Newt Gingrich has pitched himself as an ideas man his whole career, and now that he's gaining in polls, he suddenly seems smarter than his former top staffers who quit his campaign to work for Rick Perry. Gingrich is "a total idea factory," Rep. Paul Ryan raved to The New York Times in 2009. "The man will have 10 ideas in an hour," Ryan said, noting his constantly buzzing BlackBerry. So 10 ideas an hour multiplied by 2080 working hours a year (let's assume Gingrich takes breaks for meals and sleeping) multiplied 30 years in public life equals 624,000 ideas so far. But the Gingrich idea factory is sort of like H&M -- the merchandise is fast and fashionable, but it doesn't really last. Looking back at his old proposals must be for Gingrich what it's like for the rest of us to flip through an old photo album, cringing at the embarrassing heinous mistakes. For us it's scrunchies, for him it's the death penalty for drug dealers. How many of Gingrich's ideas does he think are truly terrible? These days, he's only admitting to one.
His decision in 2008 to cut an ad with Nancy Pelosi calling for action on climate change was "probably the dumbest single thing I've done in recent years," Gingrich said on Fox News. (He doesn't seem to have doubts in the ad, though: "We don't always see eye to eye, do we Newt?" Pelosi says. "No," Gingrich responds, "but we do agree our country must take action to address climate change.") Now, he says, "I don't know whether global warming is occurring." It's good Gingrich clarified that it was the dumbest thing he's done in recent years. Because he seems to regret a lot of his ideas in the last 20 years.
It's nonsense to start a conversation by going back 18 years and playing 'gotcha.' I was explaining the position of conservatives who were trying to defeat HillaryCare. In 1993, you had nothing like the current focus on the 10th amendment. You had nothing like the current desire to get power out of Washington.
On March 7, Gingrich had an idea: impose a no-fly zone in Libya for humanitarian reasons. "This is a moment to get rid of [Qaddafi]. Do it." On March 23, Gingrich decided that was a terrible idea: "The standard [Obama] has fallen back to of humanitarian intervention could apply to Sudan, to North Korea, to Zimbabwe, to Syria this week, to Yemen, to Bahrain. This isn't a serious standard. ... I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Qaddafi."
And here are some not-so-great ideas Gingrich doesn't really talk about anymore:
- Knowledge requirements for voters: The Washington Examiner reports that this year, Gingrich told the Georgia Republican convention, "But maybe we should also have a voting standard that says to vote, as a native-born American, you should have to learn American history. You realize how many of our high school graduates, because of the decay of the educational system, couldn't pass a citizenship test?" Of course, southern states, one of which he represented in Congress, used such tests to keep black people from voting before the Voting Rights Act. So that idea isn't just stupid, it's illegal.
- How to avoid unemployment when factories go overseas: When Times' Matt Bai spoke to Gingrich in 2009, an interview was interrupted with the politician's shout of "The 1913 Girl Scouts manual!" He phoned his assistant to get him a copy. "He leaned back and proceeded to explain to me that the Girl Scouts manual contained a recommendation that every girl learn to perform two jobs, just in case one of them went away. What we needed, apparently, were more steelworkers who belonged to the Girl Scouts," Bai explains.
- Bring back orphanages: Yes, Gingrich called for bringing back orphanages in 1994. It would save money on welfare. Gingrich has yet to call for orphanages in the Republican debates this year.