Editors' note: 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.
The Republican presidential field was stale and uninspiring when Gail Sheehy profiled the speaker of the House for Vanity Fair in 1995. Sheehy reported that Newt Gingrich first began eyeing the Oval Office 19 years earlier, when he was an assistant professor of history and geography at West Georgia College. "[I]gnoring the minor setback of having just lost his second campaign for Congress, he and his acolytes began to plot a presidential run scheduled for 2000 or 2004." But Gingrich, at least publicly, wanted nothing to do with the nomination:
Today, Newt asserts unconvincingly that the presidency is not "one of the three highest items" on the checklist for the rest of his life. "But," he says, "hanging around with Marianne is pretty high on the list…I really do want to experience a lot of marriage."
When I ask what else is on the list, Newt rolls out a wish list that sounds like the contents page from Men's Journal. "I've always wanted to cross the Owen Stanley Range in New Guinea…I would love to go and collect dinosaur fossils for a while. Probably in Montana or northern Arizona. I would really love to spend six months to a year in the Amazon basin, just being able to spend the day watching tree sloths."
Out of spite, surely. The tree sloth, content to eat and sleep away its existence, is the very embodiment of the corrupt welfare state. Here's a video of a sloth refusing to cross a road without assistance because it wasn't raised in a culture that valued hard work:
MoJo's devotion to the man who would be president, including 18 eye-popping illustrations, might even leave Iowa voters in tears.
Tim MurphyDec. 12, 2011 7:55 AM
Newt Gingrich is back with a vengeance. In the last two weeks, he's taken credit for the success of Mitt Romney's venture capital firm (and the entire economic boom of the 1990s), the fall of the Soviet Union, and the demise of the "welfare state." The former speaker of the House has hit the stump in Iowa and Florida with a level of confidence befitting a man whose outsized cranium forced his high school football team to order a custom-made helmet.
Although his presidential bid crashed rather spectacularly in the beginning, Gingrich seems to have since found his mojo; in the eyes of MoJo, though, he never really went away. Since the early 1980s, when it "scooped the world on Newt Gingrich" (as his first wife later put it), the magazine has devoted gallons of ink and tens of thousands of words to exploring the ideas, emotions, and (if we must be honest) dental work of the architect of the Republican Revolution. Here's a quick tour through the highlights:
Illustration: Rudy VanderlansGingrich was just beginning to make a name for himself in 1984 when MoJo sent David Osborne down to Georgia to find out more. What struck Osborne was the widespread alienation felt by those who had long known Gingrich. One former aide called him "dangerous" and "amoral." The Gingrich who had accepted a teaching position at West Georgia College 14 years earlier was a thing of the past:
At the time, remembers Lee Howell, then editor of the student newspaper, Gingrich had "moddish" long hair and the tolerant cultural views of a young professor. He would come down to the newspaper office to talk and have a beer (though liquor was not allowed there), or have students over to his house for long philosophical discussions. He didn't mind if people drank, others remember, or even smoked a little dope. One of his friends lived with a girlfriend, and Gingrich provided emotional support for another couple going though an abortion. To people on campus, Gingrich was a young liberal.
Five years after Mother Jones helped introduce Gingrich to the world, the magazine's David Beers returned to Georgia to examine a politician who had changed considerably since his early days in the House. In 1984, "Gingrich was hard to take seriously," Beers wrote. By October 1989, you ignored him at your peril. According to Dolores Adamson, a former aide, Gingrich had begun requiring a staffer to record his every utterance, to be preserved in his future public archives: "If posterity was slighted because a staffer failed to record him, Gingrich would dock that person's pay up to $200—and dock Adamson's as well. Then, for good measure, 'He'd cut you down, blast you unmercifully.'"
Illustration: Victor JuhaszJust a few months earlier, Gingrich had forced Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-Texas) to resign over ethics violations. But when Beers suggested that Gingrich's own lecture circuit paychecks might raise conflict-of-interest issues, the Georgian scoffed: "The idea that a congressman would be tainted by accepting money from private industry or private sources is essentially a socialist argument."
Illustration: CF PayneBy 1995, the newly ascendant speaker of the House had emerged as one of the most powerful congressman of the last century—and one of the most radical. "Newt Gingrich is the most dangerous man in America today," wrote MoJo editor Jeffery Klein. "For more than 20 years, Newt has commanded a war to seize the speakership—only recently have troops and lieutenants joined his campaign. Newt isn't merely a creature of the moment, Rush Limbaugh's dittoheads hooked up with the legislative arms of the religious right." Gingrich, Klein argued, was the movement.
Illustration: Steve BrodnerGingrich had built his reputation by tackling corruption—but there was something of a double standard. Newt "called Clinton the 'enemy of normal Americans,' and threatened to shut down the presidency with a slew of ethics investigations. Oh, but [he] wants to abolish the House Ethics Committee."
Cover of the March/April 1995 Issue. Illustration: Robert GrossmanGingrich's Contract with America was just a first-step in a plan to revolutionize American government. The corrupt welfare state was on its way out, and in its place was something new and not entirely comforting. In his 1995 piece, "10 Ways the Republicans Will Change Your Life," Richard Blow zeroed in on the fate of the Food and Drug Administration: "Gingrich has actually called for replacing the FDA with a 'council of entrepreneurs,' claiming that the market will take care of any poisonous foods or drugs after the fact through legal actions. In other words, if your child is born deformed by a drug such as thalidomide—the drug that prompted the FDA to require safety testing—you can sue, and future companies will pay attention." Except that the Contract with America also pledged to make it significantly more difficult to file lawsuits.Illustration: Steve BrodnerIn Gingrich lore, there are few episodes more infamous than the story of the young congressman showing up at the hospital to discuss the terms of divorce with his first wife—as she was recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Reflecting on his first divorce in 1984, Gingrich told our David Osborne: "I guess I look back on it a little bit like somebody who's in Alcoholics Anonymous—it was a very, very bad period of my life, and it had been getting steadily worse…I ultimately wound up at a point where probably suicide or going insane or divorce were the last three options."
Illustration: Victor JuhaszIf all went according to plan, 1994 was to be only the beginning of a new era of Republican leadership. "The contract is a political document for 1996," one top GOP aide told Major Garrett the next year, referring to Gingrich's famous campaign pledge. "It was never meant to be a governing document. We don't care if the Senate passes any of the items in the contract. It would be preferable, but it's not necessary."
Illustration: Victor JuhaszThe Contract for America was custom-made to give Republicans a foot in the door. As Garrett reported, "GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who also polled for Patrick Buchanan's presidential campaign and later for Ross Perot's, tested the components of the contract before focus groups. Only those provisions that scored a favorability rating of 60 percent or higher made it into the contract." Luntz, in an interview with Garrett, was candid: "I'm a pollster. I don't worry about policy. I know what the people want, and I think it's time the Republican Party starts giving people what they want…"
Illustration: Victor JuhaszThe Republican Revolution was a relatively bloodless one, but Gingrich's troops embraced the metaphor in full: As Garrett noted, "Republicans intend to hold what many privately call 'War Crimes Trials' to illustrate what they consider criminal behavior on the part of regulators."
Cover of the September/October 1996 Issue. Illustration: C.F. PayneTwo years into the Republican Revolution, MoJo declared in 1996, Congress was open for business: "Newt's recruits perfected the art of legislating favors for financial sponsors. Though often robed in Christian righteousness, these sponsors read like a list of vice peddlers. Gambling casinos. Tobacco giants. Gun lobbies. Big polluters. Arms manufacturers."
Photo: Bill ClarkSalt, meet wound: Newt resigned as speaker and left the House for good in 1998. He was slapped with an ethics violation even as he was pushing impeachment proceedings on President Clinton. It would take a while for him to rebuild his reputation—but perhaps not as long as we thought.
By 2009, things were looking up for the formerly disgraced speaker. As David Corn reported in the March/April issue of that year, his message of "tri-partisanship" was sinking in with the beleaguered Republican party. "Gingrich can come up with 15 ideas a day, [former aide Rich] Galen notes, realizing that only one is any good and that 'over the course of a month, maybe one of them is actionable and you can build a project on it. The biggest sin in Newt-world is the sin of inaction.'" Bob Novak, the late conservative columnist, billed Gingrich as the right's new "Moses."
Of course, Moses never made it to the promised land.
Mitt Romney is very wealthy. The Boston Globepegged his net worth at somewhere between $190 million and $250 million. So it was probably a bad idea for him to respond to a challenge from Texas Gov. Rick Perry at Saturday's GOP debate by offering to wager $10,000—more than a lot of Americans have in their savings accounts right now—that he had never supported a national individual mandate. Here's video, via TPM:
To make matters worse, Romney didn't just give President Obama grist for a campaign ad—he'd also lose the bet. Romney did, at least until recently, believe that his Massachusetts health care plan offered a model for the rest of the country.
Update: On further review, it's not clear whether Romney would lose the bet, since he didn't specifically call for a federal mandate in his (since-revised) book. But Perry's right that Romney supports mandates on principle, and he has, in other forums, endorsed their implementation at the federal level.
Pressed by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) at Saturday's GOP presidential debate, Newt Gingrich offered a clever explanation for his longtime support for an individual mandate for health insurance. As the former speaker of the House told it, he had supported the mandate in 1993 specifically as an alternative to Hillarycare. The mandate was, he noted, a Republican idea. But "after Hillarycare disappeared…people tried to find other techniques."
There are a couple of problems with Gingrich's alibi, but none more glaring than the fact that he didn't simply abandon the mandate after Hillarycare failed. As David Corn reported, Gingrich was calling for an individual mandate for health insurance as recently as 2007. As Gingrich wrote:
In order to make coverage more accessible, Congress must do more, including passing legislation to: establish a national health insurance marketplace by giving individuals the freedom to shop for insurance plans across state lines; provide low-income families with $1,000 in direct contributions to a health savings account, along with a $2,000 advanced tax credit to purchase an HSA-eligible high-deductible health plan; make premiums for these plans tax deductible; provide tax rebates to small businesses that contribute to their employees' HSAs; extend and expand grant funding to high-risk pools across the country; and require anyone who earns more than $50,000 a year to purchase health insurance or post a bond.
Here's a video of Gingrich pitching his proposal while seated across from Hillary Clinton, herself, in 2005:
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.
By April 1997, House Speaker Newt Gingrich's approval rating had dipped to 14 percent in the national polls. The balance of power in his party was beginning to shift to the now-GOP controlled Senate, and there was an ethics investigation targeting him for several allegations of wrongdoing. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) went on the record describing his speaker as "road kill." But Gingrich was riding high, for he had just conquered Central Asia.
In advance of Mongolia's national elections in 1996, Gingrich and Republican allies dispatched a band of consultants to groom a slate of free-market-oriented candidates. They crafted a "Contract With the Mongolian Voter," based on the "Contract With America" Gingrich and his Republican allies composed for the 1994 election that brought him to power. The Gingrich-backed Mongolian candidates pledged to privatize 60 percent of state property, cut social services, slash taxes, and "support herders' rights to use non-cash payment methods." Baby steppes. As the Washington Postreported, "Even the new Mongolian election law was lifted verbatim from the election law manual of Texas."
The election was a huge success for Gingrich. His Mongolian allies went from five votes in the legislature to 50—out of a total 76. Maureen Dowd dubbed him "Speaker of the Yurt."
Holding up a crown-shaped hat that had been giften to him by an adoring Mongolian, Gingrich appeared on stage at the annual GOPAC conference in Washington, DC to claim victory. From that speech:
"On a stool in his portable felt and canvas yurt, Yadamsuren, a seventy-year-old nomadic sheepherder, offered a visitor chunks of sheep fat and shots of fermented mare's milk to ward off the unspeakable cold....Many miles from the nearest neighbor, he spoke glowingly of the work of House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party."
I am not making this up. I am reading from the Washington Post, this is a direct quote from Mr. Yadamsuren: "I read the contract with the voter very closely."
Isn't it exciting to know that not only in America but in Mongolia, ideas are working?
Gingrich's overseas revolution was short-lived; the new Mongolian governing coalition collapsed four years later.