Newt Gingrich just can’t seem to make up his mind.
On Fox News Radio last week, he made the case that should the American people insist it is Newt and no one else they need for Speaker of the House, he would have no choice but to acquiesce.
“If you were to say to me ‘218 [Republicans] have called you up and given you their pledge,’ obviously no citizen could ever turn down that kind of challenge,” Gingrich told Sean Hannity, who asked the question first. “This is why George Washington came out of retirement—because there are moments you can’t avoid.”
His laugh told us he was half-kidding. But given the disarray of the moment—extreme partisanship, dissatisfaction with the Iran deal, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s dropped bid—one can only wonder if the steward of the Republican Revolution would really turn down the offer, had even 20 Republicans publicly called for his return.
But in a Q&A session held in a Long Island bookstore Tuesday evening, Gingrich flatly dismissed the speculation that he was seriously considering returning to the speakership, saying instead with a sheepish smile that returning to D.C. in that capacity was “off limits” at this time.
“I think it is technically very, very hard to have a speaker from outside the House,” Gingrich said. “They don’t want some outsider.”
Gingrich and wife Callista had come to the Huntington bookstore, Book Revue, to promote their new books, “Duplicity,” a political thriller written by Newt, and children’s book, “Christmas is America,” by Callista. But he ended up doling out some advice for the troubled Congress, too.
He acknowledged the challenges the House will face in selecting a new speaker, emphasizing that the most vital aspect to the job lies in “communication.” Gingrich said House Republicans should “slow down” and “spend days” conferencing in order to ensure that the nominee will be effective in not just “beating Obama,” but will be able to obtain the 218 Republican votes needed to pass conservative legislation and will work with Senate Republicans to assist with that legislation.
“Force the Senate Republicans to change their behaviors and say ‘Look, we’re not collaborating with you in figuring out how to fail,’” Gingrich said. “This is about a Republican party nationally, which is totally unhappy with their national leadership and which is communicating that it wants profound change.”
That included the bookstore crowd. One audience member even asked if Newt would consider jumping into the presidential race. “We need you,” he told him.
Gingrich thanked him but said the financial hurdles were too great.
“[W]e weren’t really in a position to raise the money to compete with the establishment” last time around, Gingrich said. It’s a challenge, he added, that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump does not have to contend with.
Gingrich chalked up Trump’s sustained lead in the polls to “willpower.”
“This is a candidate who never even thought about policy,” he said. “What Trump represents is pure willpower and the notion of breaking through the system,” Gingrich said. He likened Trump to Andrew Jackson, a politician who “was extremely disliked” by the establishment. “Trump would represent turmoil, unless he changed, unless he said now that I got to be president, I’m gonna be normal.”
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Gingrich’s tenure, after all, wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. He became the first Speaker to receive sanctions for ethics violations—84 to be exact. All but one charge, related to a tax-exempt status for running a college course, was dropped and resulted in a fine. He also led two government shutdowns over budgetary spending policy clashes with President Clinton, which cost taxpayers more than $700 million. The House Gingrich left in his wake echoed the troubles plaguing Congress today: namely, the divisive partisanship that has crippled progress since Obama was elected.
Still, it makes sense why a part of Newt might like to return to his glory days. He was even named “Man of the Year” by Time Magazine for his role in the Republican takeover in the House that resulted in the the gain of 54 seats for the GOP. His “Contract with America,” which he co-authored with Richard Armey, addressed budgetary reform, term limits for committee chairs and Congressional transparency. The platforms and goals can almost make one think of a new government overhaul campaign: “Make America Great Again.” It’s a platform that boldly attacks the government for broken promises (even if its solutions are far cloudier than Gingrich’s plan).
Even if Gingrich’s hint that he would step up to the plate and accept what “no citizen could ever turn down” is not as outrageous as a candidate who describes his ability to make deals as “almost ridiculous when you think about it,” it’s hard not to see some potent parallels. And if America doesn’t come clamoring for Gingrich, Trump is already here.
Yvonne Juris is a freelance journalist, arts critic and graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has written for several outlets including MSNBC, Jewcy.com and the Columbia Journalism website, NYCityLens.com.