Newt Gingrich has delivered more policy statements, campaign speeches, press appearances, course teachings, newspaper op-eds, and books (24 at last count) than any of his opponents seeking the Republican presidential nomination. So you’d think all this transparency would provide a clear picture of how Gingrich would govern if he were president. But the GOP presidential hopeful is still full of surprises.
With Gingrich currently leading the pack, his GOP rivals have the knives out. Saturday night’s Republican debate in Iowa was proof-positive that defeating Obama took a back seat to derailing Gingrich. Ron Paul and Michelle Bachman accused Gingrich of being a compromised conservative. And Romney accused him of being a bomb thrower.
Related: Why Gingrich's Budget Plan Doesn't Add Up
In a speech last Thursday at the National Press Club, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman called Gingrich “a product of the same Washington that participated in the excesses of our broken and polarized political system.” And in a strategy switch, Mitt Romney dispatched surrogates to criticize Gingrich’s leadership ability and commitment to conservative principles. “He’s not a reliable and trusted conservative leader,” said former Senator Jim Talent of Missouri, a Romney supporter.
Gingrich has waved away the attacks. “We’re focused on remaining positive,” he said last week during a campaign appearance in South Carolina.
Either way, with roughly three weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, The Fiscal Times has compiled these tidbits about the longtime politician, historian, consultant and author:
1. Gingrich avoided the Vietnam War draft through deferments because he was a student and then a father. “Given everything I believe in, a large part of me thinks I should have gone over,” he said in 1985.
2. Before his election to the House in 1978, he waged two unsuccessful campaigns to unseat Georgia’s sixth-district incumbent Jack Flynt in 1974 and 1976. In 1976 he attacked Flynt’s ethics, after a newspaper pointed out that while chairman of the House Ethics Committee, Flynt had told another congressman who was facing influence peddling charges not to worry about an ethics investigation. Gingrich lost that election with 48.3 percent of the vote, but won the seat in 1978 when Flynt retired. Some 25 years later, of course, Gingrich would face his own ethics charges.
3. In 1981, Gingrich co-sponsored a bill with Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to legalize medical marijuana nationally, which failed. He now calls legalizing medical marijuana a “terrible idea.”
4. Gingrich was a member of the Sierra Club, the left-leaning environmental advocacy group, from 1984 to 1990 – the years when he publicly opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Later, in a 2008 book entitled Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less, Gingrich supported opening ANWR to drilling, as well as other parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
5. He broke from most House Republicans in 1990 by opposing a tax increase that broke George H.W. Bush’s famous “Read my lips, no new taxes,” pledge, which increased individual income tax rates from a top rate of 28 percent to 31 percent and phased out personal exemptions.
6. In 1995, Time magazine named him Man of the Year after he co-engineered the GOP’s Contract with America, saying, “Leaders make things possible. Exceptional leaders make them inevitable. Newt Gingrich belongs in the category of the exceptional.”
7.Two years later, in 1997, he was the first House speaker in U.S. history to be reprimanded by the House for ethics violations. The House Ethics committee ordered him to pay out $300,000 after it concluded Gingrich had repeatedly improperly used tax-exempt charitable organizations to advance his political goals, accepting $25,000 from a restaurant-advocacy group to teach ideas they favored in a college course he taught. Congress fined him both for the violations themselves, as well as to cover some of the costs of the investigation, after Gingrich admitted he “misled” congressional investigators.
8. He signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge in 1998 while he was House Speaker. According to Jimmy Williams, an MSNBC contributor, Gingrich was Norquist’s “Butt-buddy” when he was Speaker.
9. He said in 2005 that tenure should be abolished at state universities, calling it “an artificial social construct.”
10. Gingrich co-chaired an independent congressional study group made up of health policy experts formed in 2007 to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of action taken within the U.S. to fight Alzheimer’s. Within the Alzheimer’s community, he’s well respected, with many in the community crediting him with helping to raise awareness.
11. He has flip-flopped on whether the government should impose an individual mandate to buy health insurance or not. In June 2007 he said, “Personal responsibility extends to the purchase of health insurance. Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying health insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it.” By spring of 2011, his tune completely changed. “I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional,” he said.
12. In a 2008 appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Gingrich said, “I suspect were I still in Congress … I probably would end up voting reluctantly yes,” for the bank bailout, “because I think you are given no choice.”
13. In a December 2010 Fox News appearance, Gingrich endorsed letting business owners decide when to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire. “What Republicans ought to do is say to people who create jobs, how many years does the tax code need to be extended for you to make an investment decision? … I would have the business leadership of the country describe the number” of years the tax cuts should remain, he said.
14. Between 1999 and 2007, Gingrich collected at least $1.5 million in consulting fees from Freddie Mac, according to a former official from the mortgage giant. His consulting group, The Gingrich Group LLC, and a health policy center he started called the Center for Health Transformation, together grossed $55 million between 2001 and 2010. According to disclosure documents, his net worth at the end of last year was at least $6.7 million.
15. What sort of First Lady might Callista Gingrich be? Last week Gingrich’s wife told Reuters that she admired Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush and Jacqueline Kennedy. Mrs. Reagan, she said, “was always protective of her husband, looking out [for] his best interest always.” Laura Bush was “a very loving mother and wife,” while Jacqueline Kennedy had “incredible style and grace. She also focused on the arts and music and that's something I admire very much.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the quote in No. 8 to Jared Bernstein.
Other Factoids about Newt Gingrich:
• His full name: Newton Leroy Gingrich. He was born in June 1943 as Newton Leroy McPherson and was adopted a few years later by his mother’s second husband, Army officer Robert Gingrich. He and his family (including three younger half-sisters) moved four times in seven years. They lived in Fort Riley, Kansas; Orleans, France; Stuttgart, Germany; and Fort Benning, Georgia.
• Gingrich became interested in politics as a teenager while living in Orleans, France, especially when visiting the Battle of Verdun site, where his biography says “he learned about the sacrifices made and the importance of political leadership.” He graduated from Baker H.S. in Columbus, Georgia.
• He earned a bachelor’s in history from Emory University in 1965 and a master’s and doctorate in Modern European History from Tulane (in 1968 and 1971, respectively).
• His Ph.D. dissertation topic: Belgian education policy in the Congo, 1945 to 1960.
• Before he was elected to Congress in 1978, he taught history and environmental studies at West Georgia College for eight years.
• He believes in the theory of “departure and return,” from historian Arnold J. Toynbee: It says that great leaders must be banished from their homelands before they can improve themselves and return to lead. One of his personal heroes is Charles de Gaulle, the French general who was exiled from France before returning to become one of the country’s most storied presidents.
• Among his 24 books (including 13 New York Times bestsellers) are several alternate history novels, including 1945, published in 1995, in which Hitler doesn’t declare war on the U.S. first but is injured in a plane crash on December 6, 1941, while Germany is run by Goring, Goebbels, and Halder. Gingrich has also written a series of Civil War novels, including Grant Comes East and The Battle of the Crater: A Novel.