PALATINE, Ill. – With the future of his presidential ambitions uncertain in the wake of losses in two big southern states on Tuesday night, Newt Gingrich delivered a gloomy address in this Chicago suburb Wednesday night in which he at once reaffirmed his plans to stay in the presidential race and bemoaned a country and Republican Party that he described as unreceptive to “big ideas” such as the ones on which he’s hinged his White House bid.
“We are at the edge of such extraordinary opportunities and it is so hard to get this party to understand it,” the former House speaker told more than 500 Republicans assembled in a ballroom here for the Northwest Suburban Republican Lincoln Day Dinner. “We’re at the edge of extraordinary opportunities. We can provide for the American people such a dramatically better future that it’s almost unimaginable.”
“And our political system is so methodically and deliberately stupid – and I use that word deliberately, the willful avoidance of knowledge -- that it’s astonishing,” he added.
At times during his 20-minute remarks onstage here, which Gingrich delivered with his wife Callista standing by his side, the former House speaker’s voice appeared to waver with frustration.
He reiterated that he is still running for president “because the vacuum is so huge” when it comes to candidates and the ideas they have put forth.
“I want everybody to understand that I am running because I believe we have got to go back to what worked in 1980, what worked in 1984 and what worked in 1994 and 1996, and that is a politics of big ideas,” Gingrich said toward the end of his remarks.
He took aim at both the GOP field and at the news media, which he argued has made it impossible to have “a serious conversation” about the issues.
”The thing I find most disheartening about this campaign is the difficulty of talking about positive ideas on a large scale because the news media can’t cover it, and the other candidates, my opponents, can’t comprehend it,” Gingrich said.
And he repeatedly referenced Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan as examples of the types of pioneering leaders that he argued the party has drifted away from.
Rather than try to work within the current political system, Gingrich said, Republicans ought to work to change it.
“What crashed in 2006 is trying to govern as though we are Democrats,” he told the crowd. “We cannot be a normal party. If we run a normal campaign trying to govern within the framework of the current system, we have no future because people would rather have Democrats doing it -- they at least enjoy it. We are miserable trying to govern within their system. We are in the business of changing Washington, not being accepted by it. It’s a fundamentally different model.”
While Gingrich was specific when it came to his stump-speech rationale for how he would be able to lower the price of gasoline as president – an argument he said “every Republican in the country could use” -- he was less detailed regarding his frustrations with what he broadly described as the current dysfunction of American politics.
“We have a real series of challenges. We have a deeper challenge, which you know in Springfield, which we know in Sacramento, we know in Albany, and that is that the systems of governance that we’ve inherited are decaying -- that we now have interest groups so powerful that democracy is simply a shadow of them floating on top of the power of the interest groups,” he said.
The crowd greeted Gingrich before and after his speech with a standing ovation, and members of the audience swarmed the former House speaker and his wife after the address.
But even as Gingrich has a full slate of events in Illinois on his schedule for the rest of the week, it appeared that his recent woes on the campaign trail were beginning to wear on him – a stark contrast from his demeanor a week ago, when he and Callista were seen by reporters dancing until the early morning at a Jackson, Miss., hotel.
He argued Wednesday night that in California, it’s “literally irrelevant” who wins elections because “they can’t change Sacramento.” In Albany, he continued, it’s “virtually irrelevant.”
In Springfield, Gingrich added, “I’d say it’s largely irrelevant.”
“And increasingly, it’s becoming so in Washington,” he said. “The level of effort it would take to change the system is beyond the imagination of most elected officials and beyond the imagination of most candidates. And that’s where we are.”
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