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July 20, 2016

Speakers at the Republican Party’s convention in Cleveland have now repeatedly called for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to be thrown in jail.

No one must be prouder than one of their Wednesday night speakers, a man who made the politics of personal destruction both de rigueur and the key to his once bright political career and his subsequent personal wealth.

For Newt Gingrich is the true modern leader of this party. Donald Trump is merely a logical consequence for a party that long ago decided to hitch its star to Gingrich.

What a ride it has been.

The complexity of Gingrich is that he was once a big idea man who was also a demagogue. His undeniable charisma, his attraction to new conservative ideas of governance, and his lack of shame made him a force to be reckoned with in the 1980s.

He was not content to serve in opposition and chafed under establishment figures such as Bob Michel.

His full assault on the patriotism of his Democratic colleagues caused an explosion of anger by then House Speaker Tip O’Neill in 1984 that lead to a rare rebuke of a sitting speaker.

Five years later Gingrich took his ideological zeal to the House Ethics Committee, ultimately forcing the resignation of Speaker Jim Wright. Unstoppable, he devised the masterstroke of the Contract with America and became speaker after the 1994 elections.

It all fell apart shortly thereafter. Though singularly committed to using any means necessary to bring the GOP a House majority, it turned out that he was largely incapable of governance. One of his top lieutenants would write, "Nearly every other day he had a new agenda, a new direction he wanted us to take. It was impossible to follow him."

A full public reckoning awaited him in the latter part of the 1990s as charges of personal and professional hypocrisy stuck to him. Gingrich, it turned out, subscribed to a type of situational ethics that could make even the Clintons blush.

Eleven years after forcing a Speaker to resign in disgrace, he followed suit, brought down by the forces of destruction he unleashed and could not control.

It might have ended someone else’s career, but when your stock and trade is outrage, there are always those looking to pay you to express it.

Book deals, media appearances, and a branding empire would follow, all enriching him while also remaining dependent on his keeping the flame of outrage burning.

And no one in American politics has profited so handsomely from the outrage he has stoked for decades.

The new ideas Gingrich brought to the table in his pursuit of power have largely been forgotten. In the battle between new and energetic conservative policy options and demagogic appeals to base emotions, Gingrich long ago abandoned the former for the latter.

It is thus no surprise that the party he fought so hard to remake has nominated a man so remarkably devoid of substance but teeming with insults.

Gingrich’s party is likely going to lose under Donald Trump this fall. But there will be someone else looking to accept the inheritance that Gingrich has left the GOP.

Donald Trump. Republican Convention, Newt Gingrich

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