Exclusive Interview: Gingrich Warns of War With Iran

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R.-Ga.), a prospective 2008 presidential candidate, argues that the United States may need to preemptively invade Iran within the next three years to thwart that country’s development of a nuclear weapon if efforts to inspire a democratic revolution there do not succeed.

In an interview with the editors of Human Events, Gingrich likened the way the Bush Administration is handling Iran today to the way British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin handled Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

The conversation with Gingrich was the first in a series of interviews the editors of Human Events will be conducting with a number of potential candidates for the ’08 GOP nomination and with a broad spectrum of conservative thinkers about U.S. policy toward Iran.

What do you think President Bush’s priorities ought to be in his last three years in office?

First of all, they have to recognize what a lost opportunity 2005 was, and I look forward very much to see how they reset the administration in a sense. I hope that they will focus first of all on telling the American people the truth about how dangerous the world has become, and that if we don’t have a very serious systematic program to replace the government of Iran, we’re going to live in an unbelievably dangerous world. This is 1935 and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is as close to Adolf Hitler as we’ve seen. We now know who they are — the question is who we are. Are we Baldwin or Churchill?

What would Churchill do about Ahmadinejad?

I was just last night re-reading the opening of The Gathering Storm, which is the first volume of his World War II memoir, and he said Roosevelt asked him at one point, “What should they call the war?” And he said we should call it “The Unnecessary War.” He said had we done simple, practical things in 1935, 1936, we would have saved 100 million lives.

But what are the simple, practical things?

The simple, practical things are first of all, we say now we understand thoroughly who the current Iranian dictatorship is. It has been at war with the United States since 1979. Its current leader has said openly and publicly — this is not some intelligence problem — openly and publicly we must defeat the Anglo-Saxons and eliminate Israel from the face of the Earth. He has stood in front of a huge poster — which I would urge you to publish as a two-page poster for people to hang up on their walls — which has an American glass jar broken on the floor and an Israeli jar falling to the floor. The poster was paid for by the Iranian government. And they’re actively trying to get nuclear weapons.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt in September 1941, when we sank a German submarine while we were technically at peace, did a nation-wide radio address and said, “If you are standing next to a rattle snake, you do not have an obligation to wait until it bites you before you decide it’s dangerous.” I will just say flatly: Our objective should be the systematic replacement of this regime.

We should start with all-out help to the forces of independence in the country. There are trade union groups. There are student groups. We should in every way we can get them resources. We should indicate without any question that we are going to take the steps necessary to replace the regime and we should then act accordingly. We should say to the Europeans that there is no diplomatic solution that is imaginable that is going to solve this problem.

What are the instruments — short of the use of military force — we can use to change the regime?

First of all, supporting the right of individual Iranians to be treated well. If you go back and look at what President Reagan did with the Soviet Union in terms of the refusniks, and going after the Gulag Archipelago and shining the light on it, and you talk to people who were in the Gulag at that time, they say, clearly, that their lives may have been saved by the intensity of Western concern.

So use the bully pulpit and the presidency and diplomatic pressure?

And financial support. I would actively right now be funneling money into Iran. I would actively be supporting a Radio Free Iran. I would actively be helping the trade unionists in the oil fields have money for strike funds. And I would be laying out a base to say, if we end up having no choice, we don’t want to make the mistake we made in Iraq. If at some point we have to go in, we want to make sure there is a network of Iranians prepared to run their own country.

On Thursday I asked precisely that question of Scott McClellan at the White House briefing: Is the administration in touch at all with the exile community from Iran? No, they are not, was the answer.

The current behavior of the bureaucracy is perfectly compatible with Stanley Baldwin and totally incompatible with Winston Churchill. My hope is that the President will impose his will. Short of the President’s imposing his will, it is inconceivable that the current system would be prepared to take on the Iranian government.

If we were going to funnel aid to people who wanted to replace the government in Iran, would that have to be covert aid?

It probably works better if it’s covert aid.

Would it need to be approved by Congress as per, say, the aid to the Nicaraguan Contras?

Absolutely.But [Sen. Rick] Santorum [R.-Pa.] has had a bill up there which shamefully had a part taken out by Democrats just before Christmas. He had a bill for getting to a free Iran.And Rick Santorum has done yeoman’s work on this.

I think it is amazing that people keep trying to hide from reality. This is a very dangerous dictatorship which is saying publicly — there’s no illusion, there’s no hyperbole, they say it publicly: We want to eliminate Israel from the face of the Earth.

This is so dangerous I wake up every morning thinking we could lose two major cities today and have the equivalent of the second Holocaust by nuclear weapon — this morning. Now, if we are not prepared to act with that, then when, if, it does happen, no one should look around and say let’s create a commission to find out what went wrong. What went wrong was a failure of courage, a failure of clarity and a failure of commitment.

The Soviet Union had nuclear weapons and all the rest of it.The fact is we have far more nuclear weapons than Iran at this point. And even French President Jacques Chirac has said if they use nuclear weapons we’re going to actually destroy them with our nuclear weapons. Now why don’t you think that diplomacy of this kind could actually at least check them? The Soviet Union was in check for all those years. The Chinese so far have been checked because they fear retaliation.This is not a group, yet, that has a Soviet-kind of defensive, or offensive, system.

Both the Soviet Union and the current Chinese government are relatively bureaucratic structures of shared power which have a high premium on not dying. We have hundreds of examples a year that our enemies in the irreconcilable wing of Islam are very prepared to die. Now if you end up with somebody as the head of Iran who thinks that dying would be just terrific as long as it was in the right cause, there is no deterrence.

We believed at one point that the majority of Iranians were pro-American. Do you think that that’s still true?

I think the majority of Iranians today are pro-American.

You think they are pro-American? So do you think they would just go along with this?

I don’t think they’d have any choice. Mao Tse Tung once wrote, “All power comes out the barrel of a rifle.” When you are faced with a regime which is prepared to hang you in public, or to shoot you, or to throw you in jail and torture you — whether it was Adolf Hitler and the Nazis or whether it was the Communists in the ’80s and ’90s — systems that have been established that have good secret police networks can be remarkably powerful. Nobody actually thought a majority of Iraqis favored Saddam. Everybody thought it was impossible for the Iraqis by themselves to overthrow him. In fact, at least a quarter million Shia were probably killed in ’91 trying to overthrow him.

So you definitely believe that, even though we so far have not found this group that you’re talking about in Iran that would be willing to overthrow–

We know that the religious dictatorship knocked 1,000 candidates off the ballot. Now that suggests there are at least 1,000 people willing to run for office who were outside the current machine.

But they had a choice between former Iranian President Rafsanjani, who was certainly considered milder than Ahmadinejad, and they chose Ahmadinejad. If the majority of Iranians are really in favor of overthrowing the government and are basically on our side, why wouldn’t they vote for Rafsanjani? If I had a choice between Stalin and Tito, I would take Tito.

Remember the mayor of Tehran [Ahmadinejad] ran on a populist anti-corruption ticket and Rafsanjani is seen as the symbol of corruption. So Rafsanjani represented the people who had been looting the economy and Ahmadinejad represented the populist, hard-right people who were going to purify the economy. And by the way, if you read what he promised, it was pretty good socialism. It was almost like a National-Socialist ticket. He said, I’m going to give you this kind of money. I’m going to give you free electricity. There were a whole lot of things that Ahmadinejad was promising average people.

And there’s a real argument about whether the turnout was 20% or 60%. People I know who are pretty knowledgeable about Iran say that the number of people who did not vote out of disgust because the election was so totally rigged in terms of your choices is actually very substantial.

If this track fails to change the government of Iran and to deter them from building nuclear weapons, do you think the United States would be warranted in using force against Iran?

In my judgment, this goes back to the core question whether or not you believe that a religious fanatic with a nuclear weapon will do what he’s openly saying he will do. I believe this is such a high risk that it is utterly irrational for us not to have a strategy that says in the next two to three years this regime is going to be changed.

Which means we’d have to go in with troops?

We’d have to do whatever it takes to affect in the next two to three years this regime being changed.

If it came to military force, do you think we could do that without actually putting troops into Iran?

I think it would be difficult. But here’s a simple test question which I think every person should ask themselves: If one morning we lose several cities to nuclear weapons and you say to yourself, “What is it I wish I had done the day before?” Wouldn’t it be a lot better to do it?

But it’s whether you think it’s inevitable. You obviously think it’s inevitable that he’s going to do it. But why not — in the old days we just assassinated people — we didn’t have to have wars.

Ahmadinejad is the vivid personification of the entire regime. If you look at what, for example, Rafsanjani has said in the past, it’s been exactly what Ahmadinejad said. If you look at what Khatami said on Iranian television — not what he said in New York — Khatami in fact said very similar language. If you read Michael Rubin’s piece in the Wall Street Journal last Friday, it’s very clear that all that’s happened now is we’ve suddenly looked up and here’s a guy who made it so vivid that we can’t avoid it.

Let me ask you though about one complication of a U.S. invasion of Iran. If you look at Iraq now militarily, all of our casualties are taking place in the Sunni triangle. They are almost all taking place in the cities along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers north of Baghdad. The Sunnis are against us, the Shiites are for us. But the Shiites who got elected were the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa, both of whom are Islamic fundamentalist parties that took refuge in Iran during Saddam’s regime. And the Ayatollah Sistani, who seems to be the most influential person in Iraq now, is in fact an Iranian who embraces all the same political views as the regime in Iran. Wouldn’t we run a risk of losing Iraq if we went into Iran?

Look, I think that winning the long war — and I agree with Gen. Abizaid that that’s the only way you can think of this, this is a 50- to 70-year campaign if we’re lucky — is going to be a long, difficult process. But I think there are certain ground rules we have to set very early. One of them has to be: We are not going to accept dictatorships with weapons capable of destroying the United States.

So even at the risk of having the Shiite community in Iraq turn on us, we would have to invade Iran in the next two or three years if we can’t–

First of all, I think our primary interest in Iraq is having the Iraqis govern themselves.

Right, but the two parties that won the election are Shiite fundamentalist parties.

You have to ask yourself the question: Are those two parties prepared — I mean, the United States could walk out tomorrow morning. We could say, “Fine, you want to try to cope with the Sunnis without us? Good luck. You want to go back to another 800 years of the Sunnis’ running you?”

But if you listen to what the Iranians have been saying all along, they, in fact, have backed the same people in Iraq that we have, the Shiites, and particularly the Shiite parties endorsed by the Ayatollah Sistani.

You’re already making the case about how much trouble we’re in. The question is, who’s going to intimidate who? In 1935 the Imperial Japanese, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini intimidated the democracies. The democracies did not intimidate the dictatorships. From 1947 to 1991, over all, we intimidated the Soviet Union. Despite skirmishes at the periphery, we convinced the Soviet Union that they would cease to exist as a state if they had a major invasion of Europe, that they could not take the U.S. head on, and they were very circumspective as we intimidated them. What you’re describing is, I think, exactly the mindset of this city and the mindset of Europe, which is even before they get a nuclear weapon the Iranians can intimidate us.

During the 1980s, when you were in the House of Representatives and President Reagan built the strategy that actually won the Cold War, we had a massive military build-up. We had a much bigger military establishment than we have now. Right now we have about 155,000 troops in Iraq. We’re taking casualties at a relatively low rate, compared to other protractic conflicts the United States has been in. Do you think this country is prepared to make the sort of military commitment we would need to make, and accept the sort of military casualties we’d have to accept, to follow out a strategy that ends up with U.S. troops on the ground moving into Iran?

I think if the President explains clearly to the country the implications of an Iranian nuclear capability, the implications in the Persian Gulf, the implications for dominating the world’s oil supply, the implications for eventually having a missile that can reach Germany as well as Tel Aviv, and the President says to the country, given what this guy has said, and given what Rafsanjani has said, and given what Khatami has said, and you go down the list, do you think that we should wait to see if they’re sincere and mean it? Or do you think we should take whatever steps are necessary to stop them from getting these weapons? My guess is the country will only break around 60-20 or 60-30 in favor of doing something.

This goes back to Churchill. Stanley Baldwin was terrifically popular while he simply failed to re-arm Britain. Churchill was so unpopular that by 1937 there were only three other people voting with Churchill out of 635.

So if you’re asking me, should we make sure that we only do things that people understand? Then the answer is: Right after the first city is lost politicians will suddenly find enormous energy and drive. This was Clinton in the ’90s with bin Laden: Oh, he happened to bomb two U.S. embassies? Well, let’s not overreact. Oh, we happen to have the Iranians bomb Khobar Towers? Well, let’s not overreact. Oh, we happen to have the U.S.S. Cole bombed? Well, let’s not overreact. It’s kind of interesting to ask if Gore and Clinton had been in charge in 9/11? What would their reaction have been? Would it have been: The FBI will sure get them?

It’s a core question of how you define reality. I believe a North Korea with nuclear weapons is a nightmare because they’re going to sell the weapons. I believe that an Iran with nuclear weapons is a nightmare because they’re either going to use the weapons or they’re going to blackmail people with the weapons. But, again, the Iranians have been pro-actively at war with us since 1979.


Western democracies–Great Britain, the United States–tend not to react on the scale necessary to defend themselves until after they’ve been attacked. We have September 11, people want to join the military, they want to see resources put into the military, they want a tough government. You have Pearl Harbor, it’s the same thing. You have the Germans going into Poland, Britain finally responds. Do you see this country making the sort of investment in money and manpower needed to carry out the strategy you’re talking about short of there being an attack?

Wasn’t Reagan’s whole career a repudiation of that thesis? Isn’t it a fact that Ronald Regan, calmly and steadily from 1947 on, told the truth about Communism. In October of 1964, he told the country things on behalf of a candidate who only carried five, six states. He came back, won the governorship of California, saying things people thought you weren’t allowed to say. He survived for 8 years saying things you weren’t allowed to say. He ran and lost in ’76 saying things you weren’t allowed to say. And ran and won in 1980 saying things you weren’t allowed to say. The entire national establishment was staggered that Reagan thought you could win the Cold War and to this day refuses to concede that the reason the Soviet Union disappeared was a clear, deliberate strategy by Reagan.

In your view, this going to come to a head in the next 2 or 3 years?

Not necessarily. If I’m wrong, it will turn out that Ahmadinejad was just a bad week with a bad speech and we’ll all end up being happy friends and we’ll never have to do this. But if I’m right, sooner or later, the strategy I’m outlining will become inevitable.

And if this President doesn’t deal with it, Republicans running for president in 2008 better warn the country that we need to get on a war-footing program?

I think you’re already seeing with people like Senator [Hillary] Clinton [D.-N.Y.] that even in the Democratic Party there are a fair number of people who have figured out that the current Iranian government is bad news and very dangerous. I don’t think there are going to be very many appeasement candidates by 2008.

You’ve mentioned these various groups within Iran, but what is your knowledge of them?

That is the best first step. To the degree we could replace the regime peacefully, I’m for it. To the degree we can’t replace the regime peacefully, I’m for replacing the regime. But we have seen large riots. We have seen, as I said, a thousand candidates who were rejected. So, the first thing I’d do is call the thousand people who were knocked off the list.


Quietly. We do know that there’s a trade union movement actively talking with non-Iranian trade union leaders. One of the first things that brought down Mossadeq in ’53 is that there were strikes in the oilfield. We do know that there are trade leaders who are saying, “Boy, if we had a strike fund, if our families were going to be fed, we’d sure be interested in fighting.” Remember, this is a country that’s only 51% Persian. Iran is a very complex, multi-ethnic society.

What do you think are the biggest priorities domestically?

First of all, I’d set of goal of getting to a balanced budget in a time certain, which is what we did in 1995.

Do you have any ideas about how to do that?

Sure. Control spending and you keep cutting taxes to increase economic growth. Which is what we did in 1995.

But now we have these exploding entitlement programs. How do you deal with that?

Wait a second. I just want to go back for a second because it is a fact that a Republican majority that believed in what they were doing coerced a liberal Democratic President into signing a series of bills as a result of which for four years we ran a surplus, paid off $405 billion in debt, and did so while cutting taxes for the first time in 17 years.

But we hadn’t passed the Medicare prescription drug bill then. Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid are the biggest entitlement programs, now. They are the ones that are high priority. How would you deal with those particular programs?

Nobody came up to us in 1995 and said, “This is going to be a piece of cake. This is going to be real easy.” They said, “You guys are crazy. Are you guys going to throw away the first majority in 40 years trying to do something that can’t be done?” Because, after all, you had welfare, remember? We reduced the number of people on welfare by 60%. Just think about that. Nobody thought that was possible in 1995. We reformed Medicare during a Presidential election year and saved $200 billion over 5 years with AARP staying neutral. That was a fairly substantial change.

But we also because of what Ronald Reagan did we had a huge decrease in the Defense budget and that helped balance the budget.

That decrease was turned around when we took over. We began increasing defense. The only plus-up in intelligence, according to the 9-11 Commission, they refer to it as the Gingrich plus-up, a billion dollars I insisted on putting in. So, what I’m saying is, yes, it’s hard. So we’re back at the same lemonade stand. Guess what? It’s about has hard as it was in 1995.

What do you do? We go to a “Travelocity” model for purchasing drugs, which puts online all the information about the costs of drugs and will bring down the cost of drugs by 20% to 40%–just take 20% to 40% out of the next 10-year projection for the Medicare prescription drug benefit and you can get there.

You can go online today because Florida’s now launched a Florida Compare website. You put in the drug you’re buying and all the local drugstores show up simultaneously and the differential in price is a factor of three. All of the sudden, you’re going to see all these high-priced drug places collapse because the minute it’s all online, you go, “Okay, this is stupid. Why would I go over here anymore?”

How do we know it will work? Because when applied to aviation, the actual numbers historically are that the price of travel went from 23 cents a mile in constant dollars to 12 cents a mile between 1978 and 2003. So, the first thing I’d do is have a Travelocity model for purchasing drugs.

The second thing I’d do is I’d require doctors and hospitals to post online price and quality, which Florida also has now for hospitals. What would happen overnight? You’d suddenly find out, wow, the best hospitals are cheaper. Which is absolutely true. It’s the opposite of buying a car. You’d suddenly say, “Why am I going to a hospital that’s three times as expensive.”

What am I doing now? I’m creating a marketplace. This should be pretty standard stuff in, Human Events, right? How much would you guess a bureaucratically run government entitlement program is filled with waste? Would you like to go for 20% or 40%? Take that number, because if you create a market incentive that’s the number you should take out ofprojections for Medicare. On Medicaid, I would replace in the current program with three totally different programs. First, I would have a program for capabilities rather than disabilities because in the age of the computer and the robot there’s no reason most people can’t lead dramatically fuller lives. And I would change all the current federal regulations which encourage people to be dependant. And I would find ways to encourage people to go to work, encourage people to have jobs so that people that have relatively significant disabilities would be seen as having capabilities.

So you’d amend the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Absolutely, and move very dramatically towards getting people re-involved. Which, by the way, most people in the disabilities community agree with. This is where you’d have them on your side.

The second thing I would do is take all of the healthy relatively poor and I would turn Medicaid into a voucher, and get them into buying private insurance. We didn’t create a federal department of food when we decided to have Food Stamps. People actually go to a store, they actually buy food. But we created this Medicaid bureaucracy which is mindless–44,000 pages.

The third thing I’d look at is the whole long-term care issue and there part of what you have to move towards is how do you maximize the ability to keep people out of nursing homes by maximizing independent living and assisted living and, second, how do you get a tax credit so people start buying long-term-care insurance at a very early age. It’s an objective fact that you’re about to see the largest wave of people ever live to be 80, 90, or 100 in the history of the human race. Nobody’s ever tried to finance this before. That’s going to require some inventions.

But in terms of domestic discretionary spending, I would cap it and I would start going through the system exactly on a Grace Commission model and I would say to every department: Let’s go through what it is you don’t need to be doing. And I would also start privatizing things.

Social Security?

If the President would have focused very narrowly on a personal Social Security savings account for people under 40, he’d have gotten it, because the Democrats would have been faced with losing an entire generation of votes. And I say this after my Medicare experience: If you don’t have AARP support, you have to have a very clean, very simple program, because you have to survive the attack.

Do you support Ryan-Sununu?

Ryan-Sununu is exactly the right general direction. By the way we told the White House for six months: You will never get what you are trying to do. It was like designing a bridge as an airplane, throwing it up in the air, and being surprised it didn’t fly.

They opposed Ryan-Sununu.

I know. They had a model of goals they were trying to achieve which were collectively impossible in the world of 2005.

So you would go for the largest private accounts possible?


And you would not change the indexing of the benefits or anything like that?

No, because you can’t get it through.

You would not cut benefits?

No, absolutely not. But what I would start to do is start to migrate the entire next generation into having their own accounts, which in the out years is a very substantial change. The second thing I would do, and this is a point that Peter Ferrara wrote about extensively, that would have been very popular with the conservative base is the way you pay for this transition is you cap federal spending. You put it in the law.

That was part of Ryan-Sununu.

Capping federal spending if you score it would actually begin to pay off the cost of the transition. So you get a double good. You get personal accounts and you have a reason to begin to put spending under control in the federal government.

David Walker, the comptroller general of the United States, has been saying that the outstanding unfunded liabilities of the federal government are about $46 trillion. That’s adding Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and some other things. Even if you cut these things 20% to 40%, you’re still talking about a huge unfunded liability. If you cut $45 billion in half, you still have got $22 and a half billion.

Well, if you were to walk around the country and ask the average person to add up all of their theoretical debt–between student loans, home mortgages, etc.–it’s a fairly substantial amount of money. Almost nobody spends a lot of time thinking they are on the verge of disaster. This is a culture that has accumulated generational debt, 20-year mortgages, 30-year mortgages. That’s what I told people on the transition of Social Security. It’s a 20- to 30-year process. It’s not a CBO-scored 5-year number that’s going to work because the system is too big to manage.

Second, if you can change the deflection point, and instead of now going up unendingly it starts to stabilize and then come down, that is a huge long-term difference. I remember when a group of us went down to go complain to Reagan. I think it was in 1986. A bunch of the back-benchers were upset because he wasn’t being activist enough and doing all the thingswe wanted, and after an hou r of us yelling at him, as we were walking out, he put his hand on my shoulder–and, Reagan was the kind of President when he put his hand on your shoulder you stopped and stared, and you weren’t quite sure what was coming–and he said: “You know, it took fifty years to get into this mess. I’m doing the first eight. Maybe you guys are going to have to do some heavy lifting after I go home.” In my mind, in many ways, that was the beginning of the Contract. The idea was this was going to be a wave of changes.

The question has to be are there six or eight or nine really big changes we can pull off in the next five or six years, which would then set the base for the next six or eight or nine really big changes we’d have to pull off in the following five or six years. Recognize that you may be three or four cycles of that scale of change from getting back the country you really want to live in.

Well, these scale of changes, fundamental reform to Medicare and to Social Security, wouldn’t they take a Presidential candidate having won a mandate from a national electorate?

I think they would take a movement, which had a president. Reagan was more than Reagan. Reagan was a movement with a candidate, and I don’t think that individual candidates running around with their own egos are going to get very far because they’re going to come back to this same city with the same problems. I also think, frankly, that you’re going to have to have very substantial election reform and that McCain-Feingold was explicitly a step in the wrong direction.

A lot of commentators now are making a comparison between your great victory in 1994 and the current election. The premise being Democratic corruption swept Newt Gingrich into the majority in 1994 and now it’s going to be Republican corruption that sweeps the Democrats into the majority in 2006. Do you think that’s an apt comparison?

There are some ways in which the shoe pinches a little bit, and I think any Republican that is really for reform has to be pretty embarrassed by what we’ve seen. I think the Democrat problem is that it’s very hard to sell a contract with Vermont and San Francisco. I think that when you have [Democratic National Chairman Howard] Dean and [House Majority Leader Nancy] Pelosi [D.-N.Y.] as two of your leading explainers of reality you have a reality so far to the left that it’s very hard.

Now, the advantage they’ve got is they only need to pickup 15 seats. We picked up 53. So, I would not say it’s impossible for them to gain control of the House. I think it’s very difficult for them to gain a working majority. My guess is that in the end they will not gain control of the House.

They need some sort of positive agenda?

They need an agenda that’s actually understandable to the middle class. If you haven’t read it, The Right Nation, by two guys at the Economist [John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge], has a brilliant section at the very end where they compare [House Speaker Dennis] Hastert’s [R.-Ill.] district and Pelosi’s. What’s really significant is that over 70% in Hastert’s district own their own home. Fewer than 30% of the people in Pelosi’s district own their own home. So, just the conversations are so fundamentally different about the nature of reality.

Other differences between now and your 1994 election is that Republicans had made better than even gains in the redistricting process back then, and you also had the biggest exodus of House members since 1946.

Yes. We had a lot of things going for us. We also had, though, because of the Contract, 9 million additional votes. They lost a million. Our share of the vote went from 40% to 53%, off-year to off year, 1990-94. That was the largest one-party increase in off-year election history in the United States.

One of the elements of the Contract with America was term limits. Do you think Republicans should go back to that and make that a priority?

I think it’s implausible that they are going make it a priority in the near future. I’m glad that they’ve retained term limits for chairman. I actually think that the biggest change that we need in the near future is to lift any limit on contributions by voters in the district that they are running in. That is, if you are a House candidate you can raise any amount from people in your House district. If you are Senate candidate you can raise any amount from people inyour state. And, I would eliminate fundraising in Washington, because you want to re-center raising money back where the votes are. You want to tie votes to money.

You would make it illegal to raise money to raise money in Washington, D.C.?

I would just make it against House and Senate rules. You don’t have to make illegal. You just have to say, “No House member can accept money from a fundraiser in Washington, no senator can.” I’m trying to achieve two different goals here. I think all of this reform stuff has been 30 years in the wrong. If you read James Madison, Federalist No.10, he says it’s wrong. He says factions are dangerous, but trying to control them is even more dangerous. He said the way you control factions is you arouse other factions. That is you have thecompetition of ideas, that is why you have free speech. And McCain-Feingold in that sense is a constitutional disaster.

But there are two different things you are trying to solve. One is, how do I move power from Washington back home? How do I re-tie money, power and the vote to the citizen. The other is, how do I allow middle-class candidates to gather the resource to match a [Sen. Jon] Corzine [D.-N.J.] or a [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg or a [Sen.] John Kerry [D.-Mass.] borrowing $6 million on his wife’s house two weeks before the Iowa caucus. If Kerry had not borrowed the $6 million. he would not have won in Iowa, and I’m guessing you would have had John Edwards as the nominee. It’s that decisive and that straightforward. I think we need to recognize what a profound challenge this is to the system.

You were talking about how Reagan was created by the movement, or he was a movement candidate, and you’re saying that there’s not a movement for the kinds of reform you are talking about at this point?

You don’t yet have the clarity. You’ve had three waves of clarity. You had Goldwater who really took over the Republican Party for conservatism. You had Reagan who created the base for the Reagan. You know Heritage publishes this huge volume, but Reagan has spent a generation gathering up the ideas. Then, you have the Contract that actually stands on Reagan’s shoulders.

Part of what I’m going to talk about at CPAC is the idea that here we are on the 25th anniversary of Reagan’s Inaugural and the 11th anniversary of our taking over the House and the conservative movement has to once again hammer out a platform that it is serious about, that it goes to candidates and says this is what we stand for and this is what we’re doing. Not just in the executive branch, but at state legislatures, at governors, at school boards, at Congress, because you’ve got to re-center the country back in a cycle of reform that’s as least as deep as Reagan was, at least as profound as Reagan was.

And Social Security and Medicare have to be central to that?

Absolutely, because health is 26% of all federal spending. Part of the reason I founded the Center for Health Transformation is that if you don’t transform health you never get control of state and federal budgets. We have an entire center that works on this every day. We have a team actually working on writing a 21st century replacement for Medicaid. We take it that seriously. We think there are huge changes coming and we think they’re unavoidable.

We published a chart on the 20th anniversary of the first restrictions on campaign funding and it showed that before the limits went into effect in the mid-1970’s, when you could give unlimited donations, you had vast turnover in the House of Representative from election to election. Why don’t you just simply forget about limiting it from Washington, just allow unlimited donations?

I’d be happy to. Let me say, no foreigners, no corporations, or unions, but any American citizen should be allowed unlimited free speech which means the ability to give money. If I had my druthers, I’d have a system where long as you as reported it every night on the Internet, there’d be no limits, but there would be transparency and accountability. Second, as a practical matter as a first step in that direction, I find when I say to audiences “unlimited donors by voters in their own constituency and no fundraising in Washington” that’s a package that the crowds I have been talking get instantly. That’s a very useful pair of reforms to be able to break out of the McCain-Feingold-New York Times kind of model.

Rod Smith, who is a long-time Republican fundraiser, has taken his own money to do a set of analytical studies and has a book that will come out soon from LSU press that is really a stunning critique of how the current regulatory structure has strengthened millionaires, strengthened incumbents and weakened the middle class.

The challenge we have domestically, in our political-constitutional structure is a lawyer oligarchy on the Supreme Court redefining the system and a millionaire-billionaire plutocracy beginning to buy seats. Those are very real dangers to the kind of middle-class, common-citizen society that we’ve been for 225 years.