On 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."