The U.S. Capitol is a special place for Newt Gingrich. The former Georgia congressman was first elected to the House in 1978. He was aggressive and intellectual-sounding, rising to minority whip in 1989. Thanks in part to his famous “Contract With America,” Gingrich stepped up in 1995 to be speaker of the House, ending a long Democratic monopoly.

So Gingrich had some things to say last week after Trump supporters invaded and ransacked the Capitol. “Well, I was furious. I am furious. Every person who broke into the Capitol has to be arrested and has to be prosecuted,” said Gingrich on Thursday. He went on:

This is the center of freedom on the whole planet. It’s a symbol for everybody. And what happened yesterday was utterly, totally inexcusable. People should be locked up and punished. And I’m delighted that they’re increasing the preparations for the inaugural because we have to make absolutely certain nothing like this happens again. But as a former House member as well, as you point out, former speaker, I found it enraging that people who clearly are not patriots — these are people are destructive barbarians and they are frankly criminals, and they should be treated that way and locked up. And I’m very proud of the Capitol Police, that they clearly needed a lot more reinforcements yesterday.

One thing about these “barbarians”: They were motivated by just the sort of rhetoric on Fox News spewed by people such as … Newt Gingrich. A network contributor, Gingrich was a steady presence on the conspiratorial prime-time program “Hannity,” where he was careful to agree with the baseless claims from the host, Trump loyalist supreme Sean Hannity.

Take the Nov. 5 edition of “Hannity.” News organizations at this point hadn’t even called the race for President-elect Joe Biden because the results in key states were uncertain, but it wasn’t too early for Gingrich to form definitive opinions. After Hannity raised concerns about the access of observers to ballot processing, Gingrich went off:

I’ve been active in this since 1958. That’s 62 years. I am the angriest I have been in that entire six decades. You have a group of corrupt people who have absolute contempt for the American people, who believe that we are so spineless, so cowardly, so unwilling to stand up for ourselves that they can steal the presidency. And we will wring our hands, bring in a few lawyers and do nothing. … The Philadelphia machine is corrupt. The Nevada machine is corrupt. The machine in Detroit is corrupt. And they are trying to steal the presidency. And we should not allow them to do that.

As Hannity’s corrupt coverage of a fair and clean election bumped along in the following days, Gingrich delivered for his buddy.

  • Nov. 9: “I think, a week from now, we will have amazingly more evidence of just how corrupt the system has become.”
  • Nov. 17: “And I think we have to take this whole system apart and recognize that this is — this election is a great moment for the American people to decide do they want to have an honest election where they get to pick their leaders or do they just want corrupt machines such as the one that Stacey Abrams is building.”
  • Nov. 30: “More and more, we resemble Venezuela, or Zimbabwe, or Cuba, or Belarus. I mean, any of these countries that are truly Third World dictatorships where the elections are totally false, and where the laws changed to go after the opposition.”
  • Dec. 7: “So I think this is going to be an extraordinarily important election, and I think the odds are very high that if every Republican will vote — my model is very simple, we have to win by a bigger margin than Stacey Abrams can steal,” said Gingrich regarding the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia.
  • Jan. 4: “I think this race clearly is winnable,” said Gingrich in reference to the Georgia Senate runoffs, “and I think that the Republican organization, frankly, is capable, of getting more than a million people to the polls tomorrow. With people I’ve talked with who are in the operation are very confident that the turnout is going to be enormous. And I think they have over 8,000 poll watchers, so the odds are pretty good it’s going to be an honest count. We’ve learned a lot of lessons from what happened in November.”

Boldface inserted to highlight Gingrich’s implication — that if there weren’t hordes of poll watchers, the people counting the votes in this Republican-controlled state would throw the elections to the Democrats. Most of this blather is just muscle memory for Gingrich, whose rise to power was fueled by making people suspect the worst of his political opponents. It’s not hard to find political scientists who date the coarsening of U.S. politics — and the preconditions for President Trump’s 2016 election — to Gingrich’s cynical takeover of Republican politics in the 1990s.

As McKay Coppins wrote in a profile, Gingrich was chased out of Congress by the “same bloodthirsty brigade he’d helped elect.” And his thoughts on that incident bear some resemblance to his comments about last week’s rioters: “I’m willing to lead, but I’m not willing to preside over people who are cannibals,” said Gingrich in 1998.

Gingrich will Gingrich. The question is why Fox News continues to pay him to sow division and nonsense on the highest-rated show on cable news. We asked the network about that relationship and will post any response that we receive.

In an appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, former Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky addressed the network’s role in misinforming its viewers about the election: “I want to almost speak directly to my old boss, Rupert Murdoch, to say, you can stop this madness,” Roginsky told host Brian Stelter. Add Lachlan Murdoch, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and Fox News President and Executive Editor Jay Wallace to that list.

It’s debatable, of course, just how much Fox News can do at this point to stop that madness that it has spent decades nursing. As the Trump campaign was seeking to build its case that the election was a fraud, host Tucker Carlson expressed some skepticism about certain claims made by lawyer Sidney Powell at an instantly historic Nov. 19 news conference. A pro-Trump backlash engulfed Carlson, who addressed the discontent in a cowardly segment the next night: “Sidney Powell came on Fox this morning and suggested we may not have to wait much longer. I fully expect, she says, that we will be able to prove all of it in a court within the next two weeks. Well, as far as we’re concerned, that is great news.”

Cheering for voter fraud — that’s one way to endear yourself to the MAGA crowd. It’s hard at this point to determine whether Fox News controls this constituency or whether it’s the other way around. Whatever the case, TV sets need a brand-new “hypocrisy-mute” button for Fox News commentators who express umbrage at the Capitol riot.

The U.S. is more politically polarized than ever. The Post’s Kate Woodsome asks experts what drives political sectarianism — and what we can do about it. (The Washington Post)

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