As I drove down interstate 75 that day a few weeks ago, cruising through the farms and swampland of northern Georgia, moving at speeds unseen in that part of the country since the heyday of Bo and Luke Duke, I felt an unseasonable chill in the air, a chill that grew in intensity until it felt as if it was taking hold of my very bones. It was so profoundly disconcerting that I began to wonder whether I was simply feeling the effects of an odd weather pattern or if, instead, I was only now, with my goal nearly in sight, experiencing a foreboding sign, a warning being sent to me in some ghastly manner from the ultimate destination of my trip. However, after a few brief moments of terror, my steely reserve took over, I cranked the radio up, floored the gas pedal, and settled in for the home stretch.
A few hours later I arrived at my destination, a rundown strip mall on the outskirts of Atlanta. I looked up at the place, most of its storefronts empty, and saw on the second story, nestled between an unlicensed dentist’s office and a shuttered bail bondsman’s shop, the object of my journey: Newt Gingrich Campaign Headquarters.
I was scheduled to meet the soon-to-be ex-candidate a couple of days later, but my immediate desire was an interest sparked by the kind of curiosity that leads people to visit zoos. A few days previous, Michael Krull, Gingrich’s campaign manager and chief lackey, had resigned, and when even your Sancho feels like it’s time to cut bait you know something is seriously amiss. You see, politics is about winning above all else. Moral convictions, civic duty, dignity, all of these things place a distant second to the almighty god of victory, and I wanted to know what kind of political animals would have allowed themselves to be left off the Noah’s Ark of electoral inertia.
Ambling up the stairs to the actual offices I had to pass by a couple of people I first took to be sleeping drunks, but who I quickly realized were Newt’s secret service detail. In keeping with their agency’s recent scandal and, let’s face it, the completely gratuitous nature of their assignment, they had apparently decided that their time was best spent drinking 40’s out of paper bags and harassing the Asian women who ran the mani/pedi salon on the first floor. Considering the man they were assigned to guard, I didn’t exactly fault them. So, after passing a brief screening that consisted of an agent scanning my driver’s license through the fog of his dark sunglasses and lingering hangover, I marched on into the headquarters.
The first person I encountered was a receptionist named Tammy whose agitated demeanor and constant teeth gnashing belied the cheeriness she attempted to impart. It turned out Tammy was a methhead from Texas who had volunteered for the campaign hoping it would gain her early entree into Newt’s moon colony.
“Howdy there,” she greeted me. Then, speaking at a pace so rapid I at first took it for another language, she continued, “Welcome to the home base of the next great President of these United States. How can I help you?” I informed her of my purpose, telling her I had been sent by the venerable political website Mildly Relevant News to cover the campaign. Her excited response to this bit of information was more than I would have expected from a child on Christmas morning. In a screeching cry she exclaimed, “It’s about freakin’ time! We haven’t had a reporter come through here since that boy from Fox News wound up getting beaten and robbed in the back all…”
Before she could finish, though, an older gentleman, who appeared to be going for a sort of Colonel Sanders meets Larry the Cable Guy look, grabbed me by the arm and dragged me into a back office that appeared to double as a supply closet. “Ignore Tammy,” he began, once we were firmly ensconced in the closet. “The name’s Jimbo,” he said by way of introduction, while pulling on a chain dangling from a light fixture and tapping the bulb in an effort to illuminate our surroundings. “Glad to see one of you media boys finally got back around to us. I suppose you’ve been real busy, what with the whole White House scandal and all.”
At that I was a bit confused. As a matter of course, and profession, I follow the news pretty closely, and was yet to hear of any scandal emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When I asked Jimbo what he was talking about his response alerted me to the dire circumstances in which I now found myself. “Oh, you know, that whole Whitewater business!” he exclaimed. “With that hick Clinton shooting himself in the foot right now it’s a sure thing we’ll be taking back the house this fall. Contract with America, my friend. Yee-hoo!”
That’s when it truly sank in. I had come to Atlanta to find out how someone with a history of abandoning wives, ideology, and common sense at the first sign of trouble could be continuing on with a campaign as quixotic as the one Gingrich was running. But as I was quickly discovering, it had nothing to do with his ego, his politics, his ideas, or even his place in history. This campaign was the product of a madman. And, as one would expect, madness had infected every level of the organization. I had embarked on a journey into the heart of darkness and, at that moment, I was truly afraid I might never return to tell the story.
Looking up at Jimbo, his large doe eyes gleaning back at me, my flight instinct kicked in. But before I was able to push past him out of the supply closet he grabbed me by the shoulder and thrust a piece of paper into my hand. “Here, this should help you with any questions you might have.”
Stepping back into the slightly more well lit main room, I looked at the paper. It’s headline read; Fun Facts About Newt Gingrich.
Newt Fun Fact #1: Whether it be chicken, turkey, or women, Newt Gingrich is most assuredly a breast man.
To be continued…