by James Maxwell
Veteran conservative politician Newt Gingrich last night announced his intention to seek the Republican candidacy for the forthcoming 2012 presidential elections in the United States.
The 67 year-old from Georgia, a former House of Representatives speaker who has not held elected office since 1999, has been a well-known figure on the right of American politics for more then two decades. In the 1990s he lead a Republican shutdown of federal government in opposition to the policies of the Clinton administration.
A college professor, he has over the last ten years sought to position himself as a leading conservative thinker, frequently contributing to domestic and foreign policy debates. He has also published a slew of books on US political history, the role of religion in American public life and conservative environmentalism, among other subjects.
However, his controversial private life may depress his support among traditionalist and evangelical voters. He has been divorced twice and married three times – in 1999 he admitted to having had an extra-marital affair with a member of his congressional staff, Callista Bisek, who later became his third wife – and in 2009 he converted to Catholicism.
Gingrich also recently suffered a loss of credibility when he appeared to flip-flop on the issue of America’s military involvement in Libya.
On March 20th, after the UN backed no fly zone had been enforced, he said, “It is impossible to make sense of the standard for intervention in Libya except opportunism and news media publicity. (It is) opportunistic amateurism without planning or professionalism”.
But it soon emerged that two weeks earlier he had urged the Obama administration to take action, saying: “This is a moment to get rid of (Gaddafi)…Do it. Get it over with.”
There is no doubt that both his Republican and Democratic opponents will exploit this inconsistency – which echoes that of former presidential candidate John Kerry over the invasion of Iraq – in the weeks and months ahead.
Nonetheless, Gingrich can’t be dismissed as a contender. With a number of wealthy, high-profile backers – including casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and PayPal founder Richard Thiel – he will have access to a substantial war-chest if he wins the nomination. But any candidate who faces President Obama – whose fundraising capacities have so far proved unrivalled – will need one.