Newt Gingrich is the Obama-era conservative movement's id, bridging the two most enduringly terrible impulses of modern conservatism.
On one hand, he exemplifies everything that went so terribly wrong with the conservative movement under Bush, as evidenced by his unabashed record of supporting massive federal interventions. He's a disgraced former lobbyist who supported federal education and healthcare mandates, lobbied incessantly for pharmaceutical companies and ethanol interests, once proposed executing people who use marijuana, and supported a prescription drug benefit that has blown a $16 trillion hole in the country's long-term finances.
Every signature initiative that Gingrich threw his weight behind during the Bush era was, arguably, a bill that would garner near-universal support from Barack Obama's Democratic Party in 2012. Based on his record alone, there is nothing remotely "small-government" or "conservative" about Gingrich's professed domestic policy agenda. And this analysis doesn't even touch his toxic theories of executive power and foreign intervention, which are ideas that would have gotten him branded as a lunatic in the age of Reagan.
GIngrich's personal indiscretions and horrendous record of congressional leadership aside, his voting record and policy positions are fundamentally unconservative. For any bloc of Republican voters to find Gingrich preferable to Romney is absurd. It shows that the Republican primary electorate clearly has no idea what it's doing, or who it's voting for.
On the other hand, Gingrich's rhetoric and vitriol is representative of the unhinged rage plaguing conservatism in the age of Obama.
He exemplifies the modern conservative ideal that it is more important to pound the table and call your opponent names than it is to advance conservative policy positions or attempt to limit the reach of government. It is this impulse that led Rush Limbaugh to lump Chris Christie -- a relatively moderate, pro-choice, anti-drug war northeastern Republican -- in with Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Donald Trump as candidates he could "rally behind," solely because Christie's brash broadsides against Democrats are a YouTube sensation and dovetail, in part, with the hysterics of the other three. Limbaugh -- and many "conservative" voters in South Carolina, apparently -- must confuse speaking forcefully with actual conservatism.
In his South Carolina victory speech, GIngrich referenced Saul Alinsky three different times. He's called Obama a "secular socialist" -- chutzpah for a man who used daughters from his first wife to convince the media that his second wife was lying about his third wife -- and has practiced classic dog-whistle politics by repeatedly invoking the term "food-stamp president." He's implied that various Democrats are in league with Islamic jihadists.
In reality, Gingrich is perhaps the least conservative Republican presidential candidate in my lifetime. If he manages to rise from the dead yet again and topple Romney, it will truly mean the end of the limited government movement as we know it.