I’ve been digging into the annals of internet archives to understand the truth about Newt. (Why does that sound so dirty?) We learned that even before he was elected Speaker he was disliked and despised. But his peers still elected him speaker. We also learned that not only did our most respected conservative leaders consider him “conservative,” they thought he was indispensible to the Reagan Revolution and it’s derivatives.
Pete DuPont was a three term US Congressman and Governor of Delaware as well as being the founder of GOPAC. As Governor, he so changed the political animus in a liberal state (Joe Biden’s state) that not only did he get two tax reductions and a constitutional amendment that limited government spending, he changed the way Democrats and Republicans worked together that impacts Delaware politics today. In conservative circles he is known for his 1988 Presidential run against then Vice President Herbert Walker Bush and founding GOPAC. His original intent was to build a fund for the conservative “farm team” in local and state races and was quite effective in the first years of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency.
What did Dupont think of young Georgia Gingrich? Enough that he turned GOPAC entirely over to Newt. (Are you younger conservatives stunned yet?)
From GOPAC’s Website: Newt Gingrich was frustrated by the Party's inability to capitalize on the Reagan Revolution at the state and local levels. Taking the helm of GOPAC, Gingrich emphasized spreading ideas and inspiring conservative, reform-minded citizens. Through countless campaign seminars, workbooks, audiotapes and years of grassroots organizing, GOPAC became the Republican Party's preeminent education and training center. The famous GOPAC tapes, in particular, galvanized Republican candidates and activists.
An Interview with Pete DuPont about Newt included:
- Gingrich is the Thomas Paine of the Regan Revolution.
- He would support a Gingrich candidacy for President.
- Colin Powell was a “country club” Republican. Newt is a “bowling alley” Republican and the GOP can not win without it.
- Newt’s entire philosophical basis was to take on the establishment.
- He still considered Gingrich an “outsider” even after being elected Speaker.
- Newt terrorizes liberals because he won’t give into their plan. Moderates warm up to him because they see he will be pragmatic.
- Gingrich began designing the funding, education communication and strategy for a conservative takeover of Congress 6 years or more before Contract With America.
- Newt set out to re-educate the moderate Republicans.
- Gingrich was the conservative conscious of the party when George Bush (41) took office and drifted back to establishment failures.
- The “100 ideas a day” is what makes him so effective in strategy. Like Edison, he becomes more sure what will NOT work.
Q: In the mid-1980s, you turned over GOPAC to Newt Gingrich. Why Newt Gingrich?
DuPont: When I began the presidential campaign in 1986, I recognized that GOPAC was helping the Republican Party but if it stayed hooked to me it would die because people would say that's part of Pete DuPont's presidential campaign. So we wanted to save it and we had to give it to somebody. We looked around and said who's got the energy? Who's got the ideas? Who would take this animal called GOPAC and carry on in the spirit that we had begun? Newt Gingrich stood out.
I took him to breakfast one morning and I said, 'Newt, I've got a proposition for you.' He said, 'What? You want to give this to me?' And I said, 'Yes.' And he said, 'I'll call you back.' Half an hour later he was on the phone and it was his. And he did a magnificent job with it.
Q: What sort of changes, if any, did he make in GOPAC, as opposed to your original conception?
DuPont: Our original idea was to help three or four hundred candidates in the first election run for the Ohio State legislature and the California legislature around the country. Newt said, 'We can do that, we can help young people, but why don't we put together some educational material and spread it widely through the country so that people will begin to understand the conservative message, the conservative philosophy?'
He took GOPAC from a somewhat narrowly-focused campaign vehicle to a broader vehicle to explain the Republican ideology and philosophy and he expanded it enormously. …Newt has a long-range vision. He has an understanding of what's coming in the world that I think the rest of us lack.
Q: In terms of philosophy, you have advocated many things in your '88 campaign. You were known as a populist conservative. Newt, from his early campaign, was calling himself a populist conservative. Did you make that kind of connection in those early days?
DuPont: Yes. Our policies are very much alike. We're both for smaller government, lower taxes, allowing individuals to make choices -- less central planning, more individual decision-making. So, in that sense, we're very much on the same wavelength.
Q: You served in Congress. Newt says that when he first got there, the Republicans were so used to being a minority party that they had to kind of ''go along, get along " compromise on the edges. Describe the mood of the Republican leadership.
DuPont: The moderate Republican Party of the 1970s were basically eighty percenters. They said, 'Democrats, we're for everything you're for--but only 80% of it. Yes, we'd like federal aid education, but not so much. Yes, we can help people on welfare, but not in as expensive a way as you want to do it.' So, as [some wag] once said, 'There wasn't a dime worth of difference between the two parties' and that was true. We were just for a little bit cheaper welfare state.
Newt comes to town and says, 'We're not for the welfare state at all. It's not a question of steering a little to the right, it's a question of turning the whole organization around and going off towards opportunity and individualism as opposed to collective decisions by government.'
Q: Another problem that the Republicans had was that for a long time it was seen by many Americans as a country club party, a party for wealthy people in the United States, Wall Street, whatever, and not a party that would ever have any kind of majority following in the United States. What was your thinking about trying to change that?
DuPont: Well, Ronald Reagan was the person who changed it. There were these wonderful people called Reagan Democrats who are really conservatives like Newt Gingrich is, like I am. And for the first time Ronald Reagan gave our party a bowling alley image as opposed to a country club image. We were suddenly talking to the people who go bowling on Thursday night and they were understanding what we were saying.
One of the tragedies of the Bush administration is that we went back to business as usual, make a deal with the Democrats, let's all be friends in Washington philosophy. So, we needed Newt to come along, to stand up against the Bush tax increase and the Bush budget deal, and to say, 'No we are still for the working people of the country, and I hope that we can keep our focus on representing the people who fight the wars and build the industries and do the work in this country. Because if we do stick with them, we can be a majority party for a long while.'
Q: You must have offended some people along the way. I know George Bush, at one point, said he felt betrayed by Newt Gingrich on the budget deal. Newt deliberately came in with a plan to kind of upset the apple cart, go after the establishment, not only the Democratic Party but the Republican Party as well.
DuPont: And Newt Gingrich was right. George Bush paid with his presidency for a very bad decision that Newt was right about. The apple cart needed to be upset. I would have thought that Newt couldn't have done this--but he would have done better to just walk out of there with his House delegation and have nothing to do with the agreement. He did shoot it down once and it came back again and he couldn't stop it the second time. If we're going to be a party of populists who believe in individuals having power, we've got to turn that power over to them. We can't raise taxes and we can't regulate more and we can't create new departments. We've got to begin closing down the collective side of the government and opening up the individual opportunity side.
Q: Newt's staff tends to say, 'We have a hundred ideas a day,' and they put them in the 'Newt bad ideas/Newt good ideas'--and then he changes them a lot. Is that your experience?
DuPont: Newt is one of those people who has more ideas in the morning than I have in a month. Some of his ideas are not quite the ones you want to pursue in the interim. But that's the way it is with entrepreneurial people. You try one thing, it doesn't work, you try another. Didn't Thomas Edison once say that he knew eleven thousand ways not to do something and now he was going to get it right?
Well, Newt's a little bit the same way. He offers an idea, he tests it in the public opinion. It gets a bad reaction, it's over with. It gets a good reaction, he develops it further. So, he's the kind of creative thinker that the party needs in order to stay in the majority.
Q: A man who ran Newt Gingrich's first successful campaign was telling us that what Newt had to do, and GOPAC was a central part of this, was to create whole new structures to transform the Republican Party. Do you think that's accurate?
DuPont: It is because if you're going to try to win an election at either the local or the national level, you can't be 80%. You can't say I'm for what my Democratic opponent is for but not quite so much of it. People say, particularly if it's Democrat incumbents, 'Why shouldn't I vote for the real thing? Why should I vote for who's the pale copy?' So Newt had to get into the minds of Republican candidates that we didn't disagree with a little of the Democrats liberal program, we disagreed with all of it. We didn't think taxes ought to go up. They ought to go down. We didn't think the census ought to be weakened. We thought it ought to be strengthened. We didn't think it ought to be done in Washington. -- we ought to pass the responsibility back to do it at home.
So, that required an entire reeducating of the moderate Republican mindset. I think that is the primary thing that Newt accomplished for the Republican party. He changed the frame of reference of all of our candidates. That's why we won so big in 1994.
Q: Recently there have been some interesting stories about how effective he has been as an inside legislator political guide negotiating with people one on one, saying, 'You need this part of the bill, we've got to stay on track but I'm willing to be pragmatic. I'm not just an ideologue.' Do you see that side of Newt --when it comes to actually trying to pass big pieces of legislation?
DuPont: He has done an extraordinary job that shows a side of Newt Gingrich that a lot hadn't seen. He not only has the philosophy right but he has persuaded Republicans from the liberal and conservative camps to each give a little, to each move a little and he's welded that Republican majority, a very small majority, into a powerful political force. That's not one of the things we ever saw in Newt Gingrich but he's done a brilliant job.
Q: What would the effect be on Newt Gingrich and the conservative revolution if Colin Powell ran for president?
DuPont: I think the struggle that you see in the Republican Party today is once again the country club Republican versus the bowling alley Republican. Colin Powell brings us back to the country club image. He's an insider. He's a moderate. Newt is an outsider, bowling alley conservative. There is a real dichotomy there. What you're seeing played out in the Republican primary process, if General Powell runs, is this old struggle that has been going on since 1952 when Eisenhower and [Taft] began the argument.
Things move very slowly in politics. We seem to fight the same wars over and over again.
Q: Newt Gingrich, like Jack Kemp, has argued for quite some time that the Republican party should make more of an effort to attract black voters. Do you think that's a lost cause or is he on to something there?
DuPont: There's a very big gulf between the black civil rights leadership in America, and the black middle class in America. The black middle class are conservative people --They basically believe that the government takes too much of their money. They basically distrust remedies like buffing. I think many of those minorities can be persuaded to be members of the Republican Party. We run very strongly with the Asian community, very well with the Hispanic community, not as well yet with the Black community. I think that's coming. I think Newt and Jack Kemp are both right, if we put forward a program of individual opportunity that appeals to a black family just like it appeals to a white family.
Q: Someone we interviewed said, 'Liberals see Newt as the man who is taking away their cookies from the cookie jar and if they're afraid of him, they have reason to be afraid.' Should moderates be afraid of Newt Gingrich?
Du Pont: No, moderates shouldn't be nervous about Newt because he has a vision, he's laid it forward. If you don't agree with all of it, try and get him to change it a little bit. But he's fundamentally leading us in the way that middle class Americans want to go.
Liberals should be terrified of Newt Gingrich because he has an alternative vision. He's good at selling and he's now got enough of a majority that it's beginning to sell. And we may be seeing the death of liberalism, particularly if Republicans gain in the House and the Senate in '96.
Q: Newt is a master, it seems of getting everyone singing from the same page of the hymn book...
Du Pont: Well, Newt is a history major and he understands the importance of language. When he began the campaign with GOPAC, the serious part of building a majority, he said, 'The first thing we've got to do is, we've all got to use the same language. We've got to start talking about.' Newt said this hundreds of times, 'start talking about a conservative opportunity society replacing the liberal welfare state.' And he'd say, 'Bang that language into you head. Use it every night. Use the same words and pretty soon it will permeate the American people.' And that was the right strategy. Language is important; messages are important; and Newt understands.
Q: You've been in politics a long time. How often does someone like a Newt Gingrich come along?
Du Pont: Very seldom. In my political lifetime we've had Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich in twenty-five years. Two people who really had a very different vision of the government of the country. Maybe two in twenty-five years is a lot but they don't come along very often.
Please read the entire interview here.