What could be a better holiday gift for your reporter friend than Newt Gingrich becoming the frontrunner of the Republican presidential primary? Gingrich's ascendency offers the chance for a nostalgia tour through the 1990s, whether your reporter pals are old enough to remember Gingrich pouting over sitting at the back of Air Force One or so young that they stole furtive glances at their parents' copies of Newsweek as if the magazines were porn rags. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza tweeted Monday, "EXCLUSIVE! Link to all the dirt on Newt," that link being to the site LetMeGoogleThatForYou.com and a simple search of "Newt Gingrich." But the truth is, Gingrich's oppo file takes pages and pages of Googling. When The Atlantic Wire tried to find all the world historical figures Gingrich had compared himself to, we were drowning in material -- and that's just one of Gingrich's rhetorical ticks. That's not even getting into the check-kiting scandal, his marriages, ethics investigations, ties to Jack Abramoff, or sex scenes in his historical novels.
Of course, it's not just reporters salivating at the thought of talking about Newt's greatest hits again -- Democrats can't quite believe their luck. In announcing his retirement, Rep. Barney Frank said, "I did not think I had lived a good enough life to be rewarded by Newt Gingrich being the Republican nominee. It still is unlikely, but I have hopes." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi seconded that, telling Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler, "That quote I think spoke for a lot of us." Pelosi added this teaser: "One of these days we’ll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich... I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff.”
What's in those pages? Here are some samples, in no particular order:
Gingrich supported a health care overhaul that included the mandate that all people buy insurance. This is now a part of President Obama's health care law, and Republicans really hate it.
Gingrich fought Bill Clinton over the 1996 budget, and lost. The government shutdown lasted weeks, and Americans blamed Republicans. Worse, even some of Gingrich's fellow Republicans -- Rep. Peter King, for example -- think Gingrich did it out of spite. King told Capital New York that Gingrich made it sound like he was paying back Clinton for making him sit in the back of Air Force One on the way to Yitzak Rabin's funeral.
"[H]e got up and went into this whole detail about how Clinton had snubbed him, had him sit in the back of the plane, get off the back of the plane, didn't talk to him during the trip. … And he compared it -- 'Somebody did this to Woodrow Wilson in 1919,' or whatever the hell it was, 1918 [and] 'caused a national uprising.' And once the American people find out that he was treated like this, the country was going to turn on Clinton ….That's what he got out of Rabin's funeral, that's what he got out of the government shutdown, all of this, in Newt's mind, he had focused it all on himself getting off the back of the plane … That's the main reason I think we ended up losing that fight, is because it looked like Newt being petulant."
In 1994, Gingrich co-wrote an alternative history novel called 1945. Depending on your constitution, you will greet this news with queasiness or glee: There are sex scenes. The Chicago Tribune quoted some delicious excerpts of early drafts in 1994:
"Even though it had been only minutes since their last lovemaking, John Mayhew was as ever overwhelmed by the sight of her, the shameless pleasure she took in her own body and its effect on him ... Since he wasn't sure what to say, he made a production out of lighting up and enjoying that first, luxurious after-bout inhalation."
'I like this arrangement,' she laughed softly. 'Mistress to the chief of staff of the President of the United States. Nice title, don't you think? Such a book I could write.' ... Suddenly the pouting sex kitten gave way to Diana the Huntress. She rolled onto him and somehow was sitting athwart his chest, her knees pinning his shoulders. `Tell me, or I will make you do terrible things,' she hissed."
Gingrich not only led the unpopular impeachment against Clinton, he did so while having his own affair with the woman who is now his third wife. He does not consider this hypocritical, because he says Clinton was impeached for lying about an extramarital affair, not for the affair itself.
Speaking of, it's not just that Gingrich's first two marriages didn't last. It's the way he talked about the women he was married to. There's the just-barely-better-than-even odds he gave his second marriage of surviving in 1989. His first wife sued him for late alimony payments. In 2009, Esquire's John H. Richardson talked to Marianne Gingrich for an article full of moments that make you cringe, like when Marianne found out Gingrich was having an affair:
She called a minister they both trusted. He came over to the house the next day and worked with them the whole weekend, but Gingrich just kept saying she was a Jaguar and all he wanted was a Chevrolet. "'I can't handle a Jaguar right now.' He said that many times. 'All I want is a Chevrolet.'"
He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused.
And the third wife, Callista Gingrich, has created some bad press for Gingrich. Aides claimed they couldn't fly early in the morning to campaign appearances because she had to have her hair done. According to Politico, he bought off his wife with a six-figure necklace so she'd let him run for president.
The day after Gingrich held a joint press conference with his lesbian half-sister Candace Gingrich (now Gingrich-Jones), the New York Times reported, he insisted there should be no federal law against employers discriminating workers for being gay. Candace had come to Washington with the gay relatives of five other members of Congress to get them to make discrimination against gays illegal, but before her trip, she'd never talked to him about her sexuality before, telling the Times, "We don't talk that much anyhow." Gingrich compared being gay to being an alcoholic. "I think our position should be toleration. It should not be promotion, and it should not be condemnation," he said. In 1996, he told Meet the Press that he wouldn't go to his sister's wedding if she were to marry a woman. He kept that promise when she married in 2009, the Advocate reported.
The publication of Jack Abramoff's memoir is exquisitely well-timed with Gingrich's rise in polls. Abramoff went to prison for conspiracy and fraud, and now is giving lots of interviews about how what Gingrich did as a "historian" for Freddie Mac is corrupt. Abramoff has singular expertise: back in 2006, when the Abramoff scandal was huge, Republican officials struggled to distance themselves from him, including Gingrich. But unfortunately, Abramoff had photographic evidence -- which he demonstrated to hilarious effect to Vanity Fair's David Margolick:
There are other people from Abramoff’s more distant past who also never knew him, such as former Republican House Speaker (and rumored 2008 presidential candidate) Newt Gingrich, who first never met Abramoff during the latter’s firebrand days atop the College Republicans. “Before his picture appeared on TV and in the newspapers, Newt wouldn’t have known him if he fell across him. He hadn’t seen him in 10 years,” Gingrich’s spokesman, Rick Tyler, tells me. That this especially rankles Abramoff becomes clear as he rummages through a box of old memorabilia with me. “Here’s [former Republican Texas congressman and House majority leader] Dick Armey,” he tells me. “Here’s Newt. Newt. Newt. [Former president Ronald] Reagan. More Newt. Newt with Grover [Norquist, the Washington conservative RepublicanÜber-strategist and longtime Abramoff friend] this time, and with [Seattle arch-conservative Republican] Rabbi [Daniel] Lapin. But Newt never met me. [Indicted Iran-contra figure and longtime Abramoff friend] Ollie North. Newt. Can’t be Newt … he never met me. Oh, Newt! What’s he doing there? Must be a Newt look-alike. I have more pictures of him than I have of my wife. Newt again! It’s sick! I thought he never met me!”
Gingrich "ducked the draft" through an educational deferment, the Miami News-Herald wrote in 1994. "For a Ph.D., no less," the paper grumbled.
Check Kiting scandal
Gingrich bounced 22 checks from his congressional account in the 1992 check kiting scandal, back when lawmakers could overdraw their accounts without paying a fine.
Gingrich was fined $300,000 in 1997 for ethics violations relating to a college course he taught being financed by his non-profit. It was the first time a speaker had ever been disciplined for ethics violations, the Washington Post reported. Gingrich admitted giving congressional investigators inaccurate information.
Republicans blame Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae for much of the housing crisis. Gingrich has sharply attacked the "government-sponsored enterprise," but he also made a lot of money from it. The Washington Post published an editorial Sunday that reads:
At the Nov. 9 Republican debate, Mr. Gingrich claimed his job at Freddie was speaking truth to power: “I said to them at the time this is a bubble. This is insane.” But former Freddie officials told Bloomberg News they hired Mr. Gingrich in 2006-07 “to build bridges to Capitol Hill Republicans and develop an argument on behalf of the company’s public-private structure that would resonate with conservatives seeking to dismantle it.” Indeed, Mr. Gingrich proclaimed, “I like the GSE model,” on Freddie’s Web site in 2007. He added that “making homeownership more accessible and affordable is a policy goal I believe conservatives should embrace.” He likened Freddie to the Homestead Act and suggested a health-care GSE.
Gingrich pushed for the legalization of medical marijuana in the 1980s.
Gingrich made an ad with Nancy Pelosi in 2008 saying something had to be done about global warming.
Using Mirrors to Change the Weather
Andrew Ferguson read all of Gingrich's books for The New York Times Magazine earlier this year. In 1984's Window of Opportunity, Ferguson found some of Gingrich's famously prolific ideas to be duds. One of them: building “a large array of mirrors [that] could affect the earth’s climate" by making it warm enough for crops to grow later in the season. This is one of many of Gingrich's not-so-great ideas.
- "If in fact we are to follow the Chamberlain liberal Democratic line of withdrawal from the planet… we would truly have tyranny everywhere, and we in America could experience the joys of Soviet-style brutality and murdering of women and children." (On the House floor, 1983.)
- "I spent a fair length of time trying to come to grips with who I was and the habits I had, and what they did to people that I truly loved. I really spent a period of time where, I suspect, I cried three or four times a week. I read Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them and I found frightening pieces that related to... my own life." (On his midlife crisis in 1988.)
- "53–47" (On the chances his marriage has of lasting in 1989.)
- "Woody Allen had non-incest with his non-daughter because they were a non-family." He adds, "It fits the Democratic Party platform perfectly." (On the 1992 presidential campaign trail.)
- "I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things. The only way you get change is to vote Republican." (1994.)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.