Far more important, who has the most smarts and ability and genuine patriotism to become the 2012 President of the United States?
A New Newt: Gingrich Tries to Reconnect With America
Redacted from an article by JEFF ZELENY
New York Times, February 26, 2011
Newt Gingrich needs no introduction to most Republican audiences. It is the reintroduction that is the challenge. If Mr. Gingrich moves forward with a presidential bid, as his advisers and friends say he is poised to do as soon as this week, he will start with a reputation as one of his party’s most creative thinkers and a record of leading Republicans back to power in the 1990s and confronting Democrats on spending.
But, he will also have to grapple with aspects of his life and career that could give pause to elements of the Republican primary electorate, including a lack of a well-established association with religious conservatives and attendant questions about his two divorces. So as he travels the country, he is striking two related notes: that the nation faces not just a fiscal crisis but also a loss of its moral foundation, and that his conversion to Catholicism two years ago is part of an evolution that has given him a deeper appreciation for the role of faith in public life.
On a recent winter night here, Mr. Gingrich, 67, stood on stage at a Catholic school with his wife, Callista, and introduced a film they produced about the role Pope John Paul II played in the fall of Communism in Poland. As Mr. Gingrich looked out over a crowd of 1,300 people, he warned that the United States had become too secular a society. “To a surprising degree, we are in a situation similar to Poland in 1979, he told the audience, which had gathered at a banquet for Ohio Right to Life, one of the nation’s oldest anti abortion groups. In America, religious belief is being challenged by a cultural elite trying to create a secularized America, in which God is driven out of public life. To most audiences, Mr. Gingrich does not talk directly about converting to Catholicism, but his faith has become an important part of his dialogue with conservative voters.
In an interview, Mr. Gingrich said he knew that a campaign would bring new attention on the full scope of his personal and political background. Last week, in an appearance at the University of Pennsylvania, he grew testy when he received a question from a Democratic student activist about the details of his two divorces. “There are things in my life I’m not proud of, and there are things in my life I’m very proud of,” Mr. Gingrich said in the interview when asked what effect his background would have on a candidacy. “People have to decide who I am. Am I a person they want to trust to lead the country or not?”
In Washington, Mr. Gingrich, one of his party’s best known and most polarizing figures, may still be remembered for a spectacular rise and fall: the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, the confrontation with President Bill Clinton that led to a government shutdown the next year, ethics battles and his resignation as speaker in 1998. He also acknowledged having an extramarital affair with Callista Bisek, then a House staff member, while leading impeachment proceedings against Mr. Clinton for lying about his own sexual transgressions.
But elsewhere, Mr. Gingrich’s reinvention has long been under way, amplified through regular appearances on the Fox News Channel, as he tries to build support among the voters who will choose the 2012 Republican nominee. Rival Republicans marvel at his deep well of ideas, his innate intellect and his knowledge of government. They also point to the strategic approach taken by the Gingrich team in the 2010 elections, including holding training sessions for a new generation of elected officials. He has secured important endorsements, including one from the new majority leader of the Iowa House, who has been courted by all potential presidential candidates.
Mr. Gingrich said he believed that the 2012 election was comparable in historic scope to 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover and ushered in the New Deal, and to 1860, when Abraham Lincoln prevailed over Stephen A. Douglas, setting the stage for the Civil War. He urges Republicans to not settle for rejection conservatism, which simply casts aside liberal arguments, instead of replacement conservatism which would fundamentally change institutions that he believes have outlived their effectiveness.
“That’s part of what the Republican Party has to come to grips with,” Mr. Gingrich said. “Does it want to be a party prepared to replace the failed institutions and move to a very bold new approach? Or does it want to try to muddle through accepting the framework of the systems that are failing?” As always, Mr. Gingrich continues to mix the abstract and the more politically concrete.
The man who introduced the Contract with America in 1994, which still stands as a gold standard of political branding, now has a snappier jingle for today’s shorter attention span. The message is so concise that he pulls it from the breast pocket of his suit, no matter if he is delivering an intimate dinner speech or addressing a large audience, as he did recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
The note card reads: 2 + 2 = 4
It is an elementary lesson on spending and debt, he said, that has eluded the Obama administration. He uses it to present his broader view that the next presidential election should be a major debate over the size and scope of government.
When President Obama changed his position last week and said he believed that the 1996 law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, Mr. Gingrich waited a full day to offer his reaction. In a statement on Thursday, Mr. Gingrich kept his criticism confined to process, rather than the merits of marriage, saying: “The president is replacing the rule of law with the rule of Obama.”
It remains an open question how a new inspection of Mr. Gingrich’s record would hold up to scrutiny by voters, including his own spending votes and the 1995 government shutdown, but his advisers believe that it could be well received, given the sentiment of Tea Party supporters. And, in the early going, Mr. Gingrich appears to be getting another look from religious conservatives, especially Catholics, a traditional swing constituency.
Before and after his appearance here, dozens of people lined up to buy books, movies and other mementos that help finance the operations of Mr. Gingrich’s array of business enterprises and provide a window into his growing popularity among some social conservatives. Mr. and Mrs. Gingrich sat for more than an hour signing inscriptions, with his best-selling book, “Rediscovering God in America,” a particularly popular item on this snowy night in Ohio.
When the conversation turned to his marriages at the end of the 30-minute interview, Mr. Gingrich seemed displeased, but fully expecting questions about his personal life along with his ideas to change the country. He said he hoped voters would look at the totality of someone who is 67 years old and a grandfather.
Asked if he believed that people were forgiving, he replied,
” We’ll find out.”
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