With Donald Trump now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party in the minds of everyone except the deluded and fanatical (but I repeat myself), the time has come to admit an obvious truth. Namely, that 2016 is a contest to see who can most effectively undo the 16 years of misrule following 2000 and replicate the politics that produced the perceived golden age of the 1990s.
Indeed, given the presence of Hillary Clinton atop the Democratic ticket, one of the tasks of Trump’s GOP will be to successfully waft the stench of scandal and criminality that surrounds Hillary into the faces of a new generation.
But that will not be enough: Trump will also have to dismantle the image of the ostensibly fiscally conservative and socially moderate Bill Clinton as the Democrats’ most unimpeachable standard bearer. What’s more, he will need to do this while also reassuring the country that this is not the GOP that gave it the least popular Republican President since Nixon, George W. Bush. And to complicate this already difficult task further, Trump will have to find a way to disown Bush that also prevents conservatives from recoiling.
Tall order? You bet. Or at least, it would be, if Trump didn’t have the option of picking a Vice President who could accomplish all these goals just by lending his name to the ticket. I speak of the man who almost singlehandedly wrestled Bill Clinton into governing like a Reaganite, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Some eyebrows have no doubt been raised and some derisive laughter issued. Newt?! I can hear the naysayers frantically gnashing their keyboards. Trump faces one of the biggest deficits with Hispanics, women, and young people of any Presidential candidate in modern history, and you want him to pick a white, thrice married septuagenarian to be his running mate? Are you mad?!
Perhaps, but a flippant person would respond that most people said it was mad to think Trump could be the nominee, yet here we are. Fortunately, there’s more to be said for Newt than that he defies the conventional wisdom, though that point shouldn’t be underestimated. Indeed, I would point out that rather like Trump, Newt has always thrived when he does just that, whether by snatching South Carolina out from under Mitt Romney, or by taking Congress back for Republicans for the first time in over 50 years. Newt is at his best with his back to the wall, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool.
But still, it’s true that at first blush, Newt doesn’t look like a man who compensates for Trump’s weaknesses in the same way that, say, a Marco Rubio or Susannah Martinez would. But before you lay all your cards on one of those two as Trump’s savior, I would ask that you ask two questions.
Firstly, how likely is a GOP ticket to benefit from a demographically driven Veep choice like this? Look back to 2008, and the question answers itself: Sarah Palin, an eminently qualified choice to be Vice President on paper, hardly gifted John McCain the mantle of being pro-woman. Instead, the press’s pique that anyone would seek to wrest the mantle of historical status from the first black nominee for President painted a giant target on Palin — and McCain’s — backs. Hillary will be the first female nominee for President, and as such, you can bet the press will be looking to cast her as just as historical. Furthermore, unlike McCain, Trump is already being cast as the villain in Hillary’s personal Lifetime movie, which means his Veep will be dragged through the mud as an accomplice in a press gauntlet that will make the treatment Palin was subjected to look tame by comparison.
So here’s the second question: How well can a Rubio or Martinez type candidate be expected to cope with that pressure? In “Little Marco” Rubio’s case, the question has already answered itself, as his crumbling, robotic performance in debates and on the stump revealed before his Florida exit. If the man can’t handle Chris Christie’s prosecutorial powers, how can he be expected to withstand the national media’s? And as for Martinez, or any other governor/senator currently being floated without serious national airplay, how well did it go the last time the GOP picked a Veep who was totally untested on the national stage? Actually, that’s not fair, because at this point, Palin herself would arguably fare better than Rubio or Martinez. She’s at least been in this rodeo before, and would know to expect the opposite of sympathy for her token status.
But no. The fact is that Trump’s young, minority bench of potential running mates would all be either too green, too reluctant, or both, to serve as assets on the campaign trail. Furthermore, they would all get butchered by a hostile press, to the point that Trump might actually insult people skeptical of him more by picking people who would be made to look like such poor examples of their own kind. Trump doesn’t need someone who people will see as a useful idiot, or (as is likely) a useless one. He needs someone who can effortlessly make the case for his policies, match the Left blow for blow, and make himself as impossible to dismiss as Trump himself, particularly to any skeptical conservative holdouts.
Anyone who’s seen Newt’s debating skills, or his fierce defenses of Trump this cycle, can attest to the first two. But it is the last where he truly shines.
Whatever his peccadilloes in the 2012 primary, Newt is a figure who frequently gets ranked alongside Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan in the pantheon of transformational conservative politicians thanks to his takeover of Congress in 1994. In fact, former Reagan speechwriter Lee Edwards listed him in just that company (along with Ohio Sen. Robert Taft) in his 2002 book on the conservative movement. What’s more, unlike so many current GOP leaders, Newt has remained entirely untouched by the stain of the W years. In fact, according to some historians, it was Newt’s style of politics that George W. Bush set out to explicitly repudiate within the GOP by adopting the Marvin Olasky “compassionate conservative” message. Newt’s brand of conservatism, the thinking of the time went, was too angry, too confrontational, and too divisive for a post-Clinton America.
Newt, for his part, returned the repudiation after Bush’s own calamitous failure, bemoaning the “Bush-Obama big spending program” to wild cheers at CPAC 2009. Seven years later, similarly demeaning sentiments about the Bush family have helped propel Trump to the GOP nomination. What better way to cast the Trump candidacy — correctly — as a reversion to the conservative norm after eight years of turning the GOP over to the LBJ reenactment society than to run alongside the man whose name was synonymous with conservatism before they took over? Conservatives, and voters generally, have proven themselves hungry for just such a reversion, and Newt is the man to provide it.
Of course, this still leaves the age point, and yes, Newt would be on the older side for a Vice President. However, the idea of picking an old hand for that job is, as Dick Cheney can readily attest, hardly new. And if by some freak chance, Newt proved too feeble to serve a second term with Trump, the fact is that Newt’s skills would be most needed during Trump’s first term, when the sting of lame duck status would be least felt.
Speaking of Newt’s skills, let’s move on from the politics and discuss those. Because to hear Trump himself tell it, his main criteria when picking a Veep actually have little to do with political calculation, and everything to do with how the person involved could actually help him govern. To quote Trump himself, he wants “somebody that can walk into the Senate and who’s been friendly with these guys for 25 years, and people for 25 years. And can get things done.”
Trump is wise to prioritize these criteria. If elected, he will face bipartisan hostility. To leave the Senate in the hands of an inexperienced or easily led Vice President would be disastrous in that context. Rather, what Trump needs is a fighter who can beat the swords of his enemies into ploughshares, and reap the benefits.
We don’t have to speculate about Newt’s capacity to do this. He’s already proven it. Witness Gingrich’s negotiations with Bill Clinton, which produced welfare reform and the pro-growth policies that gave birth to the ’90s era budget surplus, and could have even given us entitlement reform years before Paul Ryan was ever heard of. True, Gingrich had his share of embarrassing moments, like the flap over his seating on Air Force One, but after 20 years, Newt has plainly wised up. Moreover, viewed through 20 years of hindsight, even Newt’s failures look far less embarrassing than Clinton’s. And given that Newt already slaughtered Hillarycare in its crib, butchering both Hillary and her rapist kleptocrat husband in the process, it’s not a hard sell to imagine him playing hardball just as effectively with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, or even (god forbid) Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. After all, he spent 20 years in Congress outmaneuvering Democrats already with nothing but his iron will. To think he can’t do the same with the Vice Presidency is ridiculous.
All of this is to state the obvious: Newt Gingrich is the man to complete Trump’s ticket. He brings a readymade capacity to unify the conservative base, to signal the GOP’s turning the page on its disastrous Bush-era reputation, and to bring the kind of seasoned legislative and policy chops that Trump would need in order to effect his agenda to make America great again. Trump’s a great negotiator, but even the best negotiators sometimes need a partner to help them ink a contract.
Particularly, in Newt’s case, a new contract with America.