Gingrich a star on Reagan team: Romney “work product” as conservative at issue.
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The media ate it up. Gingrich, Kemp, and the Young Turks taking on the Old Guard. The problem, of course, was that the liberal media of the day — remember there was no talk radio/Fox/Internet — presented this all as a battle between old extremists and younger ones who were even worse (that would be Newt). The press delighted in trying to humiliate Reagan, who spent the week at his ranch in California more or less inaccessible until arriving the following week to accept his re-nomination. Meanwhile, on the phone were all manner of people furious with Newt Gingrich. Dick Darman was calling me. And then Secretary of the Treasury Donald Regan called Lewis. In that case I got to listen — and didn’t need an extension to do so. Notoriously short fused, sensitive to perceived slights and not the most politically skilled, Regan called from Washington threatening to come to Dallas personally and deal with Gingrich. Who was Newt Gingrich to be deciding on the tax prerogatives of the Treasury Secretary? The line practically melted, but Lewis soothed him and Regan stayed put.
The solution? A comma.
This sentence was the proximate cause of the fury:
We therefore oppose any attempts to increase taxes which would harm the recovery and reverse the trend to restoring control of the economy to individual Americans.
At the insistence of Gingrich and Kemp and in an amendment proposed by Loeffler, a sentence that kept the door open for tax increases had a comma added to it after the word “taxes.”
The sentence now read subtly but considerably different: “We therefore oppose any attempts to increase taxes, which would harm the recovery and reverse the trend to restoring control of the economy to individual Americans.”
The Gingrich work product? Making certain that Ronald Reagan was not put on record leaving the door open for any more ill-fated tax increases. Dole was furious with the young Newt — and, it might be noted, recently made a point of endorsing Mitt Romney. Hmmmmm.
THE OTHER EXAMPLE of the kind of “work product” from Newt Gingrich that week was his opposition to Senator Warner’s insistence that the word “superiority” be stricken from the national security section of the platform — a word the Reaganites had insisted be in the 1980 platform. Getting his way in his Subcommittee on National Security, Warner suddenly found himself confronting Gingrich and Kemp over this issue as well. Gingrich insisted on inserting language saying that the U.S. must be “stronger than any potential adversary.” He also insisted the full Platform Committee vote on the issue. The full committee sided with Gingrich and overruled Senator Warner.
Is it any wonder the Washington Republican Establishment can’t stand Newt Gingrich? Doubtless there is some sincere sentiment about his management capabilities, his verbal and intellectual wanderings, and other things that did in fact disappoint conservative leaders over the years of his speakership. Perhaps the WSJ captured the sentiment best when it described the ex-Speaker’s “penchant for over-the-top statements and sudden shifts of strategy or policy based on personal whim.”
That said, time after time after time in the Reagan years, a number of those times which I had the opportunity to see up close as a young Reagan staffer charged in my duties with being the White House liaison to Gingrich and Kemp’s Conservative Opportunity Society, Newt Gingrich was out there again and again and again for Ronald Reagan and conservative principles. In his own memoirs, The Politics of Diplomacy, James Baker noted of his days as Reagan White House Chief of Staff that he always “worked closely” with the people Baker described as “congressional leaders.” And who were those leaders? Baker runs off a string of names of the older leaders of both House and Senate in the formal positions of power — plus one. That’s right: young Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich repeatedly demonstrated a considerable ability to illustrate conservative principle, help Reagan using events of the day. Here were two notable examples.
• Was the House of Representatives being run as a liberal fiefdom after decades of unchallenged power? It was Newt Gingrich who came up with the idea in 1984 of using what were called “special orders” — a moment for House members at the end of the work day to stand in the well of the House and give speeches on the subject of their choice. With C-SPAN cameras newly present, Gingrich used these moments to launch a fusillade of attacks on liberals, enraging Speaker O’Neill and prompting the Speaker into a personal attack, violating House rules. The news was everywhere, and the Republican caucus of the day promptly gave Gingrich something South Carolinians did three times at the last two debates: a standing ovation.
• Was there a letter out there from ten House Democrats, including then-Majority Leader Jim Wright, playing up to the Nicaragua Sandinista Communist Daniel Ortega — even as Reagan worked to fund the Contras and their fight for democracy? It was Newt Gingrich who made a point of getting a debate on the House floor, flatly accusing Wright and the others in their sycophantic “Dear Comandante” letter of violating the Logan Act. The law that prohibited anyone other than the executive branch from conducting American diplomacy. “Jim Wright is corrupt,” Newt remarked at one COS meeting in my presence… a sign of things to come. It was Gingrich who boldly filed the ethics charges against the powerful Speaker Wright in 1988 — charges that eventually forced Wright to resign as Speaker in 1989. There are many who believe the ethics charges against Speaker Gingrich, charges Romney is now trying to use against Gingrich, were made up and sold to a Gingrich-hating media by livid congressional liberals as payback for both nailing Wright and humiliating O’Neill — not to mention Gingrich’s role in electing a GOP House for the first time in forty years. For Romney to be following this line gives the impression he can be easily taken in by both the liberal media and the anti-Newt Democrats and GOP Establishment.
And so on. And on. Newt Gingrich’s “work product” in the Reagan years was and remains highly visible and on the historical record. Unlike Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich was not busy defensively claiming his independence and running from Reagan.
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