If you’ve ever met Newt Gingrich it becomes obvious in about 2 seconds that the man is brilliant. To a certain extent I was reminded of Lord Alanbrooke’s description of Winston Churchill as every day he has ten ideas, one of which is brilliant, but you never know which one.
Many of us have been puzzled by Gingrich’s glomming onto the Trump train considering Donald Trump’s vision for America is virtually anathema to everything Gingrich has stood for in his public life.
Now a video has come to light in which he describes Donald Trump pretty much as many of us have seen him.
Newt Gingrich, a leading candidate to be Donald Trump’s running mate, told Republicans at a closed-door meeting earlier this year that Trump is not a conservative, speaks to voters “at the lowest level of any candidate in either party,” and could lose in a landslide if he didn’t significantly change his approach to campaigning.
Gingrich suggested Trump’s move from campaigning to governing would be challenging: “How we make the transition from, you know, language for fourth graders to real policy, I don’t know.”
His comments came in a February speech in Washington to the Republican State Leadership Committee, months before he began angling to become Trump’s vice presidential choice.
“This is not a guy who’s shallow or simple, but he is a guy who knows an immense amount about marketing, which is why he talks at a fourth-grade level. He talks at the lowest level of any candidate in either party, not because he’s stupid,” Gingrich said told the crowd of executive-level political staffers and corporate sponsors. “He does it because he knows if you talk at a fourth-grade level everybody can understand you.”
This has been something that has been misunderstood by a lot of people. USA Today writes at about 6th grade level. This isn’t necessarily because their staff is stupid (though I’m open to being convinced) but because data shows that grade level writing gets you the widest audience. Trump’s life has been
running scams marketing. His businesses fail but they usually result in someone other than Trump losing their ass in the process. If marketing is selling the sizzle, not the steak, then that describes Trump’s campaign perfectly.
“I do not believe anybody including Trump can tell you what a Trump presidency would be like,” Gingrich said.
His comments were a mix of pointed criticism and awe at Trump’s political skills. He likened Trump’s approach to “some weird combination of the Kardashians” soliciting hearty laughs from the audience. “I mean think about it, the whole tweeting, the whole continuous noise.”
Throughout much of the talk, Gingrich praised Trump’s prowess as a politician and negotiator, noting his success on TV, in real estate development and other ventures. He called him a change agent who effectively guts his political rivals: “He’s the grizzly bear in the room. He’s not normal.”
At one point, Gingrich suggested he was shocked to hear of a highly educated supporter of Trump’s. “I had a very sophisticated medical doctor in Des Moines write me two days ago and say he sent a thousand dollar check to Trump. And I wrote back and said what are you doing?” Gingrich said to laughs. “He said I have finally concluded that we have to kick over the table in Washington.”
Gingrich also agreed with what many Republicans during the primary process feared: “National Review’s right. Donald Trump’s not a conservative.” Instead, Gingrich characterized him as “an American nationalist” who uses a deliberately unpredictable mix of hostility against “stupidity,” liberals and political correctness.
It is hard to disagree with much of this. The only addition I would throw in is that the Tea Party uprising of 2010 was a clarion call to the GOP establishment that the goals of the party leadership and those of the rank-and-file GOP voter/donor had diverged to such an extent that a schism was possible. Rather than taking the criticism to heart, the GOP decided it could co-opt Tea Party sponsored candidates and mollify the voters with endless rounds of Failure Theater. Donald Trump is really the logical outcome of voters feeling that they have no voice and becoming so disgusted that they are willing to burn the whole place to the ground and play in the ashes.
In the speech, Gingrich said Trump “has found a formula which is worthy of study. I operate on the premise that when people are doing something really smart, even if I don’t like it or I don’t understand it, it’s my job to figure them out, not their job to figure me out.”
This is where I think Gingrich goes off the rails. It is one thing to study Trump’s demagoguery in order to understand it. It is quite another thing to sign onto what he’s doing. Doing something that is inherently evil and destructive, even though it works in the short run, is not the same as “doing something really smart.”
Still, Gingrich suggested Trump would lose big if he didn’t change his style in the general election campaign to follow Ronald Reagan rather than Barry Goldwater. Reagan in his successful 1980 campaign united Republicans around a compelling message of optimism, while Goldwater’s 1964 campaign failed when many voters perceived him as a candidate of the extreme right. Gingrich said he thought Trump would make this pivot.
“If he and his team understand this,” Gingrich said, “I suspect they will evolve rapidly.”
Here, I think, Gingrich gets it all wrong. If he were running against a lucid, normal candidate I would agree. But he’s running against Hillary Clinton. If anyone can push Trump into the White House it is Hillary. Trump is incapable of making the “pivot” to being a credible candidate because that is not his nature. He has shown that he is either unable or unwilling to view his campaign as anything other than an extension of himself. When given the opportunity to attack Hillary he resolutely pushes her out of the headlines and makes his own asshattery the issue.
I suspect that Gingrich is interested in being Trump’s vice president because he, ultimately, wants his team to win. He’s convinced that Trump is a tabula rasa and that he, Gingrich, can shape a Trump campaign and presidency so that it will not be an unmitigated disaster. And I think we all know how this particular movie ends.