Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan in 1985.: Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan LibraryNewt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan in 1985.: Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan LibraryOn Wednesday, Republicans took aim at Newt Gingrich for his past criticisms of Ronald Reagan. The Drudge Report featured 10 anti-Newt stories as of yesterday, none more prominently than Elliot Abrams' takedown of Gingrich at the National Review. The former speaker, Abrams wrote, "spewed insulting rhetoric" and "was voluble and certain in predicting that Reagan's policies would fail."

Set aside, for a minute, the fact that Nancy Reagan considered Newt to be the torch-carrier for her husband's legacy. The problem with Newt Gingrich's 1980s criticism of Ronald Reagan is that it presents today's Republicans with an uncomfortable truth: Gingrich attacked Reagan from the right because there was room to do so. Reagan wasn't always the tax-cutting arch-conservative Republicans make him out to be. He was often a military hawk but not always. He wasn't, frankly, the Ronald Reagan that Republicans speak of with so much reverence today.

Here's a quick guide to Newt's 1980s Reagan bashing (via Lexis and newspaper clippings):

  • 1982: Carter II: From the New York Times: '''It has all the things that Jimmy Carter used to propose that we used to beat up on,' observed Representative Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican prominent in the Congressional revolt against the President's $98.9 billion tax bill. That revolt within the President's own party, he added, ''is really a grass-roots rebellion over wrong policy.''' Elsewhere, he publicly bashed Reagan's budget as a "Jimmy Carter tax bill."
  • c. 1982: Failed economic policies: "Really, Reaganomics has failed. We must regroup. The national government is running amuck. Without a freeze, I don't see breakout out of higher and higher deficits."
  • 1983: Soft on drug abuse and crime: "Beyond the obvious indicators of decay the fact is that President Reagan has lost control of the national agenda."
  • 1985: Appeasement! Gingrich calls Reagan's summit with Gorbachev, ''the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Chamberlain in 1938 at Munich.'
  • 1986: Soft on the Soviet Union: "Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire's challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic fundamental change in strategy will continue to fail."
  • 1987: Betrayed public trust: Per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "'There were two things that people felt they knew about Ronald Reagan. That he was fundamentally honest and that he was a strong America leader who would stand tall and not deal with terrorists,' Gingrich said. The Iran-Contra affair 'violated' both parts of the trust, Gingrich said, 'and it has sahaken people's beliefs.'"
  • 1987: Reagan's legacy is dubious: "The sense of our overpowering belief in Reagan as the most effective president since FDR is probably not retainable."

Your Daily Newt: Gingrich Gets Blanket-Tossed

Blanket tossing looks like one of the funnest things in the world. It was also one of Newt Gingrich's final acts as speaker.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich called his 1998 swing through Alaska's North Slope "an eye-opening experience" that helped him better understand the challenges that environmental regulations pose to residents of the Last Frontier. "Don Young has been telling me for years—come to Alaska and see for yourself," he said, of the state's Republican congressman. "Seeing is believing!"

Crippling nanny state regulations weren't the only revelation of the trip for Gingrich, though. He also participated in his first traditional blanket toss, an activity in which a tossee is tossed (by tossers) about 20 feet in the air—ostensibly so that they can look across the tundra for caribou, but mostly because it looks really, really fun:

Things didn't go quite so smoothly for Gingrich, though. As Jack Hitt explained in MoJo later that year:

At an Eskimo blanket toss in Barrow, Alaska, when Gingrich insisted on having a turn, 15 Native Americans heaved-ho (for the love of God, have they not suffered enough?) to try to pop the enormous Gingrich off the blanket. An unidentified bystander observed, "He never really caught major air."

Maybe it was symbolism. A little more than two months later, Gingrich announced that he was stepping down as speaker of the House.

2021: Newt's Space Odyssey

Courtesy of ShutterstockCourtesy of Shutterstock; Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia CommonsNewt Gingrich launched a Twitter frenzy on Wednesday when he delivered a major policy address on space at a Holiday Inn in Cocoa, Florida. Gingrich promised to complete a manned lunar colony on the moon by the end of his second term—January 2021—and set side aside 10 percent of NASA's budget for prizes that would encourage entrepreneurs and inventors to experiment on their own. It's a side of Gingrich we've seen flashes of on the campaign trail, but now he's boldly going where he's never gone before—or at least not in a long, long time.

Before he was a presidential candidate, extraordinarily well-compensated historian, speaker of the House, or really anyone of importance in Washington, DC, Gingrich was totally obsessed with space travel. He sponsored the Fundamental Space Act of 1984, which offered a path to statehood for future space colonies (the bill died in committee). That same year, he authored his first book, Window of Opportunity, to put forth his thoughts on how best to conquer the final frontier. (The cover features a giant bald eagle flapping its wings over the planet.) As sci-fi author Jerry Pournelle put it in the introduction: "It's raining soup and Newt Gingrich has the blueprints for soup bowls."

Pick up your spoons. Here are some of the best, or at least wildest, ideas contained within those pages. All quotes are from Window of Opportunity, unless otherwise noted:

We should have had a New York Times Moon bureau by now. Or at least a few underfed stringers: "If we had developed at a reasonable pace from 1969, today we would have eight to twelve space shuttles, two manned space stations, and a permanently operating lunar base. Each news magazine would have a section devoted to the week's news from space."

Send a team of astronauts to go to Halley’s Comet. "Projects like visiting Halley’s Comet could be easily undertaken by a program whose strength and sophistication would be unchallenged." Basically, Gingrich anticipated the plot of Deep Impact.

Cut food stamp budget to buy space shuttles. "Food stamps crowded out space shuttles; energy assistance crowded out a solar power satellite project that would have provided energy for all; more bureaucracy in Health and Human Services shoved aside a permanently-manned space station; the vision of a malaise-dominated decaying Western culture smothered the dream of a permanently-manned station." Besides, who really needs food stamps when the moon is made of cheese?

Cut farm subsidies; send farmers to space. Ok, this one wasn’t in his book but it’s too good to omit. In 1986, he told the World Science Fiction Convention: "If we'd spent as much on space as we've spent on farm programs, we could have taken all the extra farmers and put them on space stations working for a living in orbiting factories." Somehow that subject didn't come up in Iowa.

Pay your taxes; win a trip to space. "The shuttle is already comfortable enough to carry anyone free of severe health problems into space, and the next generation shuttle will be even more like an airliner. We should begin with a candidate-selection lottery based on individual income tax forms and offer to send each year’s winner on a shuttle flight." Not to be confused with the equally appealing option of sending our candidates into space.

Create man-made climate change, using mirrors. "The climate group at the Woods Hole conference suggested that a large array of mirrors could affect the Earth's climate by increasing the amount of sunlight received by particular areas, citing recent feasibility studies exploring the possibilities of preventing frosts in Florida or enabling farmers in high altitudes to plant their wheat earlier."

And fight crime. "Ambient light covering entire areas could reduce the current danger of criminals lurking in darkness. Mirrors could be arranged to light given metropolitan areas only during particular periods, so there could be darkness late at night for sleeping."

Mine the moon. "The moon is an enormous natural resource, possessed of more than enough minerals and materials to provide everything a self-replicating system needs. Structural glass and ceramics can be made by crushing rocks and molding them by hand; oxygen and water can be manufactured from the Moon’s soil to form life-support systems for humans." And unobtanium. Don't forget unobtanium.

Self-replicating robots in space. "At the present there is a fight between the planetary scientists who debunk a manned station and the manned-space advocates who debunk robots. Both sides miss the point. We want both people and machines in space, in large numbers, as rapidly as possible." The theory of the Earth’s demise in which self-replicating robots self-replicate ad infitum and consume all matter on earth is called "Grey Goo." You'll want to know that.

Huh? "Congressman Bob Walker of Pennsylvania has been exploring the possible benefits of weightlessness to people currently restricted to wheelchairs."

Peace in our time. "The welfare state could have reached out to our allies and to the Third World and built a cooperative venture that would have knit all freedom-loving people together in building a better future for all mankind—it decided not to. Today we stand on the verge of a moment of the movement of a 'Unified Free World Alliance' into space."

Newt Gingrich laughs at a campaign stop in South Carolina.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

According to Newt Gingrich, two things inspired Newt Gingrich to become a revolutionary. The first was his experience with a youth literacy program called Earning by Learning, which taught him that educational outcomes could be improved if we started offering students cash incentives (Earning by Learning also offered a lot of money to Gingrich's former aide and biographer Mel Steely). The second, he told an audience at DC's Mayflower Hotel in 1995, was speed limit signs:

As you know in Germany, on the autobahn, there's no speed limit, you can go literally any speed you want to. Many Americans rent a car, they're doing 100, a Mercedes goes by at 120, they pull over to the side of the road and cry. They never fully recover from the experience.  If tomorrow morning the Bundestag adopted a 100 kilometer or 62 mile-per-hour speed limit, virtually every German would obey it the next day. And the next election they would massacre the current generation of politicians and they would elect the No Speed Limit Party.

Now I'm always cautious about this because I don't want to offend anybody in the audience, but my understanding is that the American cultural response to the challenge of speed limits is substantially different from the German cultural response: In most of America, the speed limit is the benchmark of opportunity...I want to make a point here. This to me was the moment, one of the two moments I became a revolutionary."

After a brief digression into a discussion of disciplinary pratices within the 18th-century British army, Gingrich returned to signage: "A country in which virtually every citizen drives over the speed limit is impossible to lead by bureaucratic regulation," he said. "By definition, this is why the health plan last year was so crazy. By definition, a nation driven by incentives will wake up in the morning and say 'How do I get around the rule? What can my lawyer find for me? Is there a consultant who knows the loopholes?'" Given that Gingrich rose to power in the GOP by exploiting loopholes in the tax code to use charities for political ends, we suppose he probably does have point.

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