Five years ago, Newt Gingrich was a millionaire pundit and author, living quietly and comfortably in northern Virginia. More than a decade had passed since he took the speaker’s gavel in January 1995, and seven since he had left the House. By day, he led a consortium of private, for-profit policy groups, nicknamed “Newt World,” that advised corporations and institutions. By night, he appeared on Fox News, irritating lefty bloggers. The 63-year-old politico had it all — book contracts, speaking fees, and Beltway relevance.
But Gingrich wanted more. He saw Michael Moore and other liberal filmmakers using the silver screen for political purposes, and regretted the fact that conservatives rarely managed to compete. He wanted to establish a foothold in that intellectual marketplace, but at the time his cinematic life consisted of watching John Wayne movies on his couch — and K Street connections mean little in Hollywood.
In the winter of 2006, Gingrich was promoting his book Rediscovering God in America, still unsure of where to start pursuing his interest in film. A few months later, he found his answer at the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), when he reconnected with David Bossie, a former Capitol Hill staffer and GOP operative. The two had once been close: Bossie, a young Whitewater investigator for congressional Republicans, would huddle with the speaker in the Capitol, talking politics and scandal. And then Gingrich fired him.
“Our relationship has had its up and downs,” Bossie says.
In May 1998, Bossie was released from his position on the House committee overseeing the Whitewater investigation. He was accused of selectively editing an audio transcript of an interview with Webster Hubbell, an incarcerated Clinton ally. In the heat of the Clinton-GOP wars, Gingrich was pressured by the press and House Republicans to rebuke Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, the investigation’s director, and Burton’s aides, especially Bossie. As the situation festered, President Clinton hammered Gingrich, who did not leap to defend Bossie or the edited tapes. He was frustrated with Burton’s management and blasted him during a closed-door conference meeting. “I’m embarrassed for you, I’m embarrassed for myself, and I’m embarrassed for the conference at the circus that went on at your committee,” he said, according to the Washington Post. Bossie was not merely fired — he was made the scapegoat, in the eyes of many Republicans, for various Whitewater-related problems.
That history lingered in the air as Bossie and Gingrich shook hands backstage at CPAC in 2007. “We literally hadn’t spoken in years,” Bossie says. But within minutes, any Whitewater-era bitterness had evaporated. “It was like old times,” Bossie says. “It was like that interval had never happened. We started to say, ‘We should be doing things together,’ wondering why we weren’t working together.” The two men, both of whom have gregarious, combative personalities, promised to build on the conversation. Little was said about the past, Bossie recalls: All talk focused on the future.
“Within a week or two, we met again, and, ever since, we’ve had a good run,” Bossie says. Around his office, film boxes are piled high, and cardboard movie posters line the wall. Gingrich-related paraphernalia, along with pictures of the many conservative stars with whom Bossie works, are scattered throughout the suite. The feeling is as much Hollywood as politics.
Before the two reunited, Bossie, like Gingrich, was looking to widen the conservative movement’s film footprint. But unlike Gingrich, who is a writer and commentator, Bossie had already produced a handful of movies, including 2004’s Celsius 41.11, a rebuttal to Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, and 2005’s Broken Promises, a scathing look at the United Nations. As they reconnected, Gingrich was impressed by the energy and tenacity of the man he had once fired. While conservatives dominated talk radio, issued countless bestselling books, and were hits on the speaking circuit. Bossie had dived into a new medium, one dominated by the Left, and staked out his own territory, blending commerce, entertainment, and politics.
Bossie saw much to like in Gingrich, too: an old friend and a kindred spirit. He also saw in Gingrich a potential Rick Steves of the Right — a sharp, camera-friendly host who could elevate Citizens United with his professorial manner and star power. “He was writing books, and, though I had only made a few, we were making documentary films,” Bossie says. “I said, ‘Let’s take your current book, Rediscovering God in America, and take it to film.’”
Gingrich agreed, excited by Bossie’s interest and the ability of Citizens United to film and release the movie within the calendar year on a shoe-string budget. “The book was about the Founding Fathers, and, for lack of a better term, a walking tour of Washington, D.C.,” Bossie says. “It was a Washington-based film, and a film that we could shoot at the monuments, handling it in a way that would make both of us proud. I told him, ‘We can bite that off,’” Bossie says. “You’ve got to pick your battles. We could have went and tried to make a bigger film, but if we did that and we did not succeed, we never would have made another one. Instead, we went our own way, took the other route.”
Within weeks, Gingrich and Bossie began to plot a production schedule, sketching potential scenes and rereading the book, underlining historical anecdotes. Gingrich’s vast network was useful, as were Bossie’s ties to the conservative movement. Top religious scholars, including Michael Novak, were enlisted as contributors. Other bold-faced names, such as biographer Walter Isaacson and former attorney general Ed Meese, lent their voices to the project. Before filming, Gingrich made clear that this would not be some one-off effort: He founded a new company, Gingrich Productions. He was officially in show business.
After years of having maintained a chilly distance, Bossie suddenly found himself ensconced in Newt World. And when Rediscovering God in America became a bestselling disc for Citizens United, Gingrich and Bossie began to brainstorm about their next release. Gingrich greatly enjoyed making the first film, from penning scripts to appearing on-screen with his wife, Callista. Unlike cable-news appearances and Sunday-morning talk shows, the film gave Gingrich a long-form platform. He was eager to make another. Even though their work would probably draw little or no notice from the mainstream film industry, Gingrich’s star power and Bossie’s extensive mailing list meant that they could reach thousands of conservatives. “As we were making films, shooting and premiering, spending more and more time together, it generated other ideas,” Bossie says. Next came We Have the Power, a Gingrich examination of the energy debate, chock full of policy solutions and expert analysis.
By 2008, with a couple films wrapped, Gingrich and Bossie began to think big. They had a long conversation about the Cold War, and Bossie suggested a three-part series on Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher. As of today, they have produced films on the late president and the late pope. “It looks like Meryl Streep is handling our Thatcher film for us,” he laughs, referring to the The Iron Lady, an upcoming Weinstein Company production.
Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny, a 2009 release, generated rave reviews from conservatives, and it is the most popular item in the Reagan presidential library’s store in Simi Valley, Calif. That may not mean much compared with a Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s an inspiration to Bossie, a self-described “Reagan guy.” “The library orders films from us constantly,” he says. “They use the film around the world.”
Gingrich’s involvement in the Reagan film, and in Nine Days that Changed the World, the Citizens United documentary about Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland in 1979, was intense, Bossie says. He spent months reading up on the respective subjects, impressing Bossie with his incessant curiosity. Bossie was drawn into Gingrich’s intellectual and personal orbit, from walking the beaches of Normandy to greeting Poland’s Lech Walesa. He and Bossie made three more films: Rediscovering God in America II; America at Risk, a 2010 documentary about the threat of radical Islam; and A City Upon a Hill, a 2011 film about American exceptionalism. On average, that’s about one film a year since their encounter at CPAC.
Gingrich’s subsequent presidential campaign has of course put his movie career on pause, but he remains interested in the power of film. In almost every city he visits, big or small, he and Callista hold movie screenings. Nine Days that Changed the World is popular with religious audiences, while the Reagan film is, as one would expect, a consistent winner with conservative audiences. Bossie has been pleasantly surprised to see Gingrich so publicly embrace their films. But even Bossie had reservations at first about having a presidential candidate pitch films to audiences while pitching himself to voters. Gingrich is now the frontrunner, and his presidential campaign has not exactly hurt movie sales.
But Gingrich is not Citizens United’s only star — or even the only one of them currently running for president — and Bossie takes care to mention his other allies in the conservative sphere, especially Gingrich’s 2012 competitors Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, who have appeared in his films.
Yet it’s Gingrich more than anyone who keeps coming back, prodding Bossie to grow and create. And the relationship is more than a professional collaboration. At a GOP primary forum in Iowa just before Thanksgiving, Gingrich brought up Bossie’s son Griffin, who was born with a rare heart condition. As Gingrich related Griffin’s tumultuous medical journey, from heart surgery to brain tumors, his usually stern demeanor began to crumble, his eyes welling up. For viewers, it was a raw snapshot — Newt Gingrich is the last candidate most voters would expect to cry, especially on television. But as Bossie could tell you, the unscripted moments are often the best.
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.