Wakeup call: Newt says GOP must change or fail again
“The great problem for the Republican Party today is that they can’t explain Christmas—why we celebrate it or why we put gifts under the tree,” Newt Gingrich told Human Events this week.
In a wide-ranging discussion, the former House speaker and 2012 GOP presidential hopeful voiced serious doubts about the condition of modern Republicanism nationwide.
Gingrich spoke at length on why he feels his party is out of touch with many voters—or, in his words, “more out of sequence with reality than any Republican cares to admit.” He also announced that his Gingrich Productions will do a thoroughgoing examination of why Republicans lost the 2012 election and acknowledged the project is getting lift from donors and others who want a substantial review.
“None of the people who were wrong election night know what happened,” he added. Recalling how he has done pre-election analysis and predictions of every national election since 1958, Gingrich said that while the study he announced will have some definitive answers on why so many were wrong, he already has some ideas. These include his view that “the core models used by [Republican] consultants are wrong” for identifying and turning out voters.
Pointing out that the Obama campaign team had at least 800 operatives in Florida to turn out voters ‘who all actually lived in the communities they were working in,” Gingrich said that such “micro-communities” will always beat “micro-targeting” of voters.
“When you realize we lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections and that in ’04, we won with the closest re-election race ever for an incumbent president in history, you know we have serious problems,” Gingrich told us. A major part of the GOP’s problem, he believes, is “talking to people outside the normal Republican circles. [We need to operate] in a world in which Republicans listen to people” who aren’t the same as themselves.
“Ronald Reagan, [the late 1996 GOP vice presidential nominee] Jack Kemp, and I were all different from the old order,” he recalled. “Reagan came out of Hollywood and knew different kinds of people and talked to them. Kemp [as a pro-football quarterback] showered with people who came from the ghetto, from entirely different backgrounds, and he listened to them. And all of us were criticized by the Republican establishment, which told us: ‘Shut up! Be obedient!’”
Although he stopped short of criticizing Speaker John Boehner and the present House GOP leadership, Gingrich pointed to the recent purge of four outspoken conservatives in the House from key committee assignments as an example of the “Shut Up! Be Obedient!” mentality of his party today. “We teach our guys not to speak out.”
Republicans have a problem, he maintains, with a party that centralizes power in that it punishes outsiders. Instead, Gingrich feels strongly that those outside Washington should be listened to and highlighted. In that group, he particularly stressed the role of governors, many of whom have success stories in their respective states that need to be told.
The Republican message
While Gingrich agrees with other conservative Republican leaders such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that articulating the party’s message in a different way was important, he quickly added that “it goes a lot deeper and is a lot more complicated than that.”
He underscored the need to understand what voters truly care about, and to realize that “the Democrats are the party of academia, Hollywood, the news media, and trial lawyers. They are the story tellers of our culture” and how effective that can be.
Voters must be engaged on their platforms, in their language. Younger voters, he said, “really responded when I was on Stephen Colbert’s show. A lot of them watch him. A lot more watch him than watch Fox News. When President Obama appeared in television formats such as Nickelodeon, Jay Leno’s show, and ‘The View.’ Romney appeared on none of these shows during the campaign and only sent his [wife] Ann to be on ‘The View.’ These are all formats that Republicans usually dismiss as silly, but they have a large following. And when Callista and I appeared on ‘The View,’ it was promote our [children’s] book on Ellis the Elephant. Barbara Walters gave it a ringing endorsement right there.”
“If you don’t learn the new technology, you’re in deep trouble politically,” Gingrich concluded, “and if you don’t know how to deal with the new media, you will never hold power again.”
Immediate job for GOP
In the short term, Gingrich would waste no time putting the Republican message on national display, counseling that Congress should set up multiple hearings, and where appropriate bring in successful Republican governors to testify, the “automatic stars.”
“And when are we going to have more [congressional] hearings on corruption and abuse of power in government?” the former House speaker wondered, noting that “the only one holding them is [House Government Affairs Committee Chairman] Darrell Issa, and he’s doing an outstanding job.”
If the conversation sometimes sounded a little grim, the speaker responded to one of the final questions—“is it the end of the country and liberty?”— with characteristic optimism: “No, just a bad week.”