Jeffrey Lord manages a two-fer in this piece: he slyly smears Elliott Abrams for allegedly prostituting himself for a job in a Romney administration on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. And he misrepresents the Newt speech he defends. Read Lord and you might think Newt cited some other conservative critiques of Reagan in an otherwise positive speech. Lord quotes Newt using the word “failure” only once and suggests it was wrenched out of context. Of course, Gingrich praises Reagan at times (no one is accusing him of being Jim Wright) and does it fulsomely (this is Newt after all), but the accusation of failure is peppered throughout the speech, indeed defines it. Consider this near the opening:
My second special order will outline a proposed transnational strategy for freedom and the institutional and doctrinal changes it will require. The central difficulties in proposition two are essentially intellectual, managerial, and political. That is, once we accept the reality in proposition 1 of the Soviet empire, the Communist Cuban colonial army, and a transnational strategy for tyranny, our problems in dealing with that, in responding to it are essentially problems of intellect, problems of management, and problems of policies. Proposition 3, measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire’s challenge the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic fundamental change in strategy will continue to fail.
President Reagan knows all this. He ranks with Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon in trying to focus attention on the Soviet empire and in trying to protect freedom. Yet President Reagan is clearly failing.
And then this:
Sincere, decent, committed anti-Communist Members of the House and Senate who question $100 million in aid to the Nicaraguan freedom fighters and ask in vain for a strategy are fundamentally right. The Reagan administration has a huge gap between its President’s correct visionary warnings of the transnational Soviet empire and the rest of the executive branch’s incorrect, ineffective fumblings and inadequacies. The burden of this failure frankly must be placed first on President Reagan; he is the President.
Second, the burden must be on his White House staff, which has systematically failed again and again for 5 years now to understand that the real problems of developing a transnational strategy for freedom of confronting the Soviet empire and the Cuban colonial army are problems much more fundamental than a Reagan speech, much more difficult than a Pat Buchanan editorial, much more difficult than once again using the CIA to ineffectively manage to do the best it can when the best it can is simply not good enough. I say this not as in any way a comment on any personality but on an institutional crisis of the first order about American Government and the American Government’s inability as an institution to meet the challenge of the Soviet empire.
Now, of all the reasons not to support Newt, this is far down the list, if it makes the list at all. But as Elliott said in his piece, this speech was an attack on the Reagan administration, at a time when it was involved in a brawl with Democrats over Latin America policy. It was an attack not just from the right, but from above–a grandiose, self-impressed performance calling (of course) “for revolution in American ideas, in American political understanding, in American policies, in American institutions” to match the Soviet threat. Elliott didn’t write the piece for us at the request of the Romney campaign. He wanted to push back against Gingrich’s exaggerations. Elliott worked closely with congressional Republicans in this period and knew Gingrich wasn’t a go-to guy on this stuff and occasionally directed his vitriolic rhetoric at Reagan, something he never mentions on the campaign trail. You can read it in all its glory here. (I suspect Newt’s fans will find it unerringly brilliant, while others will roll their eyes.) Gingrich spokesman Joe DeSantis called on NR today to retract Elliott’s piece. In light of all the above, I call on Joe DeSantis to retract his call for a retraction.