Dead Poet’s Society
As his presidential campaign sags, Newt Gingrich plays professor.


Robert Costa

Millersville, Pa. — Newt Gingrich doesn’t have a stump speech; he has a stump lecture. And on a rainy Wednesday morning, on the leafy campus of Millersville University, the former speaker relished a chance to return to the classroom, decades after he left his teaching post at West Georgia College.

Gingrich’s presidential campaign may be an exercise in futility, but here in Lancaster County, surrounded by sleepy students, he was mostly cheerful.

Last year, when he was leading the polls, Gingrich amused the political class by promising to teach a digital course from the White House. That dream, along with his chances of winning the GOP nomination, has long since faded.

Yet Gingrich continues to plod ahead, discussing futurism, the sclerotic federal bureaucracy, and the inability of both major parties to enact “real change.”

So what’s it like to attend a class taught by Professor Newt? Well, it’s a lively, blurry experience. He has the quirky, frustrated manner of an associate professor who missed tenure and openly despises the administration. As with most things Gingrich, it can be thrilling, but also quite long-winded.

A few minutes after 10 a.m., Gingrich strolls in, shadowed by his Secret Service detail. His blue tie is askew, his white hair droops over his forehead, and his face is grim. He does not carry any books or papers. He folds his hands as the course’s usual lecturer introduces him. He looks exhausted.

But then, a moment later, he lights up. “I like being in classrooms, so this is fun,” Gingrich tells the group of 20-plus undergraduates as he moves to the lectern. “It’s a good excuse for me to actually talk about ideas.”

After that quick aside, Gingrich dives right into his extemporaneous presentation, first citing his book, The Art of Transformation, which was released a few years ago. “It was about how to think about very large-scale change,” he says. He spends a wistful minute or two lamenting how the political establishment has been unreceptive to his way of thinking.

He then senses that the students, though curious, are losing interest, so he steps toward the blackboard, picks up a piece of white chalk, and draws three upward-facing arrows. “I describe transformations as watersheds,” he says. “If you look at really big cycles of change, it becomes a mountain range.” He points to the three scribbled arrows — the “waves of change.”

For those in the room who don’t believe that big changes can happen in America, Gingrich says, just think about the evolution of the cell phone within the last century, from the “radio phone” in the 1954 film Sabrina, to Gordon Gekko’s clunky phone in the 1987 film Wall Street, to the Apple iPhones used by many students today. “Imagine 2037 and what it’d be like, the rhythm of life,” he says, a glint in his eye. The students nod and murmur.

Gingrich continues on this 2037 riff for a bit, asking questions about whether America is thinking too small, not only about its challenges, but also about its potential. Brain science, technology, and health care, he says, are only being explored by politicians at the surface level, with little serious thought about how the government could adapt to future developments and the rapidly changing private sector.

He warns the younger generation that if they do not prod their leaders to “transform” the public sector, they’ll be repeatedly robbed by “crooks” who know how to manipulate a “paper-based bureaucracy,” especially Medicaid and Medicare. “This isn’t funny money,” he says, talking about the billions wasted each year by the government via fraud. “It’s real cash.”