Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gingrich and Trump at war with GOP

By DeWayne Wickham

When it became clear the Republican presidential debate for which he had been tapped to serve as ringmaster would have few participants, Donald Trump started plotting revenge.

Only two of the party’s seven top presidential contenders – Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum – agreed to show up for Trump's December 27 debate in Des Moines, Iowa. Trump blamed the unwillingness of the others to attend on their concern that he wouldn’t be a fair manager of the event. That’s a fear Trump has delighted in stoking.

"If they pick somebody who I think can't win and if they pick somebody who is, in my opinion, the wrong person … and if the economy continues to be bad, I might run as an independent," Trump told USA TODAY a few days ago, repeating the hollow threat he made in June, shortly after announcing he would not seek the Republican presidential nomination.

He’s bluffing. With an ego as big as his, Trump would never submit himself to the judgment of this nation’s voters. For all is tough talk, he can’t stomach the possibility of finishing a distant third in next year’s presidential contest. So instead he has burrowed his way into the center of a fight within the GOP that endangers the party’s chances of retaking the White House in 2012. This struggle is a battle between the GOP’s center-right and the senseless right.

The center-right is led by people like Republican political strategist Karl Rove, Sen. Tom Coburn, R- Okla., and Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman who now cross-dresses as a morning talk show host. They are unnerved by prospect of the erratic Gingrich winning the GOP presidential nomination and then losing badly in the general election to President Obama. Such a defeat would likely drag a lot of other Republicans down to defeat.

Trump and Gingrich are the most visible leaders of the senseless right. They’re the GOP’s Harold & Kumar. They long ago overdosed on their inflated sense of self – and are intoxicated by their contempt for anyone who fails to acknowledge their greatness. Their brashness appeals to the Republican Party’s right-wing base but would almost certainly offend many of the swing voters who decide the outcome of general elections.

Early in the campaign members of the GOP’s center-right saw Trump as a political carnival barker who got people excited but would never be the main show. Gingrich was a gadfly with too many well-publicized bad acts to be a serious contender for the Republican nomination. But it seems members of the GOP’s senseless right see them as bare-knuckle fighters, who aren’t afraid of bloodying Obama’s nose.

Gingrich is their candidate for president. But to the Republican’s center-right, he is an ideological-loose-cannon whose only real commitment is to his own wealth and ambition, not the conservatism they champion – and to which he pays only lip service.

"The Republican establishment will never make peace with Newt Gingrich," Scarborough said on a recent airing of his MSNBC show Morning Joe. But with a growing lead over the other contenders in national polls – and the prospect of him racking up early victories in three of the first four states where the Republicans will hold caucuses or primaries in January, Gingrich is starting to look like the guy to beat for the GOP presidential nomination.

But to beat Gingrich, his center right opponents who have forsworn peace will have to make war on him. And to stop Trump’s troublesome grandstanding they must call his third-party bluff.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Would-be presidential assassin not ready for freedom

By DeWayne Wickham

John Hinckley may not be insane, but I think he’s still more than a bit crazy.

Insanity is a legal determination of mental unsoundness. Hinckley ambushed Ronald Reagan as he was leaving a Washington hotel 30 years ago. The hail of gunfire seriously wounded the president and three other men. A jury ultimately found Hinckley “not guilty by reason of insanity” and sent him off to a mental institution.

Crazy, to me, is a madness that falls short of the legal definition of insanity.

The government is trying to convince a federal judge that Hinckley, who was diagnosed as psychotic and narcissistic, should not be allowed to have longer, unsupervised visits to his aging mother’s Virginia home.

In 2009, that judge gave Hinckley permission to make 12 such visits of 10 days each. Now his doctors are asking approval for Hinckley to make two visits of 17-days; and six of 24-days duration. If they go well, they want the judge to give them the authority to permanently release him from the mental hospital.

But if what the Secret Service tells us about Hinckley’s recent behavior is true — he seems to be too disturbingly cunning to be set free. Instead of going to a movie as he was supposed to during a visit with his mother earlier this year, Hinckley slipped into a bookstore where Secret Service agents said they saw him looking at books on Reagan and presidential assassinations.

When his mother came back to pick him up, Hinckley was standing in the theater lobby as if he’d gone to a movie, according to the government’s account. Hinckley later compounded this deception by recommending the film he was supposed to have seen to hospital staffers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Chasson said during the court hearing on giving him more freedom of movement.

That sounds pretty narcissistic to me. Sure some people who are judged mentally incompetent can, with medication and the proper therapy, experience an improvement in their mental health. His doctor says Hinckley’s psychosis and narcissism have been in remission for years.

But it is also the case that the insane sometimes can appear deceivingly normal — or at least not insane. I don’t know into which category Hinckley rightly falls, but given his violent history it makes no sense to take an even greater chance with him. Allowing Hinckley to spend time with his 85-year-old mother, who could hardly be expected to properly monitor the actions of her now 56-year-old son, is a questionable test of his mental fitness.

Was Hinckley’s bookstore detour the action of a rational man who wanted to connect with his troubled past, or proof that he is still not fully sane? Does it suggest that he continues to think of himself, even if only fleetingly, like the mentally ill character he was obsessed with in the 1976 movie Taxi Driver – who wanted to kill the president? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does. Not those who clamor for him to be allowed to spend more time outside the mental institution to which he was committed; nor those who argue against it.

Hinckley's deceptive viewing of books about presidential assassinations when he said he’d be at a movie suggests he needs more supervision — not less, because his actions say he could very well be crazy like a fox.