Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Newt Was Hated But Elected Anyway. In 1989.


Mitt Romney is busy trying to remake history.  This just in from the campaign trail:

Not surprisingly, Gingrich has often been diminished by his colleagues in the House as a fast-talking demagogue, or worse. Beryl Anthony Jr. of Arkansas,the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says simply, "He's crazy." In 1985, The Washington Post wrote that "Newt Gingrich may be just about the most disliked member of Congress."

Only this was from 1989.  By a Democrat.  Before Gingrich’s peers elected him Speaker of the House.  And before those peers reprinted his picture on their campaign literature more than Mao on May Day in Kumming, China.

The PBS interview went on to say:

Why, then, would Republicans choose him as a leader? Because he is a rare and compelling politician.

The charges against Gingrich include:

  • He’s erratic and polarizing
  • No one will follow him
  • He’s a “big government” Republican

You remember Lee Atwater?  The architect behind Reagan who invented the visuals for campaigns and let Reagan be as aggressive as he wanted against the media and the Democrats?  The man who engineered the strategy to defeat Michael Dukakis resulting in a 49 state landslide? Here is what he had to say about Newt.

Atwater was among the first to applaud Newt Gingrich's selection as whip: "He talks the kinda talk I like." It is clear that the Atwater-Rollins wing of the party, at least, intends Gingrich to be the Republicans' front man in the drive to do for all of the G.O.P. what Atwater did for George Bush--to "Willie Horton" the Democratic House of Representatives by hammering away at the theme of "institutional corruption."

"I think Newt Gingrich has an opportunity to have a somewhat unprecedented role for a Republican House member," Atwater says. "He can truly be a national political guru for our party. He can be a spokesman, he can be a philosopher, and he can be a strategist for our party. As Teddy Roosevelt once said about the bully pulpit, Newt Gingrich has an opportunity to be as big a man as he can be."


Was Reagan polarizing?  Yes.
But it was to those who wanted status quo – especially the establishment.  And yet he shocked the media and establishment by being nominated, elected (and to their horror) now is thought of as one of the greatest Presidents of all time.  Quite a turn around from George Bush claiming an “actor” had “voodoo economics.”

Did Reagan make some people uncomfortable? Yes.
But it isn’t by people trying to get to his right.  It is SOLEY from those saying he needs to be more “moderate.”

And the same could be said for Gingrich.  With training at the right hand of Atwater, are we surprised at all about the image and aggressiveness of Newt Gingrich?

Want to know what his peers thought of him AFTER he spent 12 years in Congress and BEFORE they elected him Speaker?

honey badger imagesAs I’ve been researching the FACTS about Newt’s strength and weaknesses, successes and failures it is striking that not all that much has changed.  It’s over used and cliche’ but Gingrich may be the original Reagan-era Honey Badger. 

He just don’t care. 

(I know, I know. It’s supposed to be “he don’t give a sh** – but PolitiJim knows Jesus so I try not to cuss, ok?)

He didn’t come to “get along with Democrats” or even Republicans.  And frankly he didn’t care who liked him or not.  Notice BEFORE He became Speaker he was “the most disliked man in Congress.”

It is not easy to become the most disliked man in Congress in the space of three terms, but Newt Gingrich was no ordinary congressman. Even before he got to Capitol Hill, when he was making his first run in 1974, he said, "I intend to go up there and kick the system over, not try to change it." It was not your usual sort of campaign promise, but then, Gingrich did not keep his word on it. When he arrived in Washington, he ignored the traditional course for freshmen congressmen of quietly taking backseat and doing party and committee grunt work while learning the ropes. Instead, he openly cultivated the press and, of course, he developed his romance with C-SPAN.

He was the original “Rogue.”  He called the Democrats and Speaker O’Neil “blind to communism” and challenged their patriotism. 

Trent Lott, who was then minority whip, protested O'Neill's attack on Gingrich as being out of order, and O'Neill's remarks were stricken from the record. It was the first such rebuke of a Speaker of the House since 1798. Gingrich was famous.

Gingrich gradually developed a political manifesto, a sort of New Age Reaganism, and called his blueprint for a new America the "Conservative Opportunity Society" (as opposed, of course, to the Liberal Welfare State.) By 19(86?), although he held no committee chair or leadership position, Newt Gingrich was named by The Almanac of American Politics as one of the twenty-six most influential members of the House.

Think Gingrich was a “Big Government” Republican?

And he was scorned by detractors for some of his wackier notions -- potential political dynamite (he once proposed abolishing Social Security and replacing it with mandatory I.R.A.'s).

And he didn’t care if the spineless Republicans wouldn’t take on the Democrats.  It is reported he had been planning a take over of Congress from the moment he ran for his first election for Congress.

Gingrich had taken on Democrats almost from the moment he hit town, but in May 1988 he went after the big fish: the Speaker of the House. After spending months preparing his case against Wright, he filed charges of ethics violations with the House Committee on Standards of Official conduct.

It was a lonely course; while some Republicans privately cheered Gingrich's move, none would join him in those first months as he fought to bring his complaint. The Speaker of the House --any Speaker-- is a force not to be trifled with, and Wright was held to be particularly vindictive. Also, many Republicans were (and are) unsure about the propriety of making ethics a partisan issue; beyond that, there is the "glass house" syndrome in Congress, a work unto itself where ethically questionable behavior is sometimes explicitly within the rules. But Gingrich was determined.

…and was vindicated, to a degree, when the committee issued its report this April. Essentially, it charged Wright with sixty-nine potential violations. The Speaker, asked at the time about his feelings for Gingrich, said they were like those "of a fire hydrant for a dog."

He was being singled out on ethics charges the minute he began to make waves. 

All of this, of course, makes Newt Gingrich a more tempting target for Democrats than ever before, which is why Alexander's ethics complaint against the Georgian should have surprised no one.

This article BEFORE he was speaker talks of charges he had his own “book scandal” similar to the one that he used to take down Speaker Wright.  But interestingly enough, Gingrich was actually mortified that he might have done something unknowingly:

Gingrich has taken the assault hard, and was reportedly shaken to the point of tears when he heard that four Democratic colleagues were asking that a special outside counsel pursue the charges. He says he was "surprised and hurt," and spent long, anguished hours wondering if he had in fact done something worthy of investigation.

But Newt Gingrich didn't get this far by indulging in self-doubt. The next day the bomb thrower was back on the attack, accusing the Democrats of "an amateur smear," and bullying the press for refusing to blithely accept his definition of an "investment" (House rules prohibit gifts from individuals in excess of $1,000). He played the annoyed college instructor, hectoring and ridiculing reporters. When he told Andrea Mitchell of NBC News that she was "overreaching" with a question, she expressed the sentiment of many in the room by snapping back, "It's an environment you helped to create."

Ironically, this part is prophetic given as Speaker himself, would face 84 charges with all but a minor issue of false testimony (not by Gingrich but from a written document by a lawyer on his behalf):

It's an environment that figures to get muddier. Newt Gingrich has touched off a scandal of truly historic proportion. The various investigations of Wright's personal and business conduct range far beyond Gingrich's original charges, and the ethics committee is now probing allegations of wrongdoing related to Wright's unusual good fortune in an oil well deal (his blind trust turned a nifty $292,000 profit in a month). As the revelations continue, congressional and media scrutiny of the Speaker has intensified.

And how did Gingrich respond?  By planning to take over Congress.

By Saturday he has shaken off the setbacks of the news conference and the Democrats' attacks--"a smear campaign by Jim Wright's cronies"--and is pounding away once more at the "corrupt left-wing machine." He spends most of the day at Atwater's home, plotting strategy. His goal: a Republican majority by 1992. ("And the great thing about Gingrich," says Atwater, "is that he really believes it.") That evening, after attending the White House correspondents dinner, Gingrich makes an appearance on a public-television talk show, where he says that God has given him a mission: "To find honest self-government and to survive as a free people."

It will be hard for the Democrats to campaign against that.

But it is important to note WHO the Republicans chose at a time of national crisis to not just orchestrate legislative strategy with Reagan – but also POLITICAL strategy.

This spring, in an extraordinary jolt to the usually somnolent politics of House Republicans, Gingrich leapt from his niche as a back-bench bomb thrower to the post of minority whip, a key position in a party leadership. His ascension changes the chemistry of politics on Capitol Hill and signals a dramatic new Republican strategy. After thirty-four years as the minority party in Congress, years of deep frustration, the Republicans seem ready to launch an all-out war on Democratic dominance, attacking the Democratic Party as a whole with the same spectacularly successful (if ungentle) tactics that George Bush's campaign managers used against Michael Dukakis in 1988.

So is he unable to discipline himself?  The Democrats were shocked that he could get along when Newt became Minority Whip as Gingrich easily worked with them to pass the first budget under Reagan.  THIS is telling.

But there are also those in the G.O.P. who say that Gingrich is biding his time, that it is one thing to be conciliatory on the budget, and that when it comes to real "wedge" issues, those gut issues that can be used against Democrats committed to policies outside the moderate-conservative spectrum, the Gingrich strategy will be to raise hell and publicize the divisions.

Today the Democrat party has (knowingly) allowed an undocumented worker to take the highest political office in America, push through the broadest reach of power in our history without even reading the legislation and put in place unconstitutional foundations of power that are more typical of a government designed by Marx than Monroe.  How did the liberal press see his accomplishment BEFORE being Speaker?

The bottom line is that Gingrich has delivered a crushing blow to the Democratic Party, and he's prepared to escalate the battle if necessary. "There are at least nine cases of documented Democratic scandals that by their standard would require independent counsel," he notes, then goes on to make what sounds very much like a threat. For the Democrats to press the case against him, Newt Gingrich warns, would be "an act of self-immolation that is irrational."

I should think the lessons of Gingrich teach us this:

  1. He ain’t afraid to just go after Obama, but those around him.
  2. He won’t give up reforming government because it looks hard.
  3. He needs good people around him to keep him focused.
  4. He needs good people around him to do the “detail” stuff.
  5. He isn’t frozen by the prospect he will make mistakes which makes him make more mistakes than the cautious politician.
  6. He has been on a crusade against liberalism and tyranny since he was a kid. (see footnote)
  7. His skills were certainly more suited for the Executive Branch.

Four years before being elected Minority Whip Newt had this to say, still only a lowly Georgia Congressman:

"I have an enormous personal ambition. I want to shift the entire planet. And I'm doing it...Oh, this is just the beginning of a 20-or-30-year movement. I'll get credit for it...As a historian, I understand how histories are written. My enemies will write histories that dismiss me and prove I was unimportant. My friends will write histories that glorify me and prove I was more important than I was. And two generations or three from now, some serious, sober historian will write a history that sort of implies I was whoever I was."

Like now, his detractors want to make less of historic accomplishments than what they were, and his admirers will gloss over his struggles.  As I noted in an earlier post, fellow Congressional crusader Vin Webber emphasized that there really was no other way to accomplish what they did.  But I’d say more than anything this demonstrated that he knows he is on a mission, and his leadership is much more calculated – than erratic.

…as a fifteen-year-old high school student,… Gingrich was "called" to politics.

"I got active in this business of politics and self-government in 1958, when my father, who was serving in the U.S. Army, took us to the battlefield of Verdun." The boy stared at the bone pile left by the great battle, and "over the course of the weekend, it convinced me that civilizations live and die by, and that the ultimate margin in a free society of our fate is provided more by, elected political leadership than by any other group. That in the end it's the elected politicians that decide where we fight and when we fight and what the terms of engagement are, and what weapons systems are available." That awakening, he says, led to a 180-page term paper on the balance of world power. When he turned in the paper, he informed his teacher that his family was being transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he would become a Republican congressman.

Unbelievably, Romney is attempting to degrade Gingrich’s “Reagan” credentials.  That’s right.  The guy who said in 1994 "I am an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush"  And finally, just in case this wasn’t enough crammed into one post, a quick link to an amazing article in the American Spectator.   The highlights:

  • Reagan’s personal photographer selected only 139 people (out of thousands) who were part of the story of the “Regan Revolution” to be included in a pictorial book in 1985. Gingrich was one of only 19 members of Congress to make it.   And at that time had only been in Congress 6 years.
  • Gingrich stood up to Reagan’s Treasury Secretary Nominee DON REGAN on the issue of banning tax increases  in the GOP platform even publicly calling out Senate Tax Chairman Bob Dole as a “tax collector for the welfare state.”  (Bob Dole just endorsed Romney by the way.)
  • Gingrich also fought against Senior Senator John Warner who wanted to water down Ronald Reagan’s insistence of using the word “superiority” as a platform position.  Gingrich won that one too.

Romney wanted “work product” of Gingrich’s involvement in a for profit company Romney himself invested in.  Perhaps this “work product” from Steven F. Hayward's The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution 1980-1989 will satisfy him on the Reagan thing. Quoting Jack Kemp on Newt’s complaint that Reagan didn’t finish accomplishing much of what they set out to do:

Reagan put his arm around the young Georgia Congressman and said in his typically gentle fashion, "Well, some things you're just going to have to do after I'm gone."

The best comeback to me was the Gingrich campaign who blasted a fax to the media of all of Mitt Romney’s conservative accomplishments while Governor for 3+ years. 

A blank piece of paper.


Thank you for taking the time to share this! I wish folks could just cut thru the crap and make some sense of what is important!

Newt Gingrich has so many more positives than the petty negatives and if the press was really doing their job, all Americans would be aware of them by now!

I found @poliltijim on twitter, just as I had unsubscribed form GBTV. was God looking out for me, or what!
Facts are so uplifting and the history so intriguing
put much in prospective.
Glenn Beck needs Politijim on his research team, so Becks audience would have honest information to make the best decision for our President.
Thank you for your good work for us that the media will no long do

This is a really great article, Jim, with excellent use of attributions. There was one glaring error, at least I hope it was an error. ROUGE is French for red. I think you were looking for ROGUE. As in, GOING ROGUE, the outstanding account of the 2008 election by Sarah Palin.

Thank you so much. My spell check didn't catch it nor did my editor. he will have to be fired. Oh wait. That's me. Well I blame my two proof readers. (Am I becoming a liberal?)


Many thanks. I try to write this in between my real job and appreciate help like this more than you know.

I'd love to know where you got that 180 page term paper reference from. 15 years old. And they said Clinton was ambitious. Not that that's a negative!
The more I hear about Newt, the more I remember doing the fist pump every time he came on my screen not too long ago. I'm 54 years old and your recollection of the history of the Reagan years and the take over of Congress by the 'Gingrich Revolution' matches my memory perfectly.

spot on my friend....good job.

The 180 page term paper reference was from a WGBH interview in the 90's - here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/newt/boyernewt1.html

thank you sir for another fine and well researched article. I was not paying close attention to politics when Gingrich was Speaker but I learned many facts about him quickly when he decided to run for President. I can see why many dislike him-great leaders often are. It's a no brainer why he should be the Republican nominee.

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