He’s back! Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is seeking a return to public office after over a decade off the ballot, though he’s never totally left the public stage. He was once the GOP’s great leader following his party’s congressional election victory in 1994, but he resigned in disappointment four years later. And over the last few years, as he’s flirted with a run for the White House, he’s charted a stunning political course on his way back into the limelight.
Gingrich was first elected to the House way back in 1978, and rose through the Republican ranks to become Minority Whip in 1988. In 1994, with Minority Leader Bob Michel retiring, Gingrich spearheaded an ambitious effort to win the House after 40 years of Democratic dominance, with the “Contract With America” platform tapping into public dissatisfaction with President Bill Clinton, and he rode the wave straight to the Speaker’s gavel. After a tumultuous two terms that included two government shutdowns and the impeachment of Bill Clinton over a sex scandal — but also significant accomplishments such as welfare reform and spending compromises that helped lead to a balanced budget — Gingrich resigned from both the Speakership and the House itself, as a result of GOP dissatisfaction with Dem gains in the 1998 cycle.
In the years between his 1998 departure and the 2008 cycle, Gingrich sought to market himself as a policy-minded technocrat. He considered a run for president in the last cycle, but ultimately decided not to do so and instead kept with his American Solutions organization.
And as the Wall Street Journal reported, Gingrich’s American Solutions political organization has had a stunning fundraising record, dwarfing all the other 2012 GOPers combined.
Even with flush campaign coffers, Gingrich’s political record provides much ammunition for his opponents to grab hold of, but it is often said that his personal past is among his greatest liabilities. In 2000, Gingrich married former staffer Callista Sibek, who he had been having a relationship with since 1993, while he was still married to his second wife. (Indeed, Gingrich had pursued the impeachment of Bill Clinton, at the same time as he was secretly having an extra-marital relationship himself.) Recently, Newt has credited Callista for his conversion to Catholicism.
As the nation moved into the age of Obama, Gingrich truly sharpened his rhetorical sword. In this milieu of progressive change, the former two-term Speaker and three-time husband emerged as…a champion of Christian values against the forces of what he often called “secular socialism.”
• In April 2009, Gingrich declared that the Obama administration’s proposed changes to the charitable tax deduction for top earners amounted to a “war against churches and charities,” and further elaborated: “I think there’s a clear to desire to replace the church with a bureaucracy, and to replace people’s right to worship together with a government-dominated system.”
• Also in April 2009, the former champion of government action on climate change turned into a virulent opponent of cap-and-trade, telling a House committee hearing that it would cost the average American family over $3,000 per year (a figure derived by taking the total economic costs, targeted mainly at businesses, and spreading it throughout the whole economy on the assumption that businesses would simply pass all costs on to consumers.)
• And in May 2009, he came out strongly against Supreme Court nominee (and eventual Justice) Sonia Sotomayor, with comments on Twitter calling her a “Latina woman racist” who should have to withdraw from a judicial nomination, comparing her to a hypothetical white man saying his background made him a better pick than a Latina. What’s more, he also raised money off of the flap. He later wrote, “The word ‘racist’ should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person,” but stood by the overall content of the accusation itself.
• However, there were some lines that even Gingrich would not cross. In the fall of 2009, when some Republicans were fiercely opposing an address by President Obama to the nation’s schoolchildren on the importance of getting an education, Gingrich posted his approval of the speech and noted that Presidents Reagan and Bush also spoke to students nationwide.
• Gingrich also had a misstep that fall, when he endorsed moderate Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava in the NY-23 special election, versus movement conservatives who backed Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman. He also slammed Scozzafava’s conservative detractors: “If we are in the business about feeling good about ourselves while our country gets crushed then I probably made the wrong decision.”
Then after Scozzafava was forced out of the race, and endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, Gingrich said he was “very, very let down.”
• In March 2010, Gingrich began providing a blueprint for how a Republican House majority, should the GOP win the fall elections, could stop health care — a political scenario that would essentially result in shutting down the government, though he did not use that term: “They’re going to come in and they’re going to refuse to fund any of these new offices. And they’re just kind — they won’t pass the appropriations.”
• Over the course of Summer 2010, Gingrich took a lead role against the proposed Muslim community center in downtown New York, known by right-wing critics as the “Ground Zero Mosque” for its proximity of a few blocks from the site of the attack on the World Trade Center. Gingrich gradually stepped up his rhetoric, initially saying it should be built elsewhere in New York City, then calling the organizers “radical Islamists” and comparing them the Nazis, and ultimately calling for action by any level of government to forbid development on this particular private property: “There’s no reason this has to occur and whether it’s city, state, or federal there are plenty of ways for America to stop it.”
• Also in September 2010, Gingrich embraced the recent writings of conservative author Dinesh D’Souza — who had previously written that American cultural liberalism had provoked the anger of Muslims worldwide, leading to the 9/11 attacks — who was now arguing that President Obama is motivated at his core by a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” ideology, with the ultimate goal of destroying American power and prosperity from within. “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Gingrich said. “That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”
• In October 2010, Gingrich further advanced the “secular socialism” thesis against American liberalism, comparing modern America to communist Poland in a speech at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University:
The Soviet Polish dictatorship was repressive,” Gingrich said, according to prepared remarks given to TPM by Gingrich’s office. “Imagine a country where you could not pray in school — the government was constantly tearing down crosses — in classrooms and newsrooms it was easier to be an atheist than to be a Christian.
“Imagine a small secular political elite imposing its radical values on a massive majority of worshippers. You can see how strange Poland was — or maybe you can see how relevant this story is to America today.”
• In March 2011 Gingrich offered an interesting explanation of his past adultery, attributing in part to his great patriotism. “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate,” said Gingrich. “And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them.”
• Gingrich also distinguished himself on the subject of U.S. and NATO intervention in Libya — with a constantly shifting position, though in all cases being diametrically opposed to the Obama administration’s actions. As just one example, he attacked Obama for bombing Libya, mere weeks after demanding that Obama bomb Libya. However, he did also attack Obama for flip-flopping, saying there was “now total confusion” on the whole issue.
• And finally, there is the slow-walk to his actual candidacy. In January, he said he would make his decision “by the end of February.” Then it was not until early March that he launched his NewtExplore2012.com site, with a spokesman saying he was “entering the exploratory phase,” but that this was not a full-fledged exploratory committee. Which brings us to today, in early-mid May, with Gingrich launching the campaign.