Politics & Policy

In Trump’s World, Newt Gingrich Is King — and Maybe VP

(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
The two men are kindred spirits in more ways than one.

He has an uncanny ability to dominate the media and shape a narrative, and he harnessed the anger and anxiety of lower-middle-class whites to reshape the Republican party.

If the description fits Donald Trump in 2016, it applied equally to Newt Gingrich in 1994, and it helps to explain the relationship the two have developed during Trump’s ascent to the top of Republican politics — one that many close to both men say could eventually result in the announcement of a Trump-Gingrich GOP ticket. 

Gingrich has, in effect, launched his own campaign to secure the nomination. “I think Newt is lobbying to be the vice president, and I think their people are paying a lot of attention to him,” says Ed Rollins, a Republican operative and former Gingrich staffer now working for a super PAC supporting Trump’s candidacy. “It’d be a ticket with six former wives, kind of like a Henry VIII thing,” Rollins says. “They certainly understand women.” (Between them, Trump and Gingrich have four former wives; both are currently married to their third wives.)

Trump’s search for a vice-presidential nominee is underway. The campaign confirmed last week that it had tapped veteran Washington lawyer A. B. Culvahouse to vet potential nominees, and Bloomberg News reported earlier this month that Gingrich is among a handful of people Trump is considering. Both the Trump campaign and a spokesman for Gingrich did not respond to requests for comment. 

Gingrich’s influence within Trump World is widespread. Inside Trump’s newly established campaign offices in Washington, D.C., his fingerprints are everywhere.

Among the similarities between the two men, they share a genius for exploiting mass media. In his 1990s heyday, Gingrich was able to dominate the news cycle by harnessing the newfound power of talk radio, much as Trump has done with television and social media this year. “I don’t know two other people who can command more media attention than Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump,” says Rick Tyler, who served as Gingrich’s campaign spokesman in 2012. For Trump, Tyler says, naming Gingrich vice president would simply be “doubling down on an already successful strategy: keeping your enemies constantly on defense, constantly off balance, constantly explaining themselves. Newt knows how to do that.”

Gingrich has a reputation for insinuating himself into campaigns by firing off dozens of e-mails brimming with ideas that range from brilliant to insane. While it’s a quality that has irritated previous presidential candidates such as John McCain and Mitt Romney, sources say that Trump has come to value the former speaker’s opinions.

“They talk every day,” says a source familiar with the relationship, who claims that Gingrich e-mails Trump, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and campaign manager Corey Lewandowski “countless times a day.” On Friday, the source says Gingrich sent five messages after lunch, musing on everything from Fox host Megyn Kelly’s interview with Trump to Trump’s recently announced list of potential Supreme Court nominees to ideas for targeting Bernie Sanders’s voters.

“I think he’s viewed as a very valuable ally to have,” Rollins says. 

#share#Gingrich’s influence within Trump World is widespread. Inside Trump’s newly established campaign offices in Washington, D.C., his fingerprints are everywhere. “Right from the minute I joined we were told that Newt will have his hand in every major policy effort,” says one Trump aide. “So one of the things I do when I’m researching or writing anything, in addition to looking at what Trump has said about anything, I look at what Newt has said.”

Gingrich’s ascent to Trump’s inner circle — and potentially to the vice presidency — marks a reversal of fortune for the speaker, who in recent years has fallen out of favor with party elites over his vocal criticisms of the Iraq War and Paul Ryan’s proposal to reform Medicare. On both issues, the views that irked GOP insiders were squarely in line with the unorthodox positions Trump has espoused on the campaign trail.

Their congruence on the issues aside, the former House speaker fits the vice-presidential criteria Trump has publicly laid out. The real-estate mogul has said that he is looking for someone who knows Washington and can help him navigate Congress. “When you look at the Trump campaign, you have to have someone plausible who will say yes, so Gingrich and [Chris] Christie are above the ‘yes’ line and above the ‘plausible’ line,” says Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist who served as John McCain’s campaign manager in 2008.

Gingrich’s relationship with Trump dates back to the 2012 presidential campaign, when he aggressively sought the billionaire’s support. Though Trump ultimately endorsed Mitt Romney that year, he did come to Gingrich’s aide in a crisis, after the former House speaker found himself under fire for suggesting poor kids should develop a work ethic by taking up jobs as janitors at their schools. In the hubbub that followed, Gingrich asked Trump to take on ten kids from New York City’s poorest school districts as his “apprenti.” Trump agreed, and in December of 2011, the two announced a New York City-based apprentice program for underprivileged children

Gingrich returned the favor. When Trump was floated as a potential moderator for an upcoming GOP debate, many, including several of Gingrich’s rivals, sneered. Gingrich did not. “This is a country that elected a peanut farmer to the presidency. This is a country that elected an actor who made two movies with a chimpanzee to the presidency,” he said. “Donald Trump is a great showman; he’s also a great businessman. I think one of the differences between my party and the other party is we actually go to people who know how to create jobs. We need to be open to new ways of doing things.”

In his march to the nomination, Trump proved himself willing to explode political and ideological orthodoxies in a way eerily reminiscent of Gingrich’s earlier successes.

#related#In Storming the Gates, reporters Dan Balz and Ron Brownstein tell the story of how Gingrich led Republicans to their first House majority in 40 years. “It was the downscale voters who turned against the Democrats and who produced the new Republican congressional majorities,” they write. It was the “pervasive economic anxiety” that afflicted those without a college education; it was the cultural fragmentation, “the fear that society is both balkanizing into antagonistic ethnic enclaves and losing the capacity to transmit a set of commonly accepted values from one generation to the next”; and it was the populist alienation from government, particularly among working-class whites.

Sound familiar? It certainly helps explain why the former House speaker has elevated himself into a small circle of Trump’s trusted advisers — and why his campaign to become the billionaire’s vice-presidential nominee might pay off.

— Eliana Johnson is the Washington editor of National Review. Tim Alberta contributed to the reporting of this piece.

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