Thousands of political humorists were plunged into near despair last week as real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump announced that he would not, after all, be seeking the Republican nomination for the presidency.
It's true that the move was not totally unexpected. After the cornerstone of Trump's candidacy (pandering to the birther lunatics) was dealt a mortal blow by the release of the president's "long form" birth certificate, one might expect he would have quietly folded his tent and slunk off in shame.
But let's face it, a guy with hair like that doesn't have much of a sense of shame. Plus, The Donald still had his special appeal to that breed of so-called "conservative" whose sole political principle is "whatever upsets liberals is good," and who also suffer from that weird cognitive defect that causes them to mistake "highly amused" for "upset."
(I've often wondered what watching a comedy show with people like that must be like: "Look! That man is scaring those people!" "Um, no ... he's a comedian. They're laughing at him." "No, no, they're terrified!" But I digress.)
Anyway, there was still some hope that Trump would stay in and keep the laughs coming. Unfortunately, the lure of TV money from "The Apprentice," not to mention the cachet of working with stars like Gary Busey and Meat Loaf, turned his head away from the path of public service and low farce. Things looked dark for a little while there.
And then along came Newt.
No sooner had the former speaker of the House announced his candidacy than it began to implode. He started off by calling for something that sounded a lot like the Obamacare individual mandate: "We ought to have some requirement that you have health insurance, or that you post a bond, or show in some way that you're accountable."
Then he really stepped in it by criticizing the budget plan of the tea party's new fair-haired boy, Congressman Paul Ryan. Ryan, who's being touted as if he was the Second Coming of St. Ronnie Reagan, drafted, and the Republican-controlled House voted for, a plan to dismantle Medicare and replace it with a voucher system.
Gingrich, like a lot of Americans who've been giving their congresspeople an earful recently, called the plan "too radical" and "right-wing social engineering."
Ryan immediately fired back, asking, "With allies like that, who needs the left?" House Speaker Eric Cantor called the remarks a "misspeak" and noted that "I think that many have said now he's finished." Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer was one of that many. "He's done," Krauthammer said unequivocally.
In a video seen across the Internet, an angry man walked up to Newt as he was campaigning in Iowa, called him "an embarrassment to our party," and told him "get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself."
After that, the Newtster did the only thing a shameless political hack such as he could do: He began backpedaling so fast he left skid marks. He called his comments a "mistake." He denied supporting an individual mandate. He publicly apologized to Ryan.
Then he went even further by going on Greta Van Susteren's show on Fox and warning Democrats not to use his own words against him. "Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood," he said, "because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate."
Yes, that's right. Gingrich actually said that accurately quoting what he said, on camera, for all the world to hear, would be "a falsehood." But you know what, Newt? That's OK. Because "any ad which quotes what I said is a falsehood" is a much better quote for Democrats to use than anything you could have said about Ryan.
Actually, though, I'm thinking of using this tactic, which I've started calling "Newtralization," in my own life. "Any statement that quotes me as saying I was at work rather than enjoying a few cold ones at the bar is a falsehood, because I've now said publicly those words were inaccurate." The possibilities are endless.
I just hope Newt doesn't crash and burn too fast, like Trump. I want him around, twisting and turning and tossing off glorious gaffes (or as I call them, "column material") for a while. But if he does go away, I've learned to have faith. The Lord, as they say, will -provide. And if the Republican presidential field is any indication, he's got a fine sense of humor.