The New Humble, Supportive Newt
National Review Online
July 31, 2012
By 1988, Newt Gingrich was leading the charge against Democratic House speaker Jim Wright over allegations of unethical behavior. In 1994, as leader of the opposition, he achieved what many thought impossible, leading Republicans to their first majority in the House of Representatives in 40 years. After resigning from the speakership, Gingrich was often mentioned as a presidential candidate, but rarely discussed as a potential running mate for any GOP nominee — perhaps reflecting the fact that his personality didn’t fit the quieter background role assumed by most vice presidents.
Now, after a bruising primary battle against Mitt Romney, Gingrich is stepping into the position of campaign surrogate for his former foe. And while he undoubtedly still brings some of his primary-season star power (his name almost guarantees a healthy contingent of local and national media at any event), Gingrich is still trying to get the knack of how to downplay himself and sing Romney’s npraises.
Monday afternoon, Gingrich spoke at 69-year-old electronics store Belmont TV in Arlington, Va. The event was one of 18 Romney-campaign-organized “We Did Build This” events in twelve swing states.
Gingrich began the event on message: “One of the most important questions of this whole campaign is, ‘How do you create jobs?’ The president had sort of a Freudian slip that suggested people who build jobs and built businesses didn’t really do it. This is a business that has been here for 69 years. I don’t think it’s here because of Barack Obama and I don’t think it’s here because of the federal government. It’s here because people got up every day and went to work and had to meet a customer, had to learn about new technologies. It’s a constant process, every year, of people working to make sure people keep working — pretty straightforward. And it is a dramatic contrast to the Obama model.”
He offered a typically somewhat-overwrought comparison: “You watch the Olympians,” Gingrich said, facing a wall of televisions providing coverage of the U.S. and Brazil facing off in volleyball. “I can imagine an Obama speech where he says, ‘You didn’t win that gold medal; everybody won that gold medal.’ Well, that’s not how it works. These Olympians worked very hard. They spent long hours, they practiced, they learned, they struggled to achieve something. And we honor those who go out and work hard, and in America, small-business leaders go out and work hard, and they’re the key to our economy.”
But it didn’t take long for the morning’s news to bring out Gingrich’s inner political analyst, with a slight detour down memory lane.
“It’s a great day to be here, because I saw, as all of you did, that they’re going to give former president Clinton a significant role to play at the [Democratic] convention,” Gingrich said with a gleeful smile. “It’s a terrific opportunity for those of us who served with President Clinton to point out that Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton. You look at the Clinton economy, the balanced budgets that I helped write and Clinton signed, you look at welfare reform, which Obama recently tore apart and reversed. You look at all the things done to make the economy better for the American people. There is a huge gap between Bill Clinton’s efforts to take the Democratic party to the center and Barack Obama’s effort to take the party to the left. In a funny kind of way, the Democratic convention may highlight the difference between the two choices . . . and remind us that Obama really is a failed left-wing president.”
A reporter later asked about one of the Obama campaign’s favorite topics, Romney’s tax returns. Most Romney surrogates can easily dismiss the issue as an irrelevant distraction — but for Gingrich it is a bit more complicated, since he called on Romney to release his tax information before the South Carolina primary.
“I think he’s going to release another year — I think he now has twelve years of information that is available,” Gingrich said. “People are not going to take that as a major issue in understanding him; he’s pretty clear who he is and what he’s done.”
When a reporter pressed Gingrich about whether he would have been happy with only two years of returns during the primary, Gingrich continued, “I tried to raise the issue, but I think, frankly, the results of the primary also indicated the American voters are pretty comfortable that this a guy who has had, you know, good accountants, good lawyers, he’s obeyed the law and he will have released two solid years of information and earlier released eight to ten years’ worth of information, for public disclosure as governor and running for president.”
At the moment, Gingrich is also in the spotlight for his defense of a group he calls the “National Security Five” — five lawmakers who have written to the Department of Defense, the State Department, and other agencies to investigate whether the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups are infiltrating the U.S. government. The letter mentioned that Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “has three family members — her late father, her mother, and her brother — connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations.” Some opponents contend that the accusations surrounding Abedin are vague and based on guilt by association, or that the lawmakers so far lack any serious evidence of wrongdoing.
“Getting the right advice can be everything,” Gingrich wrote in Politico. “Therefore, whose advice we rely on becomes central to national security. Asking who the advisers are, what their prejudices are and what advice they give is a legitimate — indeed, essential — part of any serious national security system. It was this question that the National Security Five focused on. They were right to do so and it weakens national security for them to be attacked for simply asking basic questions.”
Asked whether anyone on the Romney campaign reached out to Gingrich about his column, he responded, “I didn’t write that op-ed as a question of the campaign. I wrote it as a former speaker of the House — who’s the longest-serving teacher of the senior military, who served on the committee of eight that looked at intelligence matters. You go back, for example, and look at the 9/11 [Commission] Report, the only increase in intelligence funding in the 1990s was what they called the ‘Gingrich-plus-up.’ My interest in this role is as a former speaker of the House, and not as a Republican campaigner.”
On the way out the door, Gingrich was asked whether he would be speaking at the Republican convention in Tampa next month. The former speaker shrugged and said he didn’t know. Anticipating the television correspondent’s suggestion that he might be snubbed, he added with a smile, “I’m personally very comfortable with not speaking at the convention.”
That’s a humility that can only be called . . . fundamental and profound.