Editor's Note (5/10/11): Well, it kind of seems official. On Monday, a spokesman for Newt Gingrich announced that on Wednesday Gingrich would announce on Twitter and Facebook that he is running for president. (How suspenseful!) And in the days since commentators have been dissecting the former House speaker's past: his messy personal life (two divorces, three marriages), his erratic policy pronouncements, his combative politicking. But given that Gingrich has thirty-plus years of extreme conduct, many of his past excesses end up being truncated and compacted into characterizations. ("Known for his often controversial remarks...") The full Newt is often given short shrift. But a month ago, Tim Murphy and David Corn set out to chronicle Gingrich's 33 years of rhetorical extremism. They ended up with a long list. A very long list.
Newt Gingrich, a preseason 2012 Republican contender, likes to present himself as an ideas man. He is a former college professor and the architect of the ideology-driven 1994 Republican Revolution. But for all his references to Camus and Clausewitz, there's another side to the former House speaker—a verbal bomb-thrower who's never met a political crisis he couldn't analogize to the annexation of the Sudetenland.
Gingrich was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1978. He learned quickly that a back-bencher in the minority party could distinguish himself and gain attention in Washington by employing extreme rhetoric. Ever in attack-mode, Gingrich swiftly moved up the ranks within the House GOP caucus. Democrats accused him of practicing "skinhead politics," and a 1989 Washington Post profile declared him "notorious" and "defiant." But his political thuggery worked, and he led the GOPers in their historic retaking of the House and became speaker. He did not last long in the post. After a rocky stint—marked by a government shutdown, his party's sex-and-lies impeachment crusade against President Bill Clinton, and several ethics controversies involving Gingrich—the GOP lost seats in the 1998 election, and Gingrich resigned as speaker and left the House. (During this time, he was having an extramarital affair with a congressional aide who would eventually become his third, and present, wife.)
In his post-House years, Gingrich, at times, toned down the rhetoric. He worked with Hillary Clinton on health care IT issues. He sat on a couch with Nancy Pelosi to highlight their joint support for climate change action. After the 2008 election, he called for policymaking that would unite Democrats, Republicans, and independents. He blasted a candidate for GOP chairman who circulated a parody song called "Barack the Magic Negro." Still, he wasn't able to escape the siren call of overheated oratory. He repeatedly bashed the "secular left" for attempting to destroy the country, and as he has moved closer to declaring a presidential bid, he increasingly has returned to the hooligan ways of his past.
So here's a rather incomplete guide to Gingrich's greatest (or worst) hits of the past 33 years. As he might say, it's the most accurate, predictive model for his future behavior.
1978 In an address to College Republicans before he was elected to the House, Gingrich says: "I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican party is that we don't encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal and faithful and all those Boy Scout words." He added, "Richard Nixon…Gerald Ford…They have done a terrible job, a pathetic job. In my lifetime, in my lifetime—I was born in 1943—we have not had a competent national Republican leader. Not ever."
1980 On the House floor, Gingrich states, "The reality is that this country is in greater danger than at any time since 1939."
1980 Gingrich says: "We need a military four times the size of our present defense system." (See 1984.)
1983 A major milestone: Gingrich cites former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on the House floor: "If in fact we are to follow the Chamberlain liberal Democratic line of withdrawal from the planet," he explains, "we would truly have tyranny everywhere, and we in America could experience the joys of Soviet-style brutality and murdering of women and children."
1983 He compares Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill to Chamberlain: "He may not know any better. He may not understand freedom versus slavery...in the tradition of [former British Prime Ministers] Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, whose only weakness was they left their nation with war with Nazi Germany."
1984 "I am not a super hawk."
1984 Gingrich takes advantage of the arrival of C-Span to deliver scathing condemnations of his colleagues. He accuses Democrats of appeasement and distributing "communist propaganda," and threatens to press charges against them for writing a letter to Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega. House Speaker Tip O'Neill calls it "the lowest thing that I've ever seen in my 32 years in Congress."
1984 Gingrich touts a study being compiled by conservative House Republicans, noting it "will argue that it is time to stop challenging or seeming to challenge the patriotism of Democrats and liberals. Enough historical evidence exists."
1984 "It used to be called socialism. It is now just sort of liberal Democratic platform pledges."
1985 Gingrich calls Reagan's upcoming meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev ''the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Chamberlain in 1938 at Munich.''
1985 Gingrich compares a disputed House election in Indiana to the Holocaust. "We have talked a lot in recent weeks about the Holocaust, about the incredible period in which Nazi Germany killed millions of people and, in particular, came close to wiping out European Jewry. Someone said to me two days ago, talking frankly about the McIntyre affair [in which Democrats refused to seat the winner of a House race until they'd conducted a recount] and the efforts by the Democratic leadership not to allow the people of Indiana to have their representative but, instead, to impose upon them somebody else, something in which he quotes [German poet Martin] Niemoller, and I have never quite until tonight been able to link it together—Niemoller, the great German theologian, said at one point: 'When the Nazis came for the Jews, I did nothing…and when the Nazis came for me, there was no one left.'"
1985 Upset with Democrats' foreign policy stance, Gingrich observes, "Adolph Hitler must somewhere be burning in hell, wishing he had lived two generations later, so he could manipulate Americans instead of Englishmen."
1985 He's got the world in the palm of his hand: "I have an enormous personal ambition. I want to shift the entire planet…I just had breakfast with [administration officials Richard] Darman and [David] Stockman because I'm unavoidable. I represent real power."