Recalling a speech where Newt Gingrich proposed abolishing tenure at state universities, I decided to go through the news archives for other examples of bold, intriguing ideas that went nowhere. There is no doubt that Newt Gingrich is one of the most creative and energetic thinkers in the Republican party. Since leaving the House of Representatives in 1999, he has been bursting at the seams with unexpected, head-turning proposals. Of course, there’s more to political life than thinking, and only a small percentage of those ideas have ever moved past the drawing board or speech.
Instead, I found a slew of ideas and comments that . . . probably would not be helpful if one were hoping to win the votes of conservative Republicans in a GOP presidential primary.
A few of Newt Gingrich’s . . . Not-So-Greatest Hits:
Now he’s back, preaching the gospel of party moderation. At an Aug. 30 forum held by the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership, Gingrich heralded the GOP’s new, bigger big tent. “Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve argued in favor of electing the moderates,” Gingrich said . . . He even chastised the fiscally conservative Club for Growth — a group that finances primary challengers to Republican incumbents they deem too liberal — for not getting with the program. “Their strategy is explicitly wrong,” Gingrich said. “The key is to elect more Republicans and have a bigger majority and be more inclusive.”
In June 2005, the New York Times raved about a “balanced and thoughtful” report from a bipartisan task force headed by Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader, declaring:
Lawmakers should take the time to at least thumb through this report, especially those who have been demanding Secretary General Kofi Annan’s resignation, supporting the ill-conceived nomination of John Bolton as the United States ambassador to the United Nations and backing the latest benighted attempt to withhold America’s legally obligated dues.
In October 2005, Gingrich called for “universal but confidential” DNA testing.
In April 2006, Gingrich appeared to suggest that too many U.S. troops were in Iraq. At the time, there were
23,000 127,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq. (The previous figure referred to Afghanistan). With the surge, the number of troops in Iraq reached 162,000.
During speaking engagements Monday at the University of South Dakota, Mr. Gingrich faulted the White House for installing an American-run government in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was driven from power.
“It was an enormous mistake for us to try to occupy that country after June of 2003,” Mr. Gingrich told students and faculty, according to the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, S.D. “We have to pull back, and we have to recognize it.”
In November 2006, Gingrich suggested “adopting rules of engagement” that would “break up” terrorists’ “capacity to use free speech.”
“My prediction to you is that either before we lose a city, or if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people before they get to reach out and convince young people to destroy their lives while destroying us,” Gingrich said in the transcript.
“This is a serious problem that will lead to a serious debate about the first amendment, but I think that the national security threat of losing an American city to a nuclear weapon, or losing several million Americans to a biological attack is so real that we need to proactively, now, develop the appropriate rules of engagement,” he said.
In April 2007, he raved about the leadership skills of New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg:
“Mayor Bloomberg’s potential presidential bid is getting a boost from a former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, and a former Democratic congressman of Tennessee, Harold Ford, who during a visit to New York praised the mayor for his leadership and ability to make government run effectively.
During a lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel with some of the city’s biggest political donors yesterday, Mr. Gingrich said he takes his hat off to the mayor for proving government can be effective. He also credited Chancellor Joel Klein for his work in the city’s schools.
“The effectiveness they ‘ve shown in actually getting the city to work is an integral story of what could happen in Albany or could happen in Washington if you had leadership that understood the power of metrics and understood the power of forcing really big decisions,” Mr. Gingrich said.
Also that month, he took a surprising tone at a “debate” with Sen. John Kerry on the topic of climate change.
Before Kerry got a word in, Gingrich conceded that global warming is real, that humans have contributed to it and that “we should address it very actively.” Gingrich held up Kerry’s new book, “This Moment on Earth,” and called it “a very interesting read.” He then added a personal note about saving vulnerable species from climate change. “My name, Newt, actually comes from the Danish Knut, and there’s been a major crisis in Germany over a polar bear named Knut,” he confided.
The warm and fuzzy Gingrich surprised Kerry, who jettisoned prepared remarks that accused the former speaker of “marching in lock step with the climate-change deniers.” Instead, Kerry found himself saying: “I’ve always enjoyed every dialogue he and I have ever had.” He added that “your statement is very, very important” and gushed: “I frankly appreciate the candor.”
The debate ended. They shook hands. Kerry put an arm around Gingrich. Gingrich put an arm around Kerry. For a brief but terrifying moment, they appeared to be on the verge of a hug.
In 2007, he accused the Bush administration of fighting a “phony war” on terrorism, and declared “a more effective approach would begin with a national energy strategy aimed at weaning the country from its reliance on imported oil.”
Gingrich put out a statement hailing McCain’s eleventh-hour intervention. “This is the greatest single act of responsibility ever taken by a presidential candidate and rivals President Eisenhower saying, ‘I will go to Korea’.” Eisenhower’s pledge was enough to reassure voters that if elected he would find a way to resolve the Korean conflict. McCain’s high-octane involvement in the bailout is meant to convey the same sense of stature and leadership, and to provide cover to reluctant Republicans to support a deal that runs counter to everything they thought they stood for.
In December 2008, he criticized the RNC for its ad attacking Obama’s connections to Rod Blagojevich, calling it “a destructive distraction.”
In January 2009, he declared that newly-elected RNC chairman Michael Steele would be “a force for real change in America.”
In February 2009, he assessed three potential Republican nominees:
Alaska’s Governor Palin, John McCain’s running mate in 2008, could be “very formidable” as a presidential candidate in 2012, Gingrich said. But he stipulated that would be the case only if she “seeks out a group of sophisticated policy advisers” and “spends time developing a series of fairly sophisticated positions.” He noted that “Palin starts in Iowa with a substantial advantage. I think she has a very big base among the fundamentalist wing of the party.” He also mentioned two other potential Republican presidential candidates. “If the economy is still a mess a year from now, then [former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt] Romney’s economic credentials start to come back in an important way,” Gingrich said. He cautioned that “Romney has got to figure out how to close the sale.”
And if Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison becomes governor of Texas, the second largest state, “she is an instantly formidable candidate,” Gingrich said.
The former Speaker has also found time to review 156 books on Amazon.com, including a rave review of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Positively American.