The Day Newt Cried

DES MOINES – After it happened, it seemed so obvious. Newt Gingrich had put an event with Cafe Moms on his schedule. The questions were more pointed and personal than anything he’d gotten for days. Toward the end, Frank Luntz asked Gingrich a soft, personal question. “When you think of your mom,” he asked, “what special moment comes to mind – I know that she’s not still with us – what moment comes to mind?”

Gingrich warned that he might get emotional, and that he got “teary-eyed” whenever he heard Christmas Carol.. “My mother sang in the choir and loved singing in the choir,” he said. “And I don’t know if I should admit this, but when I was very young, she made me sing in the choir and, we had pictures of me at a very young age singing in the choir.”

He wiped away a tear. The cameras click-click-clicked.

“But I identify my mother with being happy, loving life, having a sense of joy in her friends. What she introduced me to, was late in her life, she ended up in a long-term care facility, she had bipolar disease and depression, and she gradually acquired some physical ailments. And that introduced me to quality long-term care, which I did with Bob Kerry for three years. And that introduced me to Alzheimers, which I did with Bob Kerry for three more years. And my whole emphasis on brain science comes in directly from dealing with – “

Newt teared up again. Click click click. “See, I’m getting emotional!” He steadied himself. “With the real problems of real people in my family.” When he was done, he got spontaneous applause. At least one mom wiped away tears of her own. (My vision was limited.)

When we wrapped, for a couple of minutes, this was all the moms could talk about. The media made sure of this, recorders materializing in their faces to document whether or not Gingrich’s show of emotion at the revelation of brain science’s importance. Gingrich’s late mother, perhaps best known in the culture in pop culture for a Connie Chung interview in which she claimed her son called Hillary Clinton a “bitch,” had become totemic, sort of. As I was talking to one mom, my back was to New York 1, conducting an interview with Luntz about the meaning of it all.

“Will appearing like this help Gingrich…” asked a reporter.

“Stop saying ‘appearing,” said Luntz. “That was ‘appearing. That was real.”