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.”
1987 Gingrich takes to the House floor to decry…pretty much everything about the Democratic-run House: “After the first five months of this Congress, I must report to my fellow citizens that this 100th Congress may be the most irresponsible, destructive, corrupt, and unrepresentative Congress of the modern era… In future weeks, I will make a series of speeches outlining the threats of corruption, of communism, and of the left-wing machine which runs the House.”
1988 Gingrich discusses his midlife crisis: “I spent a fair length of time trying to come to grips with who I was and the habits I had, and what they did to people that I truly loved. I really spent a period of time where, I suspect, I cried three or four times a week. I read Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them and I found frightening pieces that related to…my own life.”
1989 He explains to the Washington Post why he fights with his second wife, Marianne: “It’s not even that it matters to me. It’s just the habit of dominance, the habit of being the center of my staff and the center of the news media.” Newt gives the marriage a “53–47” shot of surviving.
1989 After taking down Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas) by filing a string of ethics charges, Gingrich basks in his role as giant-killer. “If you’re not in the Washington Post every day,” he says, “you might as well not exist.”
1989 Gingrich lays out his electoral roadmap: “The left-wing Democrats will represent the party of total hedonism, total exhibitionism, total bizarreness, total weirdness, and the total right to cripple innocent people in the name of letting hooligans loose.”
1989 “These people are sick,” he says of congressional Democrats. “They are so consumed by their own power, by a Mussolini-like ego, that their willingness to run over normal human beings and to destroy honest institutions is unending.” He also warns that unless the Democrats are stopped, “we may literally see our freedom decay and decline.”
1990 Gingrich’s political action committee, GOPAC, sends out a memo titled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control” to several thousand Republican candidates running for state and local offices. It includes a list of words they should use to describe Democrats:
decay, failure (fail) collapse(ing) deeper, crisis, urgent(cy), destructive, destroy, sick, pathetic, lie, liberal, they/them, unionized bureaucracy, “compassion” is not enough, betray, consequences, limit(s), shallow, traitors, sensationalists, endanger, coercion, hypocricy, radical, threaten, devour, waste, corruption, incompetent, permissive attitude, destructive, impose, self-serving, greed, ideological, insecure, anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs; pessimistic, excuses, intolerant, stagnation, welfare, corrupt, selfish, insensitive, status quo, mandate(s) taxes, spend (ing) shame, disgrace, punish (poor…) bizarre, cynicism, cheat, steal, abuse of power, machine, bosses, obsolete, criminal rights, red tape, patronage.
1990 Speaking privately to a group of supporters, Gingrich says he’s changing his public role from “explainer of political tactics to explainer of cultural change.”
1992 While campaigning for President George H. W. Bush in Georgia, Gingrich uses Woody Allen as a symbol for what Democrats want to do to America: “Woody Allen had non-incest with his non-daughter because they were a non-family.” He adds, “It fits the Democratic Party platform perfectly.” Bush distances himself from the remarks.
1994 A South Carolina woman, Susan Smith, murders her two sons. Gingrich draws the only logical conclusion: “I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things. The only way you get change is to vote Republican.”
1994 He sums up his political philosophy: “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz. I see evil all around me every day.”
1995 Following the House GOP’s triumphant 1994 election victory, Gingrich sends all the Republican freshman House members copies of the GOPAC memo suggesting they refer to their opponents as “traitors.”
1995 Gingrich releases a novel he co-authored, 1945, in which the Waffen-SS invades eastern Tennessee. But most critics fixate on the opening scene, in which a high-ranking Washington politico, unsatisfied with his marriage, engages in an affair that ultimately brings about his own political demise:
Playfully, to drive home the potential loss, she bit his shoulder, then kissed it better.
“Aw, hell, I don’t want to…I wish I could just divorce Mrs. Little Goodie Two-Shoes!”
“I like this arrangement,” she laughed softly. “Mistress to the chief of staff of the President of the United States. Nice title, don’t you think? Such a book I could write.” …Suddenly the pouting sex kitten gave way to Diana the Huntress. She rolled onto him and somehow was sitting athwart his chest, her knees pinning his shoulders. “Tell me, or I will make you do terrible things,” she hissed.
Gingrich calls the book “PG-13.”
1995 Gingrich examines the United States’ handling of the conflict in Bosnia and falls back on a familiar refrain: “The UN acts totally impotently and undermines the morale of every law-abiding democracy on the planet. This is the worst performance by the democracies since the 1930s.”
1996 Gingrich applies the same analogy to President Clinton’s policies in the Middle East, in a speech to the Center for Security Policy: “The democracies are in a greater danger than they have been at any time since [British Prime Minister] Stanley Baldwin lied to the English people about the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s Germany.”
1998 Gingrich steps down as Speaker, amid ethics complaints and rumors of an extramarital affair. He frames his decision in pragmatic terms: “I’m willing to lead, but I’m not willing to preside over people who are cannibals.”
1998 Gingrich divorces Marianne. A later Esquire profile offers a glimpse of the last days, from Marianne’s point of view:
Gingrich just kept saying she was a Jaguar and all he wanted was a Chevrolet. “‘I can’t handle a Jaguar right now.’ He said that many times. ‘All I want is a Chevrolet.'”
2004 Gingrich tells Fox News that liberal financier George Soros’ opposition to George W. Bush might be due to his ties to drug cartels: “[He] wants to spend $75 million defeating [President] George W. Bush because Soros wants to legalize heroin.”
2005 Gingrich’s latest greatest threat to America is the American Civil Liberties Union. “[I]t’s almost as though they were into destruction for its own sake and weakening and undermining America for its own sake.” He also labels the group “a consistently destructive organization that is opposed to and undermines the values of most Americans, and takes positions that are consistently weakening the security of the United States.”
2006 Asked whether he agrees with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s comments that opposition to the Bush administration’s Iraq policy is tantamount to appeasing Hitler, Gingrich responds, “Yes.”
2006 Gingrich casts the Bush administration’s War on Terror in the kind of sweeping terms he normally reserves for, well, everything else: “We’re in the early stages of what I would describe as the third World War.”
2007 Gingrich makes the case for war in Iran and Syria by using his favorite analogy: “It makes no sense to have a Holocaust Museum in Washington and yet have no honest assessment of the threat of a 21st century Holocaust.”
2007 “We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.” Two years later, Gingrich unveils a new Spanish-language website, The Americano.
2008 Following the presidential election, Gingrich calls for a new era of “tri-partisan” cooperation in Washington.
2008 Gingrich tells Bill O’Reilly that “there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us.” The gay and secular fascist movement, Gingrich charges, is “prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it.”
2009 On Democratic opposition to the continuing war in Afghanistan, Gingrich breaks out a familiar line: “The last few weeks have been worse than Chamberlain. This is Baldwin in 1935, just willfully blind because he didn’t want to tell the British people the truth because it would offend them.”
2009 Gingrich compares the Obama administration to the Chinese Cultural Revolution. “I just have this interesting idea of asking [then White House communications director] Anita Dunn if this is her idea of a cultural revolution and if she really wishes that she could get Sean Hannity and the other Fox commentators to go to a farm and work the way Mao sent the intellectuals out.”
2010 Gingrich warns that Obama’s agenda “would mean the end of America as it has been for the last 400 years.”
2010 Gingrich argues that Muslims don’t have a right to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan: “They’re trying to make a case about supremacy…Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”
2010 Sign of the times: Gingrich swaps gay secular fascism for “secular-socialist machine“—which he says “represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.”
2010 A year after writing a book about noted anti-colonialist George Washington, Gingrich suggests that the current president holds a radical, anti-British worldview of his own. “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Gingrich asks. “That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”
2010 Gingrich sounds the alarm about a new threat facing America: “We should have a federal law that says Sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States.”
2011 Gingrich tells the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody that he was driven to his cheat on his previous two wives because of his one true love: America. “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.”
2011 Secular-socialists give way to atheist-Islamists: “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time [his grandchildren are] my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.” His spokesman later clarified that Gingrich meant either Islamists or atheists would take over America, not both.