Why Does Newt Gingrich Hate Wall Street?

Spoiler alert: It's just another meager attempt at earning him more money and power.

Not gonna lie: It’s fun as hell to watch Newt Gingrich—a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination—openly sneer at Wall Street. But it does make you wonder: Who are the bankers going to root for if Gingrich ends up battling Barack Obama for the presidency?

First, let’s back up. A week ago this time Gingrich had the wind at his back, having thoroughly trounced GOP favorite (if “favorite” can describe a man with lukewarm support) Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary. So Mitt finally decided to start hitting Gingrich hard in TV advertisements and debates, portraying him as “as an erratic, unreliable Washington insider,” which is mean, but true.

Thing about Newt is, he can dish it—to liberals, to minorities, to secularists, to gays, to reporters, and the list goes on—but he really, really can’t take it. Remember: He shut down the government back in the 1990s because Bill Clinton hurt his feelings. Really.

So on Sunday, Newt went to worship at the Idlewild Baptist Church in Florida, then stepped outside and and told reporters that good Republican primary voters would probably ignore the attacks.

“They will not nominate somebody who raises millions from Wall Street to run ads that are false,” Gingrich said.

And just in case reporters didn’t get that Newt was castigating Romney for associating with Wall Street, he repeated the attack.

“I have had a long record as a very hard-hitting Reagan conservative, and the idea that that record would be deliberately falsified by a Massachusetts moderate using money from Wall Street, from the very companies who have been getting money from the federal government, is really about as big an outrage as I’ve had in my career,” he said.

Just to repeat: This is a guy running for the Republican presidential nomination. Weird, huh?

Maybe not. It’s easy to paint Republicans as the party of gold-monocled corporate titans, but there are a couple of wrinkles to that story. First, it’s not like Democrats aren’t happy to take Wall Street cash. One big reason that Ralph Nader did so well in 2000—and gave the presidency to George W. Bush—was that lots of liberals figured out Bill Clinton and Al Gore had sold the party out to moneyed interests. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York, swims in banker donations to his campaign. And in 2008, Wall Streeters gave a lot more money to Obama than they did to his Republican opponent, John McCain.

Then President Obama hurt Wall Street’s feelings. He called big bankers “fat cats” who might bear some responsibility for the fact that they crashed and nearly burned the economy. And all through lower Manhattan, a ghastly wail of indignation went forth about the unfairness of it all. After all, Wall Streeters went to really good schools!

“No offense to Middle America, but if someone went to Columbia or Wharton, [even if] their company is a fumbling, mismanaged bank, why should they all of a sudden be paid the same as the guy down the block who delivers restaurant supplies for Sysco out of a huge, shiny truck?” one executive whined in a memorable cover story for New York.

“I’m not giving to charity this year!” grumbled another Wall Streeter.

The time appeared ripe for Republicans to grab the monetary support of the bankers. Only that didn’t really happen—by October, Obama had collected more donations from Bain Capital than its founder, Mitt Romney, and Democrats dominated political giving in the financial sector.

And there was one other interesting fact: While Occupy Wall Street gained the sympathy of many Democrats with its protests against “the 1 percent,” it’s also true that 53 percent of Republicans agreed in December that there is “too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations in the United States.”

Newt was never going to pull in the Wall Street donations—Romney and Obama have that sector sewn up. (He very much leads the coveted aging Las Vegas casino owner demographic, however.) But he could capitalize on voter anger at Wall Street that exists even among a majority of Republicans. Looked at this way, Newt’s actions make total sense.

So who would bankers root for in an Obama-Gingrich race? Obama, most likely, in large part because he possesses the power of incumbency. Truth is, neither candidate is likely to actually shake up the industry all that much.

Don’t worry: Gingrich tends to say whatever he thinks will bring him money and power. If (God forbid!) he should win the presidency, Wall Street will want to cozy up to him. And he’ll want to cozy back. Newt may castigate Wall Street now, but he’ll change his tune. He usually does.