Exclusive: Interview With Newt Gingrich

Tonight, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will host the first of his “American Solutions” Events in which he will lay out his ideas for America’s future.  HUMAN EVENTS editor Jed Babbin spoke to Gingrich yesterday afternoon on the eve of the big event. Here’s the transcript of the interview (edited for length).

Jed Babbin: Mr. Speaker, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. Let’s start off with a couple of things. Number one, there seems to be a lot of disagreement and confusion about the war that we’re in, who we are fighting, what is it exactly that we’re trying to do and what is our goal? What’s your definition of the enemy, the objective and how to win this war?

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich: Well the larger war is a war with the irreconcilable wing of Islam. They are motivated by religious belief, hate our civilization, are determined to defeat us, say publicly that they’d like to kill as many of us as they can. They’re a world-wide threat. You had six of them picked up in New Jersey, eight of them in Great Britain; you have plots in Germany, and in Holland and in Denmark. You have the French carefully monitoring people. In addition to bombs going off in Algeria, you have threats in Morocco, bombs in India, threats in the Philippines and in Thailand where over two thousand people have been killed. So I think you have to recognize that it’s a much bigger campaign than people realize. And in order to win it I think we have to start designing a strategy on a scale comparable to that of our opposition. I think that’s a real challenge, our system is naturally inclined not to do that.

JB: Let me follow up if I may. One of the things I’ve heard President Bush say again, again, and again is that our goal in this war is an Iraq that is governing itself, defending itself, sustaining itself and is an ally in the War on Terror. Is that a sufficient goal, or how would you define the goal for this?

NG: Well first of all I think you and I may be talking about two different wars. I regard both Iraq and Afghanistan as campaigns in a larger war. They are like Guadalcanal and say, Sicily in World War II.

JB: I totally agree with that, I don’t think the President…

NG: No he doesn’t. And his goal… you just put your finger on the heart of the American dilemma. We have been divided into those who say stay the course, even though the course is inadequate, and those who say, since the course is inadequate let’s defeat ourselves. That’s been the political debate in America, so you either had to be for staying the course that was inadequate or you had to be for accepting defeat.

Now what I did at the American Enterprise Institute on September 10 was to lay out in a speech a coherent alternative strategy that says our goal should be victory. Our goal should be to understand that there’s this larger war. Our goal should be to have a strategy for the total war which includes Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Waziristan in northwest Pakistan. It has to recognize that Iran and Syria are our primary enemies. I have somebody right now pulling together every occasion in which the American military has said the Iranians are engaged in killing young Americans. Gen. Petraeus told the congress two weeks ago that Iran is engaged in, quote “proxy war”. That’s his words, “proxy war.” The military spokesman announced two or three days ago that there were specific weapons coming out of Iran, that they could only come from Iran, they were specifically being sent to kill Americans.  And we allow Ahmadinejad, that would be like allowing Adolph Hitler to visit New York in the middle of World War II.

JB: I think we’re very much in agreement. I was told that by a three-star general in Baghdad in ’05 and I’ve been trying to find out what the heck we’ve been doing about it ever since. Not much.

NG: We’ve been doing nothing because the administration refuses to recognize that if you are not prepared to deal with the totality of our opponents that they could always set the terms of the war. So in south Lebanon, I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but in south Lebanon there is a museum for Hezbollah.

JB: They are also rebuilding south of the Litani River.

NG: And the Hezbollah museum says we’ve just proved the Israelis aren’t that tough and next time we’ll go much further.

JB: Let me exit from the war area with one final question. I have suggested a definition of the goal and the definition of victory, which this President has never announced, and that would be the end of state sponsorship of terrorism, because these groups cannot be an existential threat to us unless they have state support. Would you agree with that, or disagree, and please comment.

NG: I think that’s… I break it into three parts. I am for the elimination of the state sponsorship of terrorism. I am for the replacement of those dictatorships which are systematically and methodically trying to kill Americans. And I would be for the establishment of a new Geneva Convention with outlawed terrorist activity and outlawed the recruitment of terrorists and made it the equivalent of piracy in the 17th century, and said that there will be a no-holds-barred effort world-wide, and that if you’re determined to be a terrorist, we’re determined to kill you before you kill the innocent.

JB: Next subject if I may, sir. You have been fairly outspoken that the next Republican candidate, in order to win, will have to run against the Bush administration’s record and possibly against the President’s record itself. Is that what I’m hearing correctly? And please expound on that a little bit.

NG: Well I don’t think the issue is George W. Bush. I think the issue is bureaucratic systems in Washington and in the states and in local government that are purely and simply failing. And every American knows they’re failing — let me give you a radical description. Levees shouldn’t break. Bridges shouldn’t fall. Students should actually learn. The border should be controlled. English should be the official language of government.

We should abolish the death tax. We should abolish the capital gains tax; you can go down a list of these things. We should have at least as good an ability to find illegal immigrants as UPS and FedEx have of finding packages. You should see my two-and-a-half minute video on YouTube. Over a million and one-hundred-thousand people have looked at the video: FedEx versus federal bureaucracy. Every audience I describe UPS and FedEx to, and then I describe ATMs worldwide, and then you compare that to the incompetence of the federal government. It makes you range between laughing and crying.

And so I would say this; after six-and-a-half years of Republican executive branch government, and after twelve years of Republican control of the House and Senate, we have failed to overhaul and replace the failed bureaucracies of the 20th century with modern systems of information technology, entrepreneurial management and quality metrics-based government. And that’s really why I founded American Solutions, because I think it’s not a White House problem. 

There are 513,000 elected officials and this is a challenge whether you’re a school board or a city council or county commissioner or sheriff’s office or the state government or the federal government. So I think we need a wave of change comparable to the Jeffersonians or the Jacksonians or the Lincoln Republicans or the Progressives. I think we need a nationwide citizen uprising that says we demand that we dramatically transform government into a system that works. And we know what that system that works looks like because we use it every day of our lives.

JB: We’re not going to have a Republican who has to campaign surrounding George Bush and against George Bush, tell me how a Republican can beat Hillary Clinton. She’s got a lot of money, she’s got a lot of support, they’ve got a machine to beat the band.  How would a candidate, you or somebody else on the Republican side best take a shot at winning this next election?

NG: If you are describing a candidate who has not had a clean break, to use Sarkozy’s language, and they’re running as the advocate of the current Republican machine, this election’s over. And you better get ready for President Clinton.

But if you get a Republican who has the nerve to get up and say, and look, the issues are amazing. A substantial number of Americans are now ready to abolish the capital gains tax, and that’s with nobody in my lifetime making the case. An overwhelming number of Americans want to permanently abolish the death tax, and that’s despite the Left. Seventy percent of the American people — we’re going to release lots of numbers in the near future from American solutions.

We’ve done six nationwide polls that are much deeper than the kind of horserace junk that people waste their money on. And when you look at it 70% of the American people believe that the principles of morality coming from our creator, espoused by the Founding Fathers, are important today. A vast majority of Americans believe that every child should pass a test in American history in order to graduate from high school. Eighty-five percent believe that English should be the official language of government. Ninety-one percent believe that you ought to protect the right to say “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Eighty-five percent of the American people are opposed to the Left’s attempt to strip American workers of the right to a secret ballot election before they’re forced into a union.

If you had somebody who could clearly and articulately describe the two futures, and absolutely reject defending the past, and say, if you want a future of socialism, big government, high taxes, rich trial lawyers, Hollywood domination of our value system and a secular society, then Hillary Clinton is a terrific nominee. But don’t kid yourself – that’s what you’re going to get. And if you want a future that has the things I just described, then you need to vote for us.

JB:  I heard a very senior Democrat say yesterday, in answer to a question that I asked, that they’d just as soon have than not have them, yeah they make mistakes sometimes. How far out are the Democrats on things like Gen. Petraeus? How is that going to hurt them and how should it hurt them in this coming election?

NG: Let me go back to my point. This is a three-step campaign. As long as we’re stuck defending the Republican record in Washington, nothing is going to hurt the Democrats. The election will close up, it’ll be like Ford/Carter, we will get much closer in September and October, but in the end the lesson of 2006 is, you can’t win a purely anti-Hillary Clinton campaign. You can’t win a purely campaign. The country’s going to say, yeah they’re bad, but you’re unacceptable. And that’s what happened.

So step one is, you have to have a clean break. Step two is you have to have a campaign of such clarity and such simplicity.

This is what none of our consultants understand. We actually do better with a slower campaign. This is what Nixon did in ’72, what Reagan did in ’84 and ’80.  We do better with a calm, methodical, repetitive campaign. I wrote a paper, which is on on the Kerry record in June of 2004 and pointed out that Kerry was wrong on 53 issues. But here’s my point. Kerry was to the left of Teddy Kennedy. He only looked normal because of Howard Dean. If we had been in a position to run a calm, values-oriented, philosophically-oriented, principles-oriented campaign, drop all of the Swift Boat Veterans stuff, drop all of the personal attacks, all of the flip-flop… the greatest danger Kerry faced was that he’s a genuine hard-line left-winger. And you just couldn’t get the Bush campaign to understand this. And I think that’s because you couldn’t get the president to understand it.

JB: You can beat any of these guys by successfully labeling them a liberal.

NG: Right. So to set my second box is, you need extraordinary clarity, in which you calmly and repetitively define this: I am for English as the official language of government. Senator Clinton said recently that she is opposed to English as the official language of government. Well that’s a good dialog, I’d like to stay on that dialog for about seven weeks.

JB: Absolutely.

NG: You can go down a list of those kind of big choices. The big choice election will win.

If it is a past responsibility election we’ll lose, if it’s a small-choice election we’ll lose. If it’s an all-negative election we’ll lose.

The third box is, when they figure what you’re trying to do, the Left in all of its manifestations, the Moveon.orgs, the special interest groups, the New York Times, all the various blogs, the professional politicians, the labor unions, all of them will launch a campaign of smear and destroy because if they understand that if they can’t destroy the messenger they’re going to get beaten by the message. So you have to have the nerve to calmly and pleasantly let them throw all the mud on the planet at you.

And this is what Reagan was a genius at, just pleasantly smiling, letting them get done hitting him and still be standing there. And if you can do that… now that we’re past that little conversation, let me go back to why English should be our official language. Why you shouldn’t strip workers of their right to vote in a secret ballot, why we should abolish capital gains tax so we can create jobs in the US instead of creating jobs in China.

I mean the Democrats ought to be described as the job-killing party. Look at Michigan, the worst unemployment rate in the country, a governor who wants to raise taxes to kill even more jobs, and a UAW whose membership in General Motors has dropped from 400,000 to 83,000 and the answer is to go on strike? This is suicidal, we should every day be saying, I don’t know why liberals want to kill jobs. You have to ask them why they want to kill jobs.

JB: Yeah, raise taxes — kill jobs. That’s their motto.

NG: Have more litigation, kill jobs. Red tape, kill jobs.

JB: Well this is wonderful. Mr. Speaker you’ve been very, very generous with your time. Would you like to add anything?

NG: We’re very excited by what we’re doing over at American Solutions, I think what we’re going to do [Thursday] night on the Internet and on Direct TV and on Saturday is going to be the beginning of a historic national movement and I think we’re actually within a few years going to be nationwide with very bold new solutions, having decisively new conversations that break out of red versus blue and get us back to being red, white and blue. 

JB: Well all I can say is that I hope this is not our last conversation. Best of luck with your American Solutions.

NG: Thank you.