOP is already quite touchy about as it fends off attacks from Democrats and negative poll numbers. In a conference call today with reporters, Gingrich said he reached out to Ryan. According to the Washington Examiner‘s Phillip Klein, he ruefully blamed the media for springing a trap and downplayed the damage as a minor kink in a fledgling campaign. “If you go back and look at Ronald Reagan’s record, the opening week of the campaign in Sept. 1980, they didn’t have a very good week. And they had to go back and fix it,” he said. “This happens occasionally. The trick is to relax, look at it, try to figure out what happened, and keep moving.” The problem is that he has yet to move five feet without crashing into a wall.