Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Newt And Callista Gingrich

Newt And Callista Gingrich, Eight days before Christmas, on the last non-holiday weekend before the Iowa caucuses, the Republican candidates for President darted across the state, dropping in at factories and shopping malls and pizza parlors, like birds surveying a beach and swooping down for food. But not Newt Gingrich. He was sitting in front of a portrait of George Washington and his horse in the gift shop at Mount Vernon, drinking a Diet Coke next to his wife and a man in an elephant costume.

“I’m Callista, and this is Ellis the Elephant,” Mrs. Gingrich told one person after another. About two hundred people had lined up to have the wife of the former Speaker of the House sign a copy of “Sweet Land of Liberty,” a children’s book she wrote about a patriotic elephant who travels through American history, delivering lessons in rhyming couplets: “Independence was not so easily won. / It would take years of fighting and fighting’s not fun.”

Even for Newt Gingrich, who thrives on conflict, the fighting this primary season has not been that much fun. In December, forty-five per cent of the political ads in Iowa were Gingrich takedowns; the Super PAC Restore Our Future, which supports Mitt Romney, spent nearly three million dollars on such ads, and in one month Gingrich went from top horse to underdog. Until recently, Gingrich was fond of citing what he called Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment—“Thou shall not speak ill of fellow-Republicans”—and he often told audiences, “Barack Obama is my only opponent.” But since January 3rd, when he came in a distant fourth in the Iowa caucuses, he has found denigrating other Republicans considerably more palatable.

“If there’s a clear distinction with Santorum, it is that I actually know how to build a nationwide campaign,” Gingrich said, on his campaign’s press bus in New Hampshire last week. He reserves his real disgust for Romney: at a debate in Concord, Gingrich snarled, “Mitt, I realize the red light doesn’t mean anything to you because you’re the front-runner,” and then suggested that Romney “drop a little bit of the pious baloney.” A video released earlier this month by the pro-Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future depicts Romney as a heartless corporate raider, to whom “nothing mattered but greed.”

At Mount Vernon, though, Gingrich was still at the top of the polls, and his smiling, grandfatherly aspect was on display. Newt, who is sixty-eight, wore a suit with a red tie and a blue lapel pin depicting Washington’s Commander-in-Chief flag. Callista, who is forty-five, was dressed in a black skirt and a cherry-red Armani jacket and wore a triple strand of pearls around her neck. As a couple, the Gingriches are a bit like Jack Sprat and his wife in reverse: he is pudgy and soft-featured, with droopy jowls and hooded eyes, while she is slender, with a sharply angled nose and bright-blue eyes that are always wide open. Her hair is platinum blond and very stiff, with one remarkable lock styled into an immobile, upward swoosh.

“Where do you get your hair done?” a red-haired woman asked as she got her book signed.
“At Sugar House in Old Town,” Mrs. Gingrich said quietly, referring to a salon in Alexandria. (Her stylist, Tatjana Belajic, told me she has yet to get a request for “the Callista,” though that would surely change if Mrs. Gingrich became First Lady.)
“You and I have such beautiful natural color,” the redhead said, chuckling conspiratorially. “Yeah, right!”

Mrs. Gingrich kept her face frozen in a smile, but she did not really look amused. “Have you met Ellis the Elephant?”

Callista Gingrich has a firm formality that can be very effective in curtailing conversations she does not wish to engage in. In April, 2010, she appeared with her husband on “Hannity” to promote a documentary they made about Pope John Paul II. (The two of them are partners in a film company, Gingrich Productions, but Callista holds the title of president. “I’m just talent—she does all the hard work,” Newt told Sean Hannity.) At the end of the interview, Hannity said to Mrs. Gingrich, who was dressed in a crisp violet suit, “He won’t answer this. How do you feel about him running for President?”

She replied, “We haven’t talked about that yet.”
“Not once? Not even over dinner?” Hannity persisted. “Are you planning on a long discussion about it, maybe in the near future?”

Callista Gingrich raised her eyebrows slightly and replied in the implacable tone of a kindergarten teacher scolding a six-year-old, “We’ll discuss it early next year.”

Gingrich announced his candidacy in May, and his wife’s role in the campaign has been controversial ever since. At the end of the month, Gingrich outraged his staffers by refusing to cancel a cruise through the Greek isles that he and Callista had planned. The campaign had suffered a series of embarrassing reports—that he and his wife had a half-million-dollar line of credit at Tiffany, that he’d been paid nearly two million dollars for consulting work with Freddie Mac—and the staffers were concerned that a luxury cruise to Mykonos would not help make Gingrich seem like a regular guy, or like a serious candidate.

Virtually all of them quit. Gingrich has called the months of June and July “the hardest in my career” and credited both his wife and her elephant with keeping him in the race. “One of the things that actually saved us, in addition to Callista’s stubbornness, was Ellis the Elephant,” Gingrich recently told the Times. He might have been speaking of his wife when he described Ellis as “happy, positive, interesting, creative.”
Title: Newt And Callista Gingrich
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