After months of teasing—all the way up to last week—former House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced over the weekend that he would not, in fact, run for president. According to Gingrich, his plan to campaign for $30 million in commitments would conflict with his role as chairman of “American Solutions for Winning the Future” due to “misguided and destructive campaign finance laws.” Reactions on the Right ranged from relief (“there were lots of people … who are glad that he made the decision not to run,” said Marvin Olasky) to bitter disappointment (“Was it a scam? That’s what people are sort of hinting at,” speculated long-time Gingrich ally Matt Towery).
Gingrich founded the futuristic American Solutions (zen-like motto: “Real change requires real change”) as a 527, the controversial IRS category known for its use as a way to channel unrestricted “soft money” toward “issue advocacy,” occasionally—as with the Club for Growth and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth—for the transparent purpose of supporting or opposing the election of candidates. When Gingrich founded his group, it was immediately suspected as a way for him to build a mailing list and rehabilitate his national profile while avoiding the protracted primary season, which he called “stupid.” Maintaining leadership of the 527 while dropping the pretense that he was not running would have made the group’s practical aim almost explicit, despite his cheeky claim that it is “a unique non-partisan institution — the only 527 of its kind.”
“It was a curious argument, since both the 527 group and Gingrich’s apparent White House ambitions have been around for about a year. Why did it take so long for Gingrich and his crack team of lawyers to realize that he couldn’t have it both ways?” asked the National Journal blog.
While Gingrich says he’s standing down from candidacy because he’s “not willing to sacrifice American Solutions” and its efforts to transcend politics through the use of hokey platitudes, it may be more likely that he’s unwilling to give up what the Washington Times called a “lucrative empire as an author, pundit and consultant” for a doomed presidential bid.
Nevertheless, Gingrich was able to demonstrate his power as a “citizen leader” on “Solutions Day,” the futuristic holiday he organized as a climax for American Solutions. Commemorating the anniversary of the 1994 “Contract with America,” which he and other House Republicans announced dramatically in front of the U.S. Capitol, Gingrich reprised the occasion in an appropriately futuristic setting: a scale model of the Capitol building rendered in 3-D in “Second Life,” an online virtual world.
Gingrich’s specter floated in virtual space before landing in front of a small audience of motley spectators, variously attired in virtual suits or skimpy outfits with purple panda ears. There was reportedly even a virtual streaker. Although its lips weren’t moving, the cyber-Gingrich lauded “Second Life” as a triumph of “the world that works,” the theme of American Solutions.