Newt Gingrich: Rating the Presidents I’ve Known
Newt Gingrich speaks out on the political culture and where he thinks we’re heading.
Suddenly, it seems, Newt Gingrich, that voice from the 1990s, is everywhere—including right here.
Gingrich, formerly speaker of the house and currently go-to pundit, will be headlining Ave Maria School of Law’s Signature Affair event this month, benefiting the college’s scholarship fund. This is his second appearance at the Catholic law school, located in North Naples.
Gingrich is the author of the recently released Understanding Trump, his insights into (and unabashed praise of) the 45th president. He’s expected to speak about the “new political conservative agenda.”
Gulfshore Life in late October was able to snare a few minutes with Gingrich to chat about presidencies current and past (in addition to his political career, Gingrich is a historian and prolific author), as well as some of the issues that he underscores in Understanding Trump. Here are his responses, edited lightly for space.
On the presidents spanning his career
“Obviously in terms of achieving what he set out to, the most successful was Reagan. He was very clear on why he was running and on what he was trying to accomplish. He stayed very focused. He rebuilt the American economy and renewed the American civic spirit and defeated the Soviet Empire. Those were quite remarkable years. By any reasonable standard, of the people I have known personally, he was the most successful.
“In sheer IQ, Nixon may have been the smartest. It was tragic he was destroyed by Watergate. He was a very shrewd, very calculating person who had managed to rise to national power, despite losing in 1960 and losing the (California) governor’s race in ’62. He had a knack of perseverance, and he of course changed the world with his outreach to China and his efforts to contain the Soviet Empire without war.
“I think that Clinton was probably the most charming. He just has a natural personality for making people feel good about themselves. He loves being liked by people, and he’s happy to do whatever it takes to get them to like him. Quite an interesting guy.
“I would say Obama was the most aloof. He tried very hard to impose an alternative America, and in the end may have come close to shattering the Democratic Party by launching a very hard-Left movement that probably in the end will burn out.
“The two Bushes are the quintessential establishment figures. George W. was both made historic by 9/11 and totally diverted by 9/11, and so we have no idea what a peacetime George W. Bush would have been like. George H.W. Bush in many ways won Reagan’s third election and governed in the shadow of Reagan. He was a transitional figure.
“I also served with Carter, who was a very sincere, well-meaning guy who had almost no contact with reality. He lived in a fantasy world and achieved one great breakthrough, which were the negotiations with (Egyptian President Anwar) Sadat and (Israeli Prime Minister Menachem) Begin that brought about the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord. That was a truly historic achievement, but other than that he didn’t understand the economy, he didn’t understand what was happening in the culture, and he didn’t understand the Russians. That was a pretty big burden, and that’s why he ended up as a one-term president and being defeated decisively.
“Trump, I would say, is totally different. Trump is a unique character. I always tell people he’s one-third Andrew Jackson for disruption, one-third Theodore Roosevelt for sheer energy and one-third P.T. Barnum for constant selling, and if you weave those three together you get a flavor of what Trump is like.”
On the potential of the Trump presidency
“If when you write this (lawmakers) have passed the tax cuts, he will have taken a big step toward being successful, and if they fail to pass the tax cuts, he’s taken a big step toward having a very troubled presidency. The tax cuts are a real crossroads. They have to get the tax cuts to get to the level of economic growth they need in order to be able to run for re-election and to be able to survive the 2018 elections.”
On finding trustworthy sources of information
“Well, I don’t think you can trust any of (the media). All of them have their own biases, so you have to read them with that understanding. You know the Post will be liberal and bitterly anti-Trump, and you know The New York Times lives in a fantasy world of its own, and The Wall Street Journal has a bias toward free market capitalism. You know Fox is the conservative center of gravity. You listen to each one in the context of knowing who they are. If I go to MSNBC and they’re being positive about Trump, I really have to wonder what has happened and pay attention. But if they’re being negative about Trump then I don’t worry about it. Similarly, if I went to Fox and they’re being negative about Trump, I’d wonder what just happened. So I think you need to know the bias of your sources and take the information in with that awareness.”
On the origins of media partisanship
“I think it started in the 1960s. The Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the assassination of Kennedy and then of (Martin Luther King Jr.) and Bobby Kennedy, and Watergate. Those things all came together to become a form of poison, which led the news media to both cease observing and begin advocating and that led them to a hostility toward the Washington establishment.”
On America’s ‘great transition’
“There’s an Episcopal church in Alexandria (Virginia), which decided this week to take Washington’s name off the pew that he sat in because it was his home church. Now, a radical culture, so anti-American that it wants to erase the memory of the guy who literally was the father of the country is an alternative vision of the world that is first of all, for my generation, unthinkable, and second represents a genuine threat to the very survival of the American model. You have what was called in one article ‘cultural terrorism’ when the Black Lives Matter group at William and Mary College (in early October) refused to allow the ACLU spokesperson to give a talk in defense of the First Amendment’s right of free speech and physically blocked her for an hour from being able to reach the audience, and said that free speech is ‘white imperialism.’ Well, that’s a fairly radical break with America.
“Trump represents, at least for the moment, a repudiation of this. Trump believes that the cultural conflict is at least as important as the economic issues.”
On healing divides and restoring unity
“One of the reasons I’m so passionate about exploration in space is that I think you need large projects that create a better future and that lead people to subordinate their immediate argument in favor of working together. People who wanted wagon trains to go to the West found a way to cooperate because they knew they had a common interest in getting to a better place. I think what we need is a vision of a more dynamic, more exciting, more interesting American future.”
On Florida’s role in shaping national politics
“Florida is an extraordinarily diverse state, and if either party can dominate Florida, it will probably end up dominating the country. Florida is one of the key swing states in defining the presidency. Trump could not have won without it. Bush proved in 2000 he couldn’t win without it. Florida will be one of the pivotal states, and its evolution will be very important in defining America’s future.”