Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney--the perfect dynamic duo for our times, if not end times. A Batman and Robin for the 1 percent. Defenders of truth, justice, and a Gulag Archipelago filled with child janitors and the fandango of the foreclosed.
If you're rooting for President Obama, or just plain enjoy the guilty pleasure of watching a Real Housewives of the Neo-Confederacy, your dream contest has arrived. Even before the news cameras and nation's attention trek north to the frostbitten fields of Iowa, these two should provide constant amusement as they do battle over who's had the most swift conversion to the principles of the tea party.
While they may be very different, they're also one in the same. Romney's a patrician's patrician, a guy who naturally grows khakis as a sort of protective exoskeleton and makes John Kerry seem like Jack Hanna. Gingrich grew up in more humble circumstances, a "historian" whose second wife (I think, allow me to consult my calculator) told Esquire a year ago that her former husband "always wanted to be somebody" and didn't feel a need to privately live up to the principles he espoused publicly (I smell sitcom!).
Romney is handsome with his hair dry-iced to his scalp. Gingrich, well, let's just leave it at this: go back and watch some old 80's episodes of Jake and the Fatman.
The similarities, however, once you get past the surface, are striking. Both started off as Rockefeller, or moderate, Republicans, and moved expeditiously right to stay in tune with the base of an increasingly radicalized party. Both have no patience for government assistance, even though they've grown wealthy via the tried and true path of Washington political welfare--where your father's name or former position in Congress takes the place of a dollar and a dream.
Gingrich cut a television ad with Nancy Pelosi warning that we had to address climate change, a scientific phenomenon that Romney believed included "human contribution." Meanwhile, Romney passed the pre-cursor to "Obamacare" (you may remember Tim Pawlenty's lone memorable phrase from his 2.5 weeks as a GOP Presidential candidate, when he referred to "Obamneycare") and Gingrich, as recently as a few years ago, was "earning" the whopping $37 million given by Big Health Care to his "Center for Health Transformation" by advocating for the very same individual health care mandate that can be found in Romney and Obama's health care laws.
As I bet you've guessed by now, Romney has disavowed his own health care legislation as nationally relevant (and climate change as real), and Gingrich goes all Jason Bourne when it comes time to discuss his climate-change ad with Pelosi (ditto his advocacy for the "individual mandate"). They'd have you discover any solutions to these two crucial issues by attending the dinosaur exhibit at The Creation Museum or a board meeting at the Chamber of Commerce. In fact, a current Democratic National Committee advertisement hitting Romney and a Ron Paul web ad savaging Gingrich for their ever-changing ideologies are almost interchangeable.
What they most possess in common, however, is personal. They may literally be the two least popular men in their party. In a recent piece by Charles Pierce for Esquire, he reminded us that "one of the few insights worthy of anyone's time in that horrible Game Change book was the fact that, by the end of the 2008 presidential cycle, all of the other Republican candidates had come to despise Willard." Willard being Romney's real first name, even though he (yes, really) denied it during a recent debate.
Gingrich, similarly, since his sudden rise in the polls past apparent Barry White stand-in Herman Cain, has been torn to shreds by a who's who of conservatives--from Joe Scarborough to tea-party favorite Rep. Allen West, George Will to Rep. Paul Ryan.
Forget having a beer with these guys, most Republicans (and not just elites, as evidenced by Romney's inability to surpass 25 percent in polling of the Republican primary electorate) seem to think finding something likeable about either man to require a spelunking expedition into their souls to search for hidden treasure.
Of course, the big winner in all this is President Obama, who with unemployment at 9 percent and a foreclosure crisis still unfolding, should be all but finished in next year's election. But he must be thanking his lucky stars for the tea party and its chosen Republican representatives, who threaten to make him a two-term President, much as a bevy of B-listers did for another incumbent who had no business being reelected in 2004.
This column was first published at Al Jazeera English