Arianna Huffington and the liberal online juggernaut bearing her name have been tough on a lot of Republican presidential candidates, but when it comes to Newt Gingrich, the knife has cut a little deeper. Since the former House speaker emerged as the front-runner for the GOP nomination, Huffington has used her media megaphone — including the 37 million-visitor-a-month Huffington Post — to excoriate him as an insincere, self-serving flip-flopper, sometimes in biting personal terms. In a recent HuffPo column, for instance, she compared Gingrich to “the crazy uncle” who tries to persuade you to bet your retirement savings on an Alpaca farm. And in a Sunday show interview this month, which was quickly posted on the site, she compared him to Microsoft, in that “the more he iterates, the worse he gets.”
But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1990s, when Gingrich helped the GOP recapture the House and took on the Clinton administration as speaker, Huffington was one of his strongest supporters. “She was a big champion of the Newt Revolution,” Tony Blankley, Gingrich’s press secretary at the time, told POLITICO. “She was a friend and an ally.” Time magazine called her “Gingrich’s muse,” and David Brock, in his memoir of the period, noted her efforts to become “the godmother of the Gingrich Revolution.”
It was a quintessential Washington relationship that blossomed in the conservative salons Huffington hosted in the cavernous $4 million manse she shared with her former husband, Michael Huffington, but it’s a relationship that, in some ways, both have been trying for years to distance themselves from. Just as Gingrich has worked to recast himself as a reformer averse to the ways of Washington, Huffington has long since abandoned her conservative roots. But it is in part because of this history that Huffington’s criticisms of Gingrich strike some who knew her then as a bit hypocritical.
A recent critique of Gingrich’s inconsistencies is “so obviously about herself,” said Andy Ferguson, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard. “Her accusing him of opportunistic flip-flopping is like being called ugly by a frog.” “We’re talking about two operators trying to use each other for the advancement of their respective careers,” he said. “This talk about principles and ideals is all gloss over their efforts to get ahead.” Blankley, who is still a friend of both, expressed similar sentiments about Huffington. “She is one of the really exceptional promoters of the last 15 to 20 years, and that’s what she’s doing now,” he said. “I would not confuse that with sincerity: For a while she was our opportunist and then she became somebody else’s, or her own.”
Huffington said her criticism of Gingrich is not driven by personal enmity or partisan politics but by her belief that Gingrich failed to live up to his early promises as speaker, including a commitment to bolstering the social safety net. “There is absolutely nothing about my views that is cheerleading any political party or any candidate, which is what partisanship is,” she told POLITICO, pointing out that she and the Huffington Post have criticized Democrats up to and including President Barack Obama for perceived shortcomings on select social and economic justice subjects. “Both the site and I have certain issues that we care very deeply about — the fate of the middle class, jobs, what’s happening to the poorest Americans — and these are staples of our coverage,” she said. Gingrich “made these really powerful statements” on those issues, she said, and “if he had followed through on his rhetoric, he would have been a very different leader.”
But there’s no escaping the key role that Gingrich played in Huffington’s emergence within the conservative movement, as well as her eventual estrangement from it. Gingrich “plucked her out of obscurity,” according to Ferguson, and Huffington returned the favor by helping to lead a cheering section for Gingrich. It was a time of “tremendous churning of the social and professional order” in Washington, recalled Ferguson, who tagged along with Gingrich in early 1995 after being asked to consider collaborating on a book. And “by attaching herself to Gingrich, it gave her a kind of cachet in Washington society. … Arianna became a representative of that whole Republican Revolution.”
Gingrich first saw her on C-SPAN, giving a speech soon after Michael Huffington’s election to the House in 1992, on the importance of incorporating a “social conscience” into the conservative ethos.
Huffington recalls Gingrich calling her shortly thereafter to tell her the speech “was exactly right” and was the direction that he wanted to move the party. He invited her to make the case to GOP House members at a retreat in Princeton, N.J., and not long afterward she landed a job running the Center for Effective Compassion, an offshoot of a Gingrich-affiliated think tank. There she focused on private-sector alternatives to government welfare programs — an area of mutual fascination with Gingrich — and launched a column in which she argued for the ideals expressed by the new Republican majority. Her status as a Washington power player was cemented by a series of profiles in major media outlets, including a November 1995 Time magazine piece that deemed her “Gingrich’s muse” and the “bane” of Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination he later won.
The Gingrich-Huffington relationship reached its apotheosis three weeks after the profile, when Huffington penned a column for the Weekly Standard urging Gingrich to challenge Dole for the nomination. In the column, Huffington touted Gingrich as “slayer of the New Deal, the most powerful congressional politician since Henry Clay” and credited him with “deliver[ing] on the legislative agenda of the revolution more decisively than even his most ardent supporters thought possible.” Gingrich, she wrote, should “use the spotlight of presidential politics … to challenge Americans to join in weaving a new and true safety net out of their own actions and compassion, to make a lasting difference in their own communities.” Oddly enough, the fallout seems to have happened around the same time. Huffington says she started growing disillusioned with Gingrich just months after he became speaker. The tipping point, she wrote in her 2001 book “How to Overthrow the Government,” was his embrace of Dole, who she described as “a backroom operator without a clear vision for the country. So I started firing shots in my column.” A September 1998 column blasting conservatives for supporting the drug war prompted a handwritten note from Gingrich, who declared it “strategically counterproductive,” she wrote in the book. Gingrich went on to say in the note: “What good does it do to take on your friends two months before the election?” By then, Huffington had all but abandoned the Republican Party and even divorced her husband, who declared that he was gay and said Huffington knew about his sexual interest in men before they got married. She eventually left Washington for Los Angeles.
Very true. Huffington is as phony as a $2 bill. Everyone knew that her husband (the oil mogul) was gay. The “self-made” so-called independent, feminist modern woman was a gold-digging, social climber who clawed her way to the top by using men like all of the other liberal, feminist, so-called Modern Women do! If left to their own devices, they would be big fat 0’s in our society. Let’s face it, she was an unattractive outspoken, power hungry Greek immigrant who hardly anyone could understand. People in the know realize that the only reason Ariana Huffington is on the map is because she was married to Michael Huffington, period! And that goes for all of the other so-called independent feminist would be big fat 0’s out there who matter only because they are married to brilliant, rich and accomplished men. For God’s sake, at least give credit where the credit is due! Let’s be honest, the greatest accomplishments of these women remain in persuading men of Michael Huffington’s status to marry them. Be grateful to the Lord for that! I don’t think that there is anything worse than a woman who piggybacks on a man’s success and then takes all of the credit for it. Talk about a lack of integrity! Give praise and respect to the hand that feeds you.
Asked in a 2007 interview with Michael Eisner about her ideological conversion, Huffington attributed it to Gingrich’s inability to keep his promises. “Remember, Newt Gingrich, when he first became speaker, and gave his first speech, he spoke about FDR, he spoke about the moral imperative of fighting poverty being greater than the imperative of balancing the budget — it was a different song he was singing,” she said. She made the same charge a bit more poetically in her recent HuffPo column: Gingrich, she wrote, is “a very Walt Whitmanesque candidate — he celebrates himself, he sings of himself, he is large, and he contains multitudes.”
Ferguson blasted as “shameless” Huffington’s charge that Gingrich “has the ability to seemingly believe each of his contradictory positions with absolute conviction.” More forgiving, Blankley notes that “Most people who have been in politics or have been commenting on politics for 20 or 30 years have moved around on various issues.” “The way to read Arianna is that she’s going to say what at this moment fits into her public presentation,” he said. “I think she has a wonderful sense of who she is in the media — from the time she ran for [California] governor, to the time she founded Huffington Post.”
Huffington launched the Huffington Post in 2005, a site with liberal leanings that was critical of corporate media and, according to media critic Howard Kurtz, “too populist” for The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN. In February, Huffington’s vision and entrepreneurial instincts were vindicated when AOL agreed to buy HuffPo for $315 million — as much as $100 million of which went straight to her — thereby turning Huffington into a major media player. But the idea that her site was “populist” was eagerly refuted by the unpaid HuffPo bloggers who unsuccessfully fought for a slice, or even a crumb, of the $315 million pie. The move also sparked criticism from across the political spectrum, with conservatives contending she’d become the corporate overlord she had so often criticized, and users fearing that the site would lose the liberal sensibility that had attracted them.
At the time, Huffington told POLITICO “We don’t see ourselves as left … And I think it’s one area where news consumers are ahead of the media, because they know that continuing to see everything that’s happening as a right-left issue is missing what’s happening and is also making it much harder for us to be properly informed.” Bob Scheer, a liberal columnist who for 16 years has hosted a public radio program with Huffington called “Left, Right & Center,” said Huffington has in fact been quite consistent. “When she was on the right, she cared about the same things that she cares about now that she floats above the categories — which is the way we describe her on our show,” said Scheer, who also writes a column for Huffington Post. “She is a very sincere person committed to her view of the world, which does change, but I don’t accept the flip-flop thing on her.” “If the opportunistic label should be put on one of the two, it clearly should be Gingrich.”
Scheer said he’d been at a gathering Gingrich attended at Huffington’s home when she was a conservative and recalled “she seemed to like Newt for reasons I could respect at the time — he was trying to figure out what government was supposed to do, at least that was her view of it.” Scheer predicted Huffington “will probably go out of her way to give Newt’s” perspective. In fact, when Gingrich and Huffington bumped into one another unexpectedly this summer in Amalfi, Italy, after years without contact, she invited him to submit a post about his latest book. He does not appear to have taken her up on the offer.
Don’t hold your breath because he won’t! Ariana Huffington would’ve been a career Conservative but she couldn’t make it as a Republican Politician! Maybe she wasn’t blonde or pretty enough or maybe she just didn’t speak understandable English?? Who knows?