Newt Gingrich is winning over Republicans.
Over the past few months, the former House speaker has charmed primary voters one debate at a time. The once underdog — dismissed as a has-been when he first announced his run and the laughingstock of the race after he accumulated $1 million in debt this summer and was abandoned by almost his entire political team — has compellingly mixed historical insight, warmth toward his fellow GOP candidates, and rancor toward the media into a formula that has propelled him to the top of the polls.
But is Gingrich the savior the GOP has been yearning for, as the party lurches from one flavor-of-the-month contender to the next? Gingrich, of course, has an impressive political résumé, particularly his 1994 Contract with America. But he also has, to borrow Tim Pawlenty’s term, some significant “clunkers” in his record that conservatives may want to consider before settling on Gingrich as the man of the hour. In no particular order, here are ten items in Gingrich’s record that might give conservatives pause:
Medicare Part D. Gingrich supported Medicare Part D in 2003 — and the ensuing years haven’t made him any less supportive of the legislation. Asked in March if he regretted supporting the plan, Gingrich responded not with an apology, but with a ringing defense: “I feel strongly that the No. 1 purpose of health care is health, and Medicare was designed in the 1960s when pharmaceutical drugs were not a significant part of how you took care of people. And for us to have a government-run health plan that said we’re not going to help you with insulin but we’ll be glad to pay for kidney dialysis is an utterly anti-human provision. And so all I was in favor of was modernizing the system to recognize modern medicine.”
Ethanol subsidies. Here’s a distinction Gingrich probably won’t want to trumpet outside of the Hawkeye State: At a National Association of Manufacturers forum earlier this month, Gingrich was the only Republican present who supported ethanol subsidies (Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Ron Paul also took part in the forum). Gingrich’s support for ethanol subsidies got him into a tussle with the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. “Even Al Gore now admits that the only reason he supported ethanol in 2000 was to goose his presidential prospects, and the only difference now between Al and Newt is that Al admits he was wrong,” wrote the Journal in an editorial lambasting Gingrich’s position on the issue.
The individual health-care mandate. During an October debate, Mitt Romney zinged Gingrich on this, saying, “Actually, Newt, we got the idea of an individual mandate from you,” after Gingrich had attacked Romney’s Massachusetts health-care law as a big-government program. Gingrich initially demurred, but was ultimately forced to concede that he had supported individual health-care mandates in the past. “Finally, we should insist that everyone above a certain level buy [health-care] coverage (or, if they are opposed to insurance, post a bond),” Gingrich wrote in his 2008 book, Real Change — just one of several quotes a May Huffington Post article unearthed that showed Gingrich over the years supporting an individual mandate or something very similar (such as the bond solution).
The Dede Scozzafava endorsement. In the special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district in 2009, Gingrich endorsed the pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage Scozzafava (who also was viewed as friendly to big labor) over Doug Hoffman, who was running on the Conservative ticket. He also criticized conservatives who backed Hoffman, saying, “I just think it is a mistake for the conservative movement to think splitting in the special election is a smart idea. If we give that seat to the Democrats, shame on us.” When Scozzafava dropped out, Gingrich endorsed Hoffman via tweet: “Scozzafava dropping out leaves hoffman as only anti-tax anti-pelosi vote in ny 23 Every voter opposed to tax increases support doug hoffman.” Democrat Bill Owens won the seat.
Partial amnesty. In May, Gingrich suggested that he would be open to a partial amnesty of illegal immigrants. “I think we are going to want to find some way to deal with the people who are here to distinguish between those who have no ties to the United States, and therefore you can deport them at minimum human cost, and those who, in fact, may have earned the right to become legal, but not citizens,” he said while campaigning in Iowa. Gingrich reiterated that viewpoint in September, saying in Orlando, “You have someone who came here at three years of age and now they’re 19. . . . I suspect we’re going to want to find some way to enable them to move toward legality, if not citizenship.”
TARP. Gingrich did not initially support TARP, but before the legislation’s passage he came around to supporting it, “sadly and reluctantly,” concerned about the financial impact if no bailout was approved. He did still blast Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, saying in a statement that “Having a former chairman of Goldman Sachs preside over disbursing hundreds of billions of dollars to Wall Street is a terrible concept and inevitably will lead to crony capitalism and the appearance of — if not the actual existence of — corruption.”
The Fairness Doctrine. In 1987 Gingrich co-sponsored legislation that would have re-implemented the Fairness Doctrine. (Ultimately, Ronald Reagan vetoed the legislation, which would have mandated that U.S. broadcasters always feature both sides of an issue.) However, 20 years later, Gingrich opposed the Fairness Doctrine. “Let’s be clear here,” he said on Fox News when John Kerry proposed re-instituting the Fairness Doctrine. “There is no Fairness Doctrine. That was the government-censorship doctrine, and they want to re-impose government censorship.”
Tax credits. Gingrich has favored plenty of tax credits over the years, ranging from tax credits to car companies for making clean-energy vehicles to a tax credit for buying home computers to be used for certain purposes. “In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” wrote the Club for Growth in its analysis of Gingrich’s record over the years, “Gingrich proposed a six-month, $1,000-per-person tax credit for 50 percent of the cost of personal travel more than 100 miles from one’s home. The idea sounds nice, but just as Cash for Clunkers only expedited the purchase of cars people were going to buy anyway (at non-car-buying taxpayers’ expense), Gingrich’s Cash for Getaways would only have subsidized trips people were going to make anyway, enabling a transfer payment to frequent travelers from families without the time or inclination to travel.” Gingrich’s idea, the Club concluded, was “not a fiscally conservative policy” and was “indicative of an approach Gingrich has frequently advocated.”
Climate change. On Fox News last week, Gingrich called the commercial he shot with Nancy Pelosi “the dumbest single thing I’ve done in years.” In the 2008 commercial, which featured Gingrich and Pelosi chummily sitting on a sofa in front of the Capitol, Gingrich said, “We do agree our country must take action to address climate change. If enough of us demand action from our leaders, we can spark the innovation that we need.” In a 2007 interview on PBS’s Frontline, Gingrich indicated support for cap-and-trade, saying, “I think if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur, and if you have a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions, that there’s a package there that’s very, very good. And frankly, it’s something I would strongly support.” Fast forward to 2009, when Gingrich strongly opposed Obama’s proposed cap-and-trade program.
Rejecting the Ryan plan. In a May appearance on Meet the Press, Gingrich nearly kamikazed his fledging campaign by saying, “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” in reference to a question about a key component of Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan. Gingrich told Rush Limbaugh in an interview a few days later that “It was not a reference to Paul Ryan. There was no reference to Paul Ryan in that answer.” Gingrich also apologized to Ryan and stressed that he would have voted for the budget that included Ryan’s Medicare plan.
None of this is to discount Gingrich’s impressive conservative accomplishments over the years. But now that he’s back at or near the top of the polls, these issues and more will become increasingly prominent.
– Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.