The notion that Newt Gingrich is a Reaganite Republican has taken a beating today.
First, as I have noted with regard to his undermining President George W. Bush in the Iraq war, Elliott Abrams documents Gingrich’s rhetorical opportunism and undermining of President Ronald Reagan. A sample:
The best examples come from a famous floor statement Gingrich made on March 21, 1986. This was right in the middle of the fight over funding for the Nicaraguan contras; the money had been cut off by Congress in 1985, though Reagan got $100 million for this cause in 1986. Here is Gingrich: “Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire’s challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic change in strategy will continue to fail. . . . President Reagan is clearly failing.” Why? This was due partly to “his administration’s weak policies, which are inadequate and will ultimately fail”; partly to CIA, State and Defense, which “have no strategies to defeat the empire.” But of course “the burden of this failure frankly must be placed first on President Reagan.” Our efforts against the Communists in the Third World were “pathetically incompetent,” so those anti-Communist members of Congress who questioned the $100 million Reagan sought for the Nicaraguan “contra” rebels “are fundamentally right.” Such was Gingrich’s faith in President Reagan that in 1985, he called Reagan’s meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.”
Second, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), as Jim Geraghty recounts, can attest to Gingrich’s battles against House conservatives. In his book Coburn recollects a furious Gingrich’s attempt to bully House Republicans on committee funding:
When Gingrich said, “The eleven geniuses who thought they knew more than the rest of the Congress are going to come up and explain their votes,” someone leaned over to [then-Rep.] Mark Sanford and said, “I have never heard of anyone having to explain their vote.” Gingrich continued, “Those of you who had planned to go to John Kasich’s wedding on Saturday are not going. No one is going anywhere until we get the votes we need to pass this rule.”
. . . [Steve] Largent, an NFL Hall of Famer, went straight to the podium after [Dick] Armey finished speaking. A surprised [John] Boehner recognized him. “Mr. Speaker,” Largent said calmly and directly to Gingrich who was no more than ten feet away, “I am not intimidated. I have been in rooms much smaller than this one when I was on the opposite side of teammates during a player’s strike against the NFL. The guys in those rooms weighed 280, 320 pounds and not only wanted to kill me, if they had gotten hold of me they probably could have. This isn’t the case here tonight. More seriously, I am not intimidated because I feel good about this vote and the principles behind it . . . if, as a matter of conscience, I believe a vote is in the best interest of the American taxpayer I represent back home, well, then I just have to vote that way.” . . .
“Many of us were elected in 1994, and before that election we signed a document called the Contract with America. One of its pledges was to cut Washington committee funding by one third. We kept our word and did just that. Yet this proposal would reverse that cut. We owe it to those same folks to whom we pledged our word to either keep it, or go back to them and say, we’re new to the business of government. We cut too much and need to change our committee staffing numbers. Whatever we do, we shouldn’t do what was proposed today, which typified the Washington way of doing business so many came here to change — take credit for cutting by a third and then below the radar screen quietly add back the spending.” . . .
Then today my colleague Greg Sargent points out, Gingrich has gone from attacking Bain Capital to “putting capitalism on trial.” He refers to this Politico report:
When asked about [Mitt] Romney’s position on immigration, Gingrich said that deporting all undocumented immigrants is unrealistic. [Romney has talked about illegal immigrants voluntarily leaving if employers refuse to hire them.]
“You have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and making $20 million for no work, to have some fantasy this far from reality,” Gingrich said.
I spoke to Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who head the free-market think tank American Action Forum. He was somewhat aghast, explaining that capital investment and the gains derived therefrom are part of the essential task of “providing resources for growth in the future.” He says that anyone who labels capital gains as in essence doing “no work” doesn’t understand “the fundamental building block of success.” He told me: “Anyone who attacks capital gains doesn’t understand or is deluding themselves about growth.” Moreover, he points out that under Gingrich’s own tax plan capital gains would be taxed at ZERO. In fact, Romney is receiving earnings on the work and risks he took in building businesses. Not even the most egregious Gingrich apologists can characterize this as anything other than a leftist attack on free-market capitalism.
But of course Gingrich doesn’t believe what he says about Romney’s capital gains. As was the case so many times in his career it’s simply more convenient for him to attack conservative principles. Jesse Benton, spokesman for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), had this reaction to Gingrich’s latest remarks: “Dr. Paul has made it very clear that our campaign will criticize Gov. Romney for his support of TARP, bailouts and big spending. We will not, however, try to use free-market capitalism, one of the bedrock principles of the Republican Party, as an attack of political convenience. Newt Gingrich has a destructive pattern of doing and saying whatever he thinks will benefit him in the immediate political term with no regard for principle.” Indeed.
In an interview today with CBS’s Bob Schieffer, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) directly addressed this tactic:
Schieffer: Let me just ask you about, if Mitt Romney gets the nomination, now he’s out there, doesn’t he become the face of what President Obama’s trying to say? He said look, this guy made $20 million last year and he’s paying less than 15 percent of that in taxes. You’re having to pay more taxes than he is, and that’s unfair, so we ought to do something about that.
Ryan: I think that’s clearly going to be the strategy if that’s the nominee we have. But what is important for Mitt Romney to do is take the moral high ground on these issues. Take on the beauty of our free-enterprise system and defend it fully. Defend it confidently. And go to the American people not with an envy and division and resentment strategy, which is really what the president is doing, and go with a unity strategy. One that simply appeals to people based on our founding principles and how we’re going to get this country together and how we’re going to take on the challenges that the president has ducked, which, as a result, has made us so much worse. . . . It is preying on the emotions of fear, envy and resentment and I just don’t think people will buy it. And Mitt Romney, if he is the nominee, will have to forcefully denounce that and more importantly offer the country a different vision and give him a different choice, based upon our principles, to fix this country.
Why the right would consider Gingrich to be the savior of consistent conservatism is a mystery to me. And anyone who thinks Gingrich would suddenly be gripped by ideological devotion rather than personal expediency once in office doesn’t know with whom they are dealing. Just as he sold Reagan out on the contras, tried to bully conservatives on spending, dissed capitalism and, let’s not forget, pummeled the best conservative Medicare reform idea (Paul Ryan’s) in a generation, he would once again sell out the right in a heartbeat. He always does.