By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) expects to run for president in 2008 if the contest for the Republican nomination still seems wide open late next year, he said yesterday.
In remarks that were critical of both parties' recent performance, Gingrich told a luncheon group of scholars and reporters at the Brookings Institution that he will make a decision in the fall of 2007 about running.
"If at that point there's still a vacuum . . . then we'll probably do something," Gingrich said, adding that his policy pronouncements have more weight if he is seen as a potential presidential candidate. "If you're interested in defining the idea context and the political context for the next generation of Americans, which I am, the most effective way to do that is to be seen as potentially available."
Gingrich's entry would shake up a Republican presidential field that now includes Sens. George Allen (Va.), Bill Frist (Tenn.) and John McCain (Ariz.). Many Republicans still revere Gingrich for engineering the GOP's takeover of Congress in 1994, though members of his own party pushed him to resign in 1998 after his drive to impeach President Bill Clinton cost them seats in that year's election.
Though he came to power as a fiery conservative, Gingrich has softened some of his partisanship since leaving office. He has criticized the current House leadership for cracking down on dissent, he appeared last year with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to back changes in how medical data are shared, and he supports federal funding for alterative energy sources.
When Americans look at the current roster of Republican and Democratic leaders, Gingrich said, they face an unappealing dilemma.
"We have a choice between those who are failing to deliver and those who are unthinkable," he said, adding that he would put "even money" on the Democrats taking back the House this fall. "Neither party currently is where the country is."
Gingrich also took a parting shot at Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who retired from Congress this week after two of his top aides and a close associate, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Although DeLay embraced the nickname "The Hammer" while serving as both majority whip and majority leader, Gingrich said he favors a more tolerant form of leadership.
"The Gingrich model of an idea-led, contentious majority . . . is a lot better than a model of 'The Hammer.' A hammer is a relatively dumb symbol," he said, adding that now that DeLay is gone, "the House will become healthier with every passing week. You'll see an emergence of an idea-led Republican majority. The question is whether they'll do it fast enough to save the majority."
Gingrich also questioned some of the administration's tactics, noting that he had warned the White House privately in the fall of 2002 to put only a small force on the ground in Iraq and move quickly to install Iraqis in power. Given the current situation, however, he said the United States can take just one course of action in Iraq: "Grind it out."
Ever since federal authorities raided Rep. William J. Jefferson's (D-La.) congressional office last month, Gingrich has criticized the Justice Department for overreaching, and he delivered another sharp rebuke yesterday.
"It is an example of the arrogance of this administration toward the legislative branch, and it's intolerable," he said. "If I was speaker, there would be no appropriations to the Justice Department until this is resolved."
Gingrich congratulated his successor, Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), for becoming the longest-serving Republican speaker in history.
"I feel very warm every time I turn on C-SPAN and see Denny Hastert as speaker and Nancy Pelosi as minority leader," he said. "I just feel good all day."