By 1988, Newt Gingrich was leading the charge against Democratic House speaker Jim Wright over allegations of unethical behavior. In 1994, as leader of the opposition, he achieved what many thought impossible, leading Republicans to their first majority in the House of Representatives in 40 years. After resigning from the speakership, Gingrich was often mentioned as a presidential candidate, but rarely discussed as a potential running mate for any GOP nominee — perhaps reflecting the fact that his personality didn’t fit the quieter background role assumed by most vice presidents.
Now, after a bruising primary battle against Mitt Romney, Gingrich is stepping into the position of campaign surrogate for his former foe. And while he undoubtedly still brings some of his primary-season star power (his name almost guarantees a healthy contingent of local and national media at any event), Gingrich is still trying to get the knack of how to downplay himself and sing Romney’s praises.
Monday afternoon, Gingrich spoke at 69-year-old electronics store Belmont TV in Arlington, Va. The event was one of 18 Romney-campaign-organized “We Did Build This” events in twelve swing states.
Gingrich began the event on message: “One of the most important questions of this whole campaign is, ‘How do you create jobs?’ The president had sort of a Freudian slip that suggested people who build jobs and built businesses didn’t really do it. This is a business that has been here for 69 years. I don’t think it’s here because of Barack Obama and I don’t think it’s here because of the federal government. It’s here because people got up every day and went to work and had to meet a customer, had to learn about new technologies. It’s a constant process, every year, of people working to make sure people keep working — pretty straightforward. And it is a dramatic contrast to the Obama model.”
He offered a typically somewhat-overwrought comparison: “You watch the Olympians,” Gingrich said, facing a wall of televisions providing coverage of the U.S. and Brazil facing off in volleyball. “I can imagine an Obama speech where he says, ‘You didn’t win that gold medal; everybody won that gold medal.’ Well, that’s not how it works. These Olympians worked very hard. They spent long hours, they practiced, they learned, they struggled to achieve something. And we honor those who go out and work hard, and in America, small-business leaders go out and work hard, and they’re the key to our economy.”
But it didn’t take long for the morning’s news to bring out Gingrich’s inner political analyst, with a slight detour down memory lane.
“It’s a great day to be here, because I saw, as all of you did, that they’re going to give former president Clinton a significant role to play at the [Democratic] convention,” Gingrich said with a gleeful smile. “It’s a terrific opportunity for those of us who served with President Clinton to point out that Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton. You look at the Clinton economy, the balanced budgets that I helped write and Clinton signed, you look at welfare reform, which Obama recently tore apart and reversed. You look at all the things done to make the economy better for the American people. There is a huge gap between Bill Clinton’s efforts to take the Democratic party to the center and Barack Obama’s effort to take the party to the left. In a funny kind of way, the Democratic convention may highlight the difference between the two choices . . . and remind us that Obama really is a failed left-wing president.”