Newt Gingrich and I met 40 years ago when he was a backbencher from the Atlanta area, and I had just been hired to be the press secretary at the National Republican Congressional Committee. Over those decades, we have had a sine-wave relationship. At times marching arm-in-arm at the top of the curve; at other times, tossing dirt bombs over a barricade one or the other of us had erected. As far as I know, we are currently at the midline.
We have never hesitated to disagree when we thought the other was wrong, nor have we let those disagreements become toxic to our relationship.
When I read that Gingrich had written a column that challenged the GOP to stop underestimating President Joe Biden, my first thought was, “Whew! That’s gonna cause some heartburn.” My second thought was: “This is classic Newt, slipping on his Ph.D. in History cowl and lecturing the class on how to better understand what they are (or should be) studying.
After Gingrich published his column on his gingrich360.com website, Mike Allen’s Axios email included this reference to it:
Quit Underestimating President Biden," Gingrich wrote in a column this week. " [C]onservatives' hostility to the Biden administration...tends to blind us to just how effective Biden has been on his terms."
Gingrich, who knows something about historic mid-term results, went on to write: “The Biden team had one of the best first-term off-year elections in history." This is not to say Gingrich has become a chapter captain of the “Run Joe Run Society.” Every paragraph in his essay recounts a litany of Biden failures, shortcomings, deficiencies, and defeats. In Newt’s classroom, there is never confusion about who are the good guys and who are the bad. The good are very good, and the bad are very bad.
It has always been thus.
As an example, Gingrich writes of Biden’s political history:
“Biden genially bumbled into becoming a major force in the Senate. While he failed miserably in attempting to run for president, he ended up as vice president for eight years. Then he stayed in the basement and won in 2020,”
Note that Biden “won in 2020” is a throwaway line. It is left to the reader to remember the Gingrich 2012 Presidential campaign that was far from a textbook undertaking. Just as he points out to his GOP colleagues that it is a mistake to underestimate Biden, it has been a multi-decade of mistakes in underestimating Newt by both Republicans and Democrats. On the day of his swearing-in as the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years in 1995, I stopped into the Speaker’s Ceremonial Office just off the House floor.
Gingrich, along with his political guru, Joe Gaylord, had parlayed the “Contract with America” to a 54-seat gain and the majority the previous November. I asked Newt how many senior Republicans would be thinking: “If I'd have squashed that SOB 15 years ago, that would be me being sworn in as Speaker." Newt didn’t even look up from the notes he was jotting in advance of his remarks: “None of them,” he said, “This is a meritocracy. They know no one else could have led them to this place.”
He was right, of course. No one else had the single-minded goal of becoming Speaker. Not Senator. Not Governor. Not (at that time) President, but Speaker of the House.
If Gingrich has ever met his match, it was Bill Clinton. During the government shut-down of 1995, Gingrich famously complained that, although Clinton had invited Gingrich to fly to the funeral of Yitzak Rabin aboard Air Force One, Clinton never invited Newt up to the Presidential cabin to discuss the shut-down and, worse, made Gingrich leave the plane on the back stairs with the press and staff.
Gingrich was right. It was a senseless snub, but complaining about it during a press breakfast turned into an own goal of major import, contributing to Democrats gaining five House seats in the 1998 midterms – one of the worst results in off-year election history and the election that cost Newt Gingrich his job.