1) He was born Newton McPherson. After his parents divorced and his mother remarried, stepfather Bob Gingrich adopted him. “I had a period of thinking that I would have been called ‘Newt the McPherson,’ as in Robert the Bruce,” he told Gail Sheehy in 1995. “Robert the Bruce is the guy who would not, could not, avoid fighting. . . . He carried the burden of being Scotland.”
2) He has always been fascinated with animals. At the age of ten, he lobbied his then-hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to start a zoo. When CSPAN profiled him in 1994, part of the program took place at Zoo Atlanta.
3) In 1971, he got his Ph.D. in contemporary European history at Tulane. His doctoral dissertation was titled “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo 1945-1960.”
4) In 1980, he wrote a memo to Reagan campaign advisers suggesting lines for a debate with President Carter: “If your life is better, you should vote for him; he is the President and he’s responsible. If your life is worse you should vote against him; he is the President and therefore he’s responsible.” The memo may have inspired Reagan’s famous “Are you better off” line.
5) Also in 1980, he organized “Governing Team Day,” an event where Republican House and Senate candidates met with Ronald Reagan on the Capitol steps. Largely forgotten today, it foreshadowed the Contract with America 14 years later.
6) In 1982, he criticized President Reagan for going soft on taxes. “The fact is, on this particular bill, the president is trying to score a touchdown for liberalism, for the liberal welfare state, for big government, for the Internal Revenue Service, for multinational corporations, and for the various forces that consistently voted against the president.”
7) In 1984, he had a confrontation on the House floor with Speaker Tip O’Neill. So bitter was O’Neill’s attack on Gingrich that the speaker pro tempore ruled him out of order — the first such rebuke for a House speaker in living memory. More than anything else in his early career, that moment made Gingrich a national figure.
8) In 1989, when Dick Cheney resigned as House Republican whip to become secretary of defense, Gingrich ran to succeed him. His opponent was Ed Madigan of Illinois. Madigan’s campaign manager was a congressman from Texas named Tom DeLay. Gingrich won by two votes. He and DeLay were never the best of friends after that.