Why Newt Must Run: Arianna Huffington's 1995 Pitch

Huffington may have changed, but the way we see Gingrich hasn't

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Newt Gingrich will announce he's running for president today, after two decades of flirting with doing so. The Newt buzz began way back in 1995, when the Weekly Standard published "Why Newt Must Run." The author? Former rightwing bombthrower and current lefty icon Arianna Huffington.

Noting "how times have changed," Commentary's John Podhoretz says he remembers the piece because he commissioned it. It was just a year after Gingrich led his party to reclaim a majority in Congress in the Republican revolution. Huffington's essay offers insight not just into how much she's changed, but how much the country has. It's a window into that infamous "pre-9/11 state of mind." One thing that's remained constant, though is the way we see Gingrich.

Huffington's piece paints a familiar portrait of the Republican: a bit of a blowhard with a high disapproval rating, but nevertheless, a true believer. For example, Matt Bai writes in Wednesday's New York Times, "Gingrich, a bit of a rogue in his personal life, has never been a favorite of his party's powerful social conservatives." But, he adds, he's dead set on running for president. "The thing you have to understand about Newt is that he is, by training and temperament, an avid historian, and he is as true a believer as you will ever find in the concept of destiny."

In 1995, Republicans didn't look likely to defeat Bill Clinton's re-election bid even after their sweep of Congress in the 1994 midterms because, as Gingrich put it, of their year of "tough decisions." The Republican problem, Huffington wrote, was that they talked like accountants, not leaders. And only a guy like Gingrich could provide a vision of America's future that voters could get behind.

The upcoming presidential race will be a referendum on the Republican agenda. ... If we are confident in the revolution, how can we continue to sleepwalk through the nominating process, and wake up, when it's too late, with a nominee using the megaphone of a presidential campaign to explain to the nation a revolution he does not understand? The prospect is as painful as hearing a Schubert song warbled by Roseanne.

A Roseanne reference! More interestingly, Huffington wrote that Gingrich was perhaps the best person to articulate what were the biggest problems facing the country in the 90s--problems that look awfully small these days.

The first moral imperative was expressed by Gingrich in his first speech as speaker: "How can any American read about an l 1-year-old buried with his teddy bear because he killed a 14-year-old, and then another 14-year-old killed him, and not have some sense of "My God, where has this country gone?" ...

Precisely because Gingrich is right about the moral crisis the country is facing -- millions of lives and entire communities destroyed by drugs, alcohol, gangs, and violence -- there is a moral imperative for him to fill the leadership vacuum and address the growing devastation.

The second moral imperative was again identified by the speaker in his speech on the night of the Million Man March: "I don't think that any white conservative anywhere in America ought to look at Louis Farrakhan and just condemn him, without asking yourself where were you when the children died, where were you when the schools failed, where were you when they had no hope, and unless we're prepared to roll up our sleeves and we are prepared to reach out and to say, "I'll give you an alternative...'" ...

Now onto the bit about how Gingrich could actually win, which also sounds eerily similar to today's Newt punditry:

Gingrich today is not the Gingrich of January 1995. He is still speaker of the House, but he is no longer Master of the Universe, with a president who feels compelled to remind the press corps that he is still relevant. ... 

But just as the Gingrich of November 1995 is different from the one who assumed the speakership, so too the Gingrich of November 1996 could be a far different, far more inspiring public figure. Gingrich may be a lightning rod, but he also embodies the revolution like no one else. He is its most articulate, self-confident, and unapologetic voice, and he burns with conviction that America can and will be a better place because of it. And if he's sufficiently freed up from the punishing legislative schedule of the last few months, he can rediscover the youthful realization that drove him to dedicate his life to politics in the first place: that at certain critical moments in history, effective leadership is all that stands between a civilization and its collapse.

Back then, only Gingrich had the vision thing. Today, Bai aruges that Republicans face "a definite shortage of credible and recognizable leaders. And I suppose you could make the case that under such circumstances, a once-disgraced party elder with a reputation as a substantive thinker could make his triumphant... return."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.