One can tell a great deal about leaders from the quality of those who choose to follow them, and one can tell a great deal about followers by whom they choose as their leader. When Rick Tyler, a longtime Newt Gingrich spokesman, Rob Johnson, Gingrich’s campaign manager, Dave Carney and Katon Dawson, senior strategists to the former House Speaker’s presidential campaign, media consultant Sam Dawson, Iowa strategist Craig Schoenfeld, South Carolina operative Walter Whetsell and adviser Scott Rials resigned en masse from the Gingrich campaign organization last week, we learned a lot.
Too often in American politics, followers, paid and unpaid, who know that their leader isn’t fit to lead, continue to not only support him, but to work aggressively to hide his serious flaws from others, even when they should disqualify him (or her) from high office. The most egregious example of this in recent years was the horrible conduct of John Edwards’ aides, staff and wife, who continued to push his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination in the full knowledge that their man was a liar, a phony, a hypocrite, and quite possibly a sociopath. Gaby Giffords’ staff remains on the job, collecting their salaries while working for a Congresswoman who is no longer working, and likely to remain so. Some people will hitch their wagon to a stinking star if they feel that it will take them somewhere, even if the consequences to others, or even the nation itself, might be devastating. This is, of course, proof-positive of an unethical character, one that lacks integrity, responsibility and respect for the shared duties of citizenship. Perhaps the worst reason of all to stick with a leader after his worst flaws are known is money. Col. Gaddafi has been clinging to power in Libya using mercenary soldiers who don’t care how rotten he is, and there are plenty of roving political mercenaries who make their living on Capitol Hill whose loyalty can be purchased as well.
Not everyone, however, is for sale. Gingrich’s staff believed in him, until he yielded to his wife Callista’s insistence on a two-week luxury cruise to Greece. Their aspiring leader’s willingness to temporarily abandon the hard work of running for president at a critical juncture—Newt’s campaign was already reeling as a result of his unfortunate addiction to chewing on his foot—spurred the mass exodus of Gingrich’s paid followers. They recognized that being a leader requires commitment, diligence, responsibility and sacrifice, in other words, as one of the bolting staff members pointed out, running for president “isn’t a hobby.” They understood that wanting to be the President of the United States was an irresponsible ambition for someone who is not willing to make it the #1 priority, surpassing family, health, sanity, pleasure, comfort or wealth. A leader who wants to lead but who is unwilling to accept the commitment that leadership demands will not be a successful leader, and cannot be a trustworthy leader…which means that he cannot lead at all.
And should not.
Gingrich’s staff, who apparently still admire Newt’s intellect and believe that he has the ability to be a good President, came to the realization that whatever his assets, he does not possess essential character traits that are essential to both achieving the presidency and filling it. They could have continued to follow Newt anyway, as so many other disillusioned followers of flawed leaders have to the detriment of humanity. Instead, they did the right thing: they left him, and in so doing, both signaled that those closest to him find him wanting as a leader, and also probably dealt a fatal blow to his already scant prospects.
Good for them. We can only dream about what a different world it might be if more flawed leaders, aspiring or otherwise, had such responsible followers.