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Newt Gingrich served as the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. In 1995, Time magazine selected him as their Person of the Year for[…]

A conversation with the former Speaker of the House.

Question: Why has Scott Brown’s campaign been so successful?

Newt Gingrich: You know, this is an amazing country and every once in a while, the American people find a way to exert themselves without regard to the elites and without regard to whatever the established conventional wisdom is.  I think this is going to be one of those periods.  And I think what’s happened is, the Obama/Pelosi/Reed machine misread the meaning of the 2006 and 2008 elections.  They went way too far to the left; they drove home a kind of authoritarian style of government that enraged people. And then they decided to pick a fight over healthcare that maximized the country’s sense of anxiety during a time when you have over 10% unemployment.  All of that came together so that you have really, almost in a British bi-election sense.  You have a national election being held in Massachusetts with resources spontaneously showing up from everywhere. 

I saw a note this morning that Brown had raised $10 million on the internet in the last 10 days, which is, for a Senate race, I think clearly a record by a big margin.  It’s because people spontaneously have moved to the sound of the guns and have said, here’s a place where I can send a signal to Washington to stop trying to make us into a socialist country.  And I think you have a huge amount of energy behind Brown right now.  

Question: What does Brown’s campaign say about the state of the Republican Party?

Newt Gingrich: Well the Republicans held the governorship for 16 straight years.  Deval Patrick is the first Democratic Governor since before Bill Weld.  And I think that it says that, if you’re seen as an independent person, you can win without being a Democrat, even in Massachusetts as we have Republican Governors right now in Vermont and in Rhode Island and in Connecticut.  People forget, there’s a lot bigger base of potential Republicanism in New England than the current office holders at the federal level. 

I think also it says that Brown, correctly wants to run – and we did this in 1994 in our Contract with America Campaign.  We wanted every American of every background to be part of what we are doing, not just polarizing on a Republican/Democratic basis.  My guess is that Brown is going to get between 15% and 20% of the Democrats, about 60% to 65% of the Independents, and about 85% of the Republicans.  So, he will really have a very broad coalition.

Question: Is the southern presence in Republicanism isolating the party from the rest of the country?

Newt Gingrich: Well, I mean, first of all, I don’t think it was accurate in the ‘90’s.  We worked very hard to sustain the New England and New York parts of the party and we were pretty successful at it.  We were the first reelected majority since 1928 and that was in part because across the industrial Midwest and in the Northeast and the Pacific Coast, we fought very aggressively to sustain Republican victories. 

 I do think that the party became tone deaf and I think that tone deafness made it much harder to hold seats in the New England area and in places like New York and parts of the Pacific Coast.  But I also think that there’s a natural cycle here.  The Republicans were punished in 2006 and 2008 largely for performance failures.  They now are not the issue.  The issue now has become much faster than I thought it would, whether or not you really want a left-wing, what I would call a secular socialist movement running Washington.  And it’s pretty clear that as the Republican failures fade, people are no longer focused on them, they’re not focused on a referendum on whether or not we need higher taxes and bigger bureaucracy and more left-wing values.

Question: How can Republicans succeed in the next election?

Newt Gingrich: I believe if we are the alternative party, not the opposition party, we have a chance to take the house in 2010, I aim to win a sweeping, decisive election in 2012, and we will not win that election as the opposition party, but we could win it as the alternative party.  And frankly, Obama is showing you the danger of running as an opposition party, not an alternative party because he pretended to be a centrist who would accommodate many broad values when he ran as a candidate, he has since proven to be part of a machine, and as a result the disillusionment is much deeper than it would have been if he had campaigned openly and accurately on what he intended to do.

Question: Can the Republican Party put forth a positive agenda?

Newt Gingrich: Well, in ’94, we clearly won because we had a positive agenda.  We had the largest one-party turnout increase in American history for an off year.  We gained 9 million additional votes.  The Democrats lost about a million votes.  That was not a function of being negative.  In New Jersey and in Virginia in 2009, the winning Republican candidates for Governor were both positive.  Chris Christy ran on lower taxes and Charter Schools, carried counties, urban counties that no Republican had carried for a generation.  Bob McDonald campaigned on a very positive campaign of lower taxes, more economic growth, developing energy resources.  He got 59% of the vote in a Virginia which had given Obama 53% the year before.  That’s a swing of 12 percentage points in one year.

Question: What notions of a positive Republican agenda do you see forming?

Newt Gingrich: Actually I do see significant steps in the right direction by Congressman John Boehner, the Republican Leader of the House and Eric Cantor, the Republican Whip and by Mitch McConnell and John Kyle and Walt Alexander and others in the Senate.  I also see it in Governorships.  It’s important to remember that this fall there will be, I think 36 gubernatorial races.  Three out of four states in the country will be engaged in Governor races.  And many of them are going to be very important positive agenda-setting moments.  And the Republican Governor Association has a very positive agenda for the future. 

But I also believe in the House and Senate that you’re going to see something like a new contract, or let’s say a set of 10 goals that will be very positive; cutting out fraud, moving to a balanced budget, reducing taxes, helping small business, placing American lives above the legal rights of terrorists.  There will be a number of steps I think where you could have a very positive agenda by republicans for the fall campaign that would unify and bring together 70% or 80% of the country.

Question: Should conservatives refrain from addressing social issues today?

Newt Gingrich: Well you know, Brown is for marriage being between a man and a woman.  Brown is against partial birth abortion.  Brown had his biggest single fight with the current Attorney General over the question of whether or not doctors, as a matter of conscience, and nurses as a matter of conscience, could be coerced by the state into performing abortions even if they regard it as an act of murder.  Brown was on the side of conscience and against the state have that kind of secular power.  So, Brown is, in that sense, much closer to a traditional social conservative then people might think based on the news media coverage.  I think similarly, if you look at Chris Christy, if you look at Bob McDonald, they’re both more conservative than you would have expected given the news media interpretation of the last few years. 

I think what you have to have is a very balanced campaign.  At the national level, you want to have a social conservatism, but you also want to have economic opportunity and economic growth and jobs and you also want to have a strong national security and homeland security plan.  Balancing all three so that people see clearly that you represent a broad solution to the country’s needs strikes me as the key to success for 2010, and 2012.


Question: What will the election of Scott Brown mean for Democrats in Washington? 

Newt Gingrich: If Teddy Kennedy’s Senate Seat in the middle of – at the peak of a healthcare debate is won by a Republican populace insurgent, I believe that will be psychologically as powerful as the Republican victory of 1994.  It won’t be at a practical level as powerful because in 1994 we took over the House and Senate, but I think the effect in this city will be stunning.  And I will be fascinated to see whether the Obama/Pelosi/Reed machine stops, takes a deep breath and decides to listen to the American People and modify what they are doing.  Or whether they decide that they have to actually have to increase their toughness and increase their arbitrary authoritarian behavior because it will be clear that they don’t ram things through quickly that everything’s going to collapse.  Remember, the results in Massachusetts are simply a part of a pattern that includes a Democratic incumbent in Arkansas being 17 points behind, a Democratic incumbent in Cincinnati being 17 points behind, a Democratic incumbent in Michigan being 7 points behind, Harry Reed himself being 10 points behind in Nevada.  I mean, there is a potential tidal wave building that could shatter the Democratic Party for a generation.

Well, if the people of Massachusetts vote for a Republican populace Senator, then I don’t see how the healthcare bill can pass the Senate. If by healthcare bill you mean the Obama/Pelosi/Reed left-wing model.  Could you pass a bi-partisan, transparent reasonably achieved health reform bill?  Sure, but not this bill.  You’d have to go back and start over.  And I think that’s the first big test the Democrats are going to be faced with is, if the people of Massachusetts speak clearly and decisively and we’re not in some kind of Minnesota recount problem, then how do the Democrats avoid recognizing that the people of the United States – I mean if a state like Massachusetts votes like this, can you imagine where the rest of the country is?


Question: What is your ideal model of healthcare?

Newt Gingrich: I think everybody, certainly we at the Center for Health Transformation would like to see 305 million Americans with health insurance, or with some form of financial coverage.  We would accept the libertarian argument that if you don’t want to buy health insurance, you could be allowed to post a bond or in some other way to be financial responsible, but we do think everybody should be in a position to have healthcare without having to rely on the state, or rely on charity.

Having said that, we don’t want a singer payer system, we don’t want a government dominated system, we don’t want a bureaucratically imposed system.  We want a system where the individual and their doctor have a relationship that’s direct and where the individual has substantial choices and substantial opportunity to make responsible decisions.    

Question: What is your organization working toward in this area?

Newt Gingrich: Well, we helped found the Center for Health Transformation to develop a new 21st century model of health and healthcare designed to save lives and save money.  We believe you can save, for example, between $70 and $120 billion a year from fraud, from people who are crooks stealing money in Medicare and Medicaid.  We believe you can get a dramatically better system by focusing first on the individual, getting them to be responsible for their health, getting them to be aware of their health, getting them to monitor and manage their health.  And we think that you need fundamental payment reform to align incentives with what we say our values are in terms of keeping people healthy.  We believe you need litigation reform, which has led to unnecessary expense because of defensive medicine. 

So, we believe you could have a bi-partisan, transparent, openly achieved health reform bill.  We’d be glad at the Center for Health Transformation to work on such a bill with the Obama Administration, but they’d have to give up their commitment to left-wing authoritarian, big government models and be willing to actually talk openly about reform rather than the kind of this direction they’ve been going in.

Question: How would you advise Obama in forming a more bi-partisan plan?

Newt Gingrich: There was a recent book that came out called The Pact, which talked about how Clinton and I had worked together and planned a whole series of major reforms.  President Clinton came recently to Senator Trent Lott’s hanging of his portrait as the former Senate Majority Leader, and the three of us were together and President Clinton said, as part of his remarks, “The people will forget how much we got done together by being practical.  And we could fight half the day and we could cooperate have the day.  And we understood which half was which.”  My first advice to the President would be, slow down, open up, invite the American People to participate. 

It was an enormous mistake to allow Pelosi and Reed to write the stimulus package and to pass it without anybody who was elected having read it. 

It was an enormous mistake to ram through a left-wing, high tax, energy bill in the House. 

It’s a huge mistake to try to ram through health reform for one-sixth of the economy on a partisan basis with secret negotiations in the White House. 

This country would love to have a bi-partisan, or tri-partisan, Democrat, Republican, and Independent effort out in the open to work together to solve our problems.  No one will be totally comfortable.  But it would be dramatically healthier for the country.  It is possible. 

It’s not possible as long as there is a Reed/Pelosi machine in charge of the Congress and it’s not possible as long as the President talks one way in public and acts another in private.  And that’s why, the eight times he’s on videotape promising that C-Span would cover the negotiations and the fact that he has turned down C-Span’s offer to cover the negotiations is so devastating.  If you say something once that might be an idea, if you say it eight times, that’s a promise.  And I think the President’s got to decide, does he really want to spend the next three years governing in secret in a partisan way?  Or does he want to fundamentally change and learn the lessons of the first year of his administration?   

Question: How do you evaluate the government’s treatment of Wall Street banks?

Newt Gingrich: Well, the whole process is sick.  You can’t have capitalism on the way up and socialism on the way down.  You can’t have welfare for the rich and expect it to work.  These guys – I said this a year ago when the former Chairman of Goldman Sachs was Secretary of the Treasury cheerfully passing a bill to bailout Goldman Sachs, which is what they did.  Goldman Sachs got $13 billion, with a “B”, billion dollars.  With no responsibility, no accountability, no involvement because of the way they designed the bailout.  And this is being done all across Wall Street.  You have brilliantly clever men who hire brilliantly clever lawyers to maximize their ability to rip off the taxpayer.  Now, that’s why I am for smaller government.  I was for letting these banks go bankrupt if necessary.  I think bailing them out was a horrible idea.  I don’t mind if they pay bonuses on the way up as long as they take risk on the way down.  But the current system is sick, the government ought to get out of it, it ought to basically cut its ties to the banks, take back the money, and tell the banks you’re on your own, good luck. 

But trying to figure out a way to create Sunday school morality among bank President’s strikes me as a dead loser.  These people are in business to make money.  They want the money.  They’ll be glad to be attacked in the media as long as they take $25, $50, $100 million home.  They think we’re silly because we don’t get what the game is.  And I think that Geitner is part of this and I think the fact that the Democrats in the House just passed a bill which would have $4 Trillion set aside to bailout institutions in the future is a sign that nobody in Washington has learned anything.  You want smaller institutions capable of surviving without government intervention.  Period.

Question: What do you think of Obama’s proposed levy of these banks?

Newt Gingrich: You know, President Obama is continuing the liberal mythology that you can tax corporations and somehow customers won’t pay.  This is a tax on customers; this is not a tax on banks.  They are trying to solve the unsolvable.  It’s like saying that what you want to have is you want to take all the water out of the vegetable soup.  Well, then you don’t have vegetable soup.  And the fact is, these are for-profit institutions.  If we ought to have a tax frankly, the only way I’d ever vote for a tax like that would be if it had a matching tax cut on small business.  Now, I might be interested in taxing the banks if I could then take the exact same number of dollars and put them into reducing the tax burden on small business.  I have no interest in giving Obama and Pelosi and Reed more money to spend through bureaucracies.  I don’t believe in trickle down bureaucracy, I don’t think it works, I think it corrupts the system and I think it makes America weaker and less safe. 

Question: Should the government take a stance on banks that are “too big to fail”?

Newt Gingrich: Yeah.  Yeah.  Because the objective truth is that if you’re too big to fail, you’re too big to be managed.  So, why do we have banks that are that big?  And I think we ought to be pretty relentless in saying to investors and stockholders, you’re on your own.  This is called capitalism.  If you hire really stupid management and they do really stupid things, you’re going to lose a lot of money.  So, you’re board of directors ought to really pay attention.  But I think this idea that somehow we’re going to hire a bunch of smart bureaucrats to look over the smart bankers to keep both from making mistakes is just foolish.  It’s just not – it won’t work, there is zero evidence that it will work.  Look at the deal in which Fannie May and Freddie Mac, the two giant housing institutions are in trouble.  I mean, those are government sponsored enterprises that have a single regulatory agency with 200 staff just to look at the two of them and it failed miserably.  It didn’t pick up anything that was wrong.

Question: What policy measures should be taken to change these practices?

Newt Gingrich: The first thing I’d do is say – is cut them off from all the TARP and other kinds of money, I would also insist that they follow coherent, rational rules about bad debt.  They would overnight cease to make a profit.  I mean, the truth is, these banks are only showing a profit because the government is allowing them to carry bad loans and not have to take care of them.  And so promptly in a spirit of totally bad citizenship, they decided to convert that extra money the government’s letting them keep into bonuses.  And my point is just, why do you think people to got Wall Street?  They go to Wall Street because the want to get rich.  They work really hard, long hours because they want to get rich.  You give them a chance to get rich they’re going to get rich.  I don’t care how often you preach at them.

Question: How can we remedy America’s financial habits?

Newt Gingrich: Well, the most important single political slogan in the next quarter century is 2 + 2 = 4.  I got that frankly from the Polish people who used it in their 10-year long struggle with the Polish dictatorship when Callista and I were doing the movie on John Paul II called, “Nine Days that Changed the World.” 

Starting in 1979, the Polish people were in constant rebellion against the Soviet dictatorship.  And they would say – they would put signs in their windows that said 2 + 2 = 4.  Partly it came from George Orwell, who wrote in his novel, 1984, that the state torturer when he was torturing the innocent citizen said that, “If we tell you 2 + 2 = 5, it equals 5, and if we tell you 2 + 2 = 3, it equals 3.”  And the citizen’s thinking, yeah, but what if it really equals 4?  It also comes from Camus’ novel The Plague, in which he says, “There are times when a man can be killed for saying 2 + 2 = 4 because the authorities can’t stand the truth.” 

And what I tell audiences is very simple. Here’s an American version of 2 + 2 = 4.  I give them half of a sentence.  If you can’t afford to buy a house – and then I stop, and they start giggling, and then someone else will say, “Rent,” or somebody else will say, “Don’t buy it.”  And finally I’ll say, “How many of you agree that if you can’t afford to buy a house, don’t buy one?”  Every hand goes up.  And then I simply point out, for 25 years we’ve lied.  For 25 years the official policy of the United States Government has been, if you can’t afford to buy a house, well you don’t need credit, you don’t need a down payment, you don’t need to pay on principal, we’ll give you a sub par interest, and guess what.  If you do it to one individual and they go broke, it’s a personal tragedy, if you do it to a million people; It’s a bubble which collapses with national consequence.  We had an IT bubble in 1999, we had a housing bubble in 2007, we had a Wall Street bubble in 2008.  The fourth bubble is going to be big government.  We have more government than we can afford, it is going to collapse, the sooner we start cutting it and the sooner we start replacing it, the better off we’re going to be.  We need to get to a smaller, more effective, more modern government as rapidly as possible and every year that we delay, we give more debt to China and more debt to Saudi Arabia, and we guarantee that our children and grandchildren will be paying more taxes to pay interest to Riyadh and Beijing and less money to take home for their own pay.

Question: What are the implications of being in such massive debt to foreign countries?

Newt Gingrich: Well, that is enormously dangerous to have American debt held in huge volume by China and Saudi Arabia.  It’s dangerous with the Saudi’s because you’re going to have more and more influence on behalf of a version of Islam which is very alien to the American system.  It is dangerous with China because the legitimate interest of the Chinese government is very different than ours.  And what are we going to do one morning in a diplomatic crisis if the Chinese announce they’re going to dump $2 Trillion of debt on the world market?  So I think there are very profound reasons for us to be very concerned about a system in which we have Increasing American irresponsibility leading to massive deficits which end up with foreigners owning huge volumes of American debt which also means that the carrying capacity – If you try to pay for the interest on the debt, there are projections that by 2017, we will be paying more taxes for interest on the debt than for all of our national security costs combined.  Now that is an irrational destructive and irresponsible position to be in.

Question: What can history teach us about the current state of America?

Newt Gingrich: Well, let’s say first of all, Toynbee in his study of history has one of his concepts the idea of challenge and response.  He said that all successful civilizations are challenged.  The ones that have long periods manage to respond in ways that overwhelm the challenge.  I remember in the 1980’s, people were writing books about the decline of America.  Japan was the number one superpower, there was a book about Japan as number one, there was a book about the emerging Japanese super state.  And then one morning the Japanese bubble collapsed.  They’ve never recovered from it. 

We are the third largest country in the world in population.  We are the largest country in the world in economic power.  We are the largest country in the world in military power.  We are the most successful integrator of cultures in human history.  More people come from more places bringing more ideas and energy than any other country in the history of the world.  With the recent Haitian earthquake, we’re reminded that there are a 1,200,000 Haitians who live in the United States. 

In the Somalian problems in 1990 to 1994, the fact is ….who we were chasing in Somalia had a son who was a Marine Lance Corporal in Los Angeles.  Every way you go across the planet, there are Afghans who are living in America, there are Romanians who live in America, there are Ethiopians who live in America.  No other society has the capacity we have.  If I was betting on the next 100 years, I think it will be a century of freedom, it will be a century in which America gets it’s act together, replaces the failed systems, gets back to work, rolls up it’s sleeves, and I fully expect that the world will decide that freedom, and the ability to work together productively is a lot more exciting than Chinese authoritarianism.  And I would guess that we will in fact remain the leading symbol of how humans can work together for the next century.  [00:28:51.01]

Question: What will happen to Obama if Republicans take over the House or Senate?

Newt Gingrich: We have no way of knowing what President Obama will do.  I would say, from what I’ve seen so far, he’s more likely to become a cross between Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter, further to the left than Carter, but probably with the tone deafness that Carter has.  We have no evidence that he has Bill Clinton’s discipline and Clinton’s ability to shift.  I mean, Clinton was a very practical Arkansas moderate who understood and had said for years that the Democratic Party was too far to the left.  Obama was the left.  He was the candidate of the left.  He beat Hillary from the left. And we’ve seen governed for a year from the left.  So, you’re asking him to change in very fundamental ways, and we have no evidence at the present time that he has either the inclination or the ability to have that scale of growth in office. 

Recorded: January 20th, 2009