First Person Singular: Newt Gingrich Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

(David Deal)
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

I probably have always been a little bit of a bookworm. My grandmother taught me to read before I went to school. And I always found books to be a friendly companion. One of the books that really changed me was Theodore White's "The Making of the President, 1960." I was reading it in my senior year in high school, and he makes the point that Nelson Rockefeller learned, when he was the assistant secretary of state for Latin America, that ultimately, in America, power comes from elected office. And that's why he became governor and ran for president several times. I'm only a senior in high school at that point, but I thought there was a profound truth to that. Before I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to stay in Georgia and help create a Republican party, which did not exist at that time.

I have to say, as somebody who cares how you organize campaigns, because I think they're integral to the process of self-government, I will be spending a lot of time over the next year studying the [Barack] Obama campaign because I think it's a watershed campaign. I think it sets the standard for the future. It was intriguing. As a practitioner, I want to gather up all of the different analyses made in public by the various Obama leaders and just study them to understand it. Because I think it's a marvelous case study in 21st-century use of technology and the oldest traits of strategy and discipline combined together in a very powerful forum.

This was a watershed election in several directions. First of all, '06 and '08 have to be seen together as the great performance failure of the Republican Party. And every Republican needs to understand that this was about a fundamental failure to perform. Second, Senator Obama showed a level of discipline, a level of strategic purpose and a level of organization and technical skill that, woven together by one person, is absolutely historic, just extraordinary. For example, they had 400,000 volunteers in California who were all making phone calls into states that they knew were in contest because they knew they were going to carry California. That's a scale of organization that no one had ever imagined. It puts this campaign into the same league as Andrew Jackson's election in 1828, or the great Mark Hanna/McKinley campaign of 1896, or the Nixon reelect of 1972. We'll see what his presidency is like, but, certainly, as a candidate, he has shown the ability to arouse and organize a nation in a way that already puts him in a very small league.

Interview by Cathy Areu

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