In the twelve years since he resigned in defeat and disgrace, he has been carefully plotting his return to power. As 2012 approaches, he has raised as much money as all of his potential rivals combined and sits atop the polls for the Republican presidential nomination. But just who is Newton Leroy Gingrich, really? An epic and bizarre story of American power in an unsettled age.
By John H. Richardson
She was married to Newt Gingrich for eighteen years, all through his spectacular rise and fall, and here she is in a pair of blue jeans and a paisley shirt, with warm eyes and a big laugh and the kind of chain-smoking habit where the cigarettes burn right down to the filter but she's quitting, she swears, any day now.
We're having breakfast in a seaside restaurant in a Florida beach town, a place where people line up in sandals and shorts. This is the first time she's talked about what happened, and she has a case of the nerves but also an air of liberation about her. Since he was a teenager, Newt Gingrich has never been without a wife, and his bond with Marianne Gingrich during the most pivotal part of his career made her the most important advisor to one of the most important figures of the late twentieth century. Of their relationship, she says, "We started talking and we never quit until he asked me for a divorce."
She sounds proud, defiant, maybe a little wistful. You might be inclined to think of what she says as the lament of an abandoned wife, but that would be a mistake. There is shockingly little bitterness in her, and she often speaks with great kindness of her former husband. She still believes in his politics. She supports the Tea Parties. She still uses the name Marianne Gingrich instead of going back to Ginther, her maiden name.
But there was something strange and needy about him. "He was impressed easily by position, status, money," she says. "He grew up poor and always wanted to be somebody, to make a difference, to prove himself, you know. He has to be historic to justify his life."
She says she should have seen the red flags. "He asked me to marry him way too early. And he wasn't divorced yet. I should have known there was a problem."
Within weeks or months?
She looks skeptical. "It's not so much a compliment to me. It tells you a little bit about him."
And he did the same thing to her eighteen years later, with Callista Bisek, the young congressional aide who became his third wife. "I know. I asked him. He'd already asked her to marry him before he asked me for a divorce. Before he even asked."
He told you that?
"Yeah, he wanted to "
But she stops. "Hey, turn off the tape recorder for a second. This is going to go places ..."
Back in the 1990s, she told a reporter she could end her husband's career with a single interview. She held her tongue all through the affair and the divorce and even through the annulment Gingrich requested from the Catholic Church two years later, trying to erase their shared past. Now she sits quietly for a moment, ignoring her eggs, trying to decide how far she wants to go.
(ON THE POLITICS BLOG: Why Marianne Gingrich Finally Spoke Out)
It's been twelve years since his extraordinary political career the one in which he went from being a bomb-throwing backbencher in the seemingly permanent Republican minority to overthrowing the established order of both parties collapsed around him. And yet, stunningly, in all that time Newt Gingrich hasn't been replaced as the philosopher king of the conservative movement. And as the summer rolled on, a revivified Gingrich sat atop the early polls of Republican presidential contenders, leading the field in California, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas and polling strongly in Illinois and Pennsylvania. This year he has raised as much money as Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee combined. He is in constant motion, traveling all over the country attending rallies and meetings. He writes best sellers, makes movies, appears regularly on Fox News.
And Marianne Gingrich, his closest advisor during his last fit of empire building, sits on the boardwalk chain-smoking her breakfast.
He thinks of himself as president, you tell her. He wants to run for president.
She gives a jaundiced look. "There's no way," she says. She thinks he made a choice long ago between doing the right thing and getting rich, and when you make those choices, you foreclose other ones. "He could have been president. But when you try and change your history too much, and try and recolor it because you don't like the way it was or you want it to be different to prove something new ... you lose touch with who you really are. You lose your way."
She stops, ashes her cigarette, exhales, searching for the right way to express what she's about to say.
"He believes that what he says in public and how he lives don't have to be connected," she says. "If you believe that, then yeah, you can run for president."
Sitting on a bench, she squints against the light. "He always told me that he's always going to pull the rabbit out of the hat," she says.
To visit him, you start in a marble lobby of a building on K Street, Washington's Lobbyists' Row. The guard checks your ID, you go up the elevator. At Gingrich Group, he has two floors and dozens of employees. You sit on the sofa by the reception desk manned by a neat young man, and you study the magazine covers with Gingrich's face on them and the copies of his books lined up on a row of mahogany shelves: Winning the Future, Real Change, Gettysburg, Rediscovering God in America, Paper Kills. Then another neat young man comes and leads you down a series of halls, telling you that Gingrich is the kind of guy who loves McDonald's and never stands on ceremony, has five ideas before breakfast, and tweets "because he understands it's the future."
And there's Newt Gingrich with his big square head. His features are surprisingly small and precise, and his deep-set eyes have a cool distance that feels vaguely scientific.
You ask him if he feels vindicated by the Tea Parties, if he thinks that his third act has come around.
No, he says. "I see myself as a citizen leader trying to understand three things:
What the country has to do to be successful.
How you would communicate that to the American people so they would let you do it.
And then how you'd actually implement it if they gave you permission to do it."
He's the first person you've ever met who speaks in bullet points. In fact, he sometimes more resembles a collection of studied gestures than a mere mortal, so much so that he gives the impression that everything about him is calculated, including the impression that everything about him is calculated. Which can make him seem like a Big Thinker but also like a complete phony an unsettling combination.
The failure of the Republican leadership under George W. Bush created an opening for him, he says. Obama's "radicalism" made that opening wider. Now a lot of Republicans are starting to ask, What Would Newt Do?
Or, he puts it another way: "The underlying thematics are beginning to be universalizable in a way that has taken years of work."
At minimum, he expects to be a "sort of a teacher/coach/mentor." At maximum, a leader who may yet assume the role he has prepared a lifetime for
But let's not get ahead of ourselves, he says. The next couple of years will answer that question.
(ON THE POLITICS BLOG: More of Newt on Newt in 2012)
Still, isn't there one major problem with all this? The Tea Parties only embrace half of the Gingrich vision, the one that ties bureaucracy and corruption around the neck of the Democratic party like a dead cat. But some of the policy proposals he's thrown out over the years suggest that Gingrich also supports massive government spending on education, technology, high-speed trains, national parks, health care, Social Security, and a host of odd pet projects: compulsory gym class for every public-school student in America, forcing teachers to take attendance every hour, paying kids to read, even compulsory health insurance isn't that exactly like the "Obamacare" that drives the Tea Parties mad?
"I've always said you should have a choice between either having insurance or posting a bond, but that every American should provide for their medical future," Gingrich answers.
He seems a bit annoyed by the question his tone is somehow both unruffled and peremptory at the same time.
And didn't he support the bank bailout, too?
Gingrich bats these questions away like pesky little flies. He gets brittle if you try to pin him down.
You call Obama's Iran policy appeasement. But what's the alternative?
"Replace the government."
You're advocating war with Iran?
"Not necessarily. There's every reason to believe that if you simply targeted gasoline, and you maximized your support for dissidents in Iran, that within a year you'd replace the regime without a war."
That's it? After such an incendiary charge, your only solution is sanctions and speeches?
"The only thing you have to stop is gasoline," he repeats.
But that just seems like nuance, and only a minor difference with Obama's position.
"The difference between replacing a regime and appeasing a regime is pretty radical."
But you won't replace the regime that way. You're just tinkering with sanctions, which have never worked.
"I would cut off gasoline, and I would fund the dissidents," he repeats.
He wears the tight smile of a man who has very little room to move. He is known for his rhetorical napalm and is not accustomed to acknowledging that he often deploys it for its own sake, facts and gross exaggeration be damned. You don't build a movement by playing fair. He didn't single-handedly topple forty years of Democratic rule in the House by strictly keeping Marquess of Queensberry rules. And so in Newt's world, putting Barack Obama in the company of Neville Chamberlain to win a news cycle is just the way it's done. The grimace on his face says, What part of this game don't you understand? His assistant looks at his watch. "We have three minutes."
He will not relax, will not let down his guard, not this time around. He did that once when he was younger, spent three days with a reporter who got his staff to complain of his sexual adventurism and saw him yelling at an assistant. Afterward, he mentioned the episode to Robert Novak, who said, "What the **** were you thinking?"
"It was terrible," Gingrich says, "because I relaxed."
But this is his last chance, and if Newt Gingrich is going to fulfill his destiny, he will not relax.
It is a stunning return to relevance for someone who quit his job as Speaker of the House of Representatives and resigned from Congress while having an affair with Bisek twenty-three years his junior followed by an ugly divorce and their subsequent May December marriage.
But now Gingrich is trapped in a tricky balancing act. Here he is meeting with a group of small-business owners at the waterfront Hilton in New Orleans. They're seated around a long brown conference table, a couple of women and a couple dozen middle-aged men. Gingrich sits at midpoint with two assistants and a reporter behind him. "I'm here to listen," he begins, his tone respectful. "This is your meeting."
The business owners seem like ordinary folks a builder, a man with a small boat shop, a woman who plans parties, a real estate investor or two. They seem cheerful enough and take their turns politely, but they're fired up with the Tea Party's sense of impending apocalypse: Obama is a socialist who's trying to "equalize us with the rest of the world," our tax system penalizes "doers," 49 percent of the people in the country pay no taxes at all, we're like Germany in the 1930s, all they teach you at college is "self-loathing 101," and 60 percent of Americans are on some kind of government program. "Katrina gave a lot of these folks the largest check in their lives," says the woman who plans parties. "They live on unemployment because they can."
When they finish, Gingrich speaks in a voice that is thoughtful and measured. "At historic crossroads there is seldom unanimity," he reminds them. "We have 90 percent employment in this country. An amazing number of people get up and go to work."
It is a startling trait that you witness over and over again as he meets with different groups of conservative activists: When Gingrich the godfather of the leveling attack and the politics of apocalypse is surrounded by doomsayers and radicals, he takes the long view and becomes the very soul of probity. But a reasonable and sober Newt Gingrich would never have gotten anywhere. Hence his ability to be scandalously extreme with great ease. This incoherence is at the heart of today's conservative movement, and no one embodies it more than Gingrich. He is both sides of the divided Republican soul in a single man.
(ON THE POLITICS BLOG: Gingrich Blasts the Obama 'Machine')
But today, among this group of conservatives, Gingrich the statesman presides, calming the troubled waters. Liberals with unhappy memories of his slash-and-burn approach may never believe it, but this is a consistent theme in his life: Civil rights inspired his first work on a political campaign, he sent one of his daughters to a mostly black Head Start program, pushed "compassionate conservatism" long before the term existed, tamped down the hard-liners during the Republican revolution, and made a secret pact with Bill Clinton to salvage Social Security.
Next comes a delegation from the Tea Party. "Obama poses an existential threat to the Constitution," one man says. "I seem to remember that I swore an oath to protect America against 'all enemies foreign and domestic,' " says another. But when one of the Tea Partiers makes an ugly comment about immigration, Gingrich walks him back. "People who come here overwhelmingly come to work. They come from a culture where work is important."
Like the business owners before them, the Tea Partiers seem puzzled. "Don't you think that when they get here, they'll learn to be lazy?"
"No, I worry about them learning to be Americans."
His behavior is bracing and principled.
But with both groups, in the same placid and sensible voice, he moves quickly into darker themes: The work ethic is fraying, the feds are piling up debt, there are pizza parlors passing themselves off as HIV-treatment facilities and teachers who can't be fired and the Democrats passed a $787 billion stimulus bill without reading it, which proves they are the most radical "secular socialist machine" in American history.
"The more angry we get, the worse it is for Obama," he tells his audiences. "I don't care how many three-point jump shots he makes."
"There's a large part of me that's four years old," he tells you. "I wake up in the morning and I know that somewhere there's a cookie. I don't know where it is but I know it's mine and I have to go find it. That's how I live my life. My life is amazingly filled with fun."
He says this in the same office, with the same assistant at his side and a digital recorder on the table.
Last year, at sixty-five, he converted to Catholicism. He credits this to Bisek, a willowy blond who sings in a church choir. "Callista and I kid that I'm four and she's five and therefore she gets to be in charge, because the difference between four and five is a lot."
Speaking of childhood, he makes his sound ideal. His family were the kind of people that "Norman Rockwell captures in his pictures," he says, stiff-necked individualists who "came out of the mountains from small farms" and served in World War II, people who had "an old-fashioned deep belief in citizenship" that was "like living at Mount Vernon kind of stuff." He speaks fondly of the "lovely older lady" who used to listen to his stories, the newspaper editor who first published him, the aunt who made sugar pies, the grandmother who had an "old-fashioned belief in citizenship," even the crusty old bureaucrat who spent an afternoon telling a ten-year-old why the town couldn't afford to build a zoo. And no, he never felt like an oddball. "I felt unique in a way that I think every American should feel unique if I wanted to open up a lemonade stand, I opened up a lemonade stand."
Actually, he grew up on a series of Army bases in Kansas, Georgia, France, and Germany. His father was raised by a grandmother who passed off his real mother (Gingrich's grandmother) as his sister. His mother married his father when she was sixteen, left him a few days later, and struggled with manic depression most of her life. His stepfather was an infantry officer who viewed his plump, nearsighted, flat-footed son as unfit for the Army. By the time he was fifteen, Gingrich dedicated his life, he says, "to understanding what it takes for a free people to survive." By the time he was eighteen, he was dating his high school geometry teacher. He married her a year later, when he was nineteen and she was twenty-six.
It sounds like a complicated childhood, I say.
"It was fabulous."
"Lots of relatives, lots of complexity, lots of sugar pies, when I could talk my aunt and grandmother into making them. They had an old-fashioned cast-iron stove where you cut wood..."
Just as Ronald Reagan created an idealized version of an America that never quite existed, so has Newt. And just as Reagan curated a fantasy version of his own life, so, too, has Newt.
Aren't you sugarcoating it a little bit?
"What do you mean?"
It sounds like a troubled domestic situation.
"It's troubled if you decide that's what it is."
True, you can choose to look at the bright things. But there are also less bright things.
"There are for everybody."
Yeah, but I'm asking you.
He doesn't respond.
Both your fathers, the stepfather and the biological one, were angry men.
His expression is flat, and he answers in his scholarly voice, like a professor telling a legend from distant history. "I think by the time I knew Newt, my biological father, he was no longer particularly angry. I think Bob was very tough. But I look back now and I realize that Bob imprinted me in a thousand ways. He taught me discipline, he taught me endurance, he taught me to take the long view, he taught me the notion of teams, he taught me a depth of patriotism, he taught me to be prepared for things not to work you sleep as often as you can because you don't know when you'll be able to sleep again, you drink water when you can because you don't know when you'll be able to drink again, you rest as much as you can because you don't know when you're going to rest again. If you come out of an infantry, World War II, Korea background, that is how the infantry functions. Well, it turns out that's pretty good if you're going to be a politician."
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Sitting in the Florida sun while she annihilates a long series of Benson & Hedges, Marianne Gingrich paints a very different picture. "He didn't talk to his mother much. He just didn't have patience with her. And she was pretty drugged up for a long time."
But he said his childhood was like Norman Rockwell.
She laughs. "You're kidding. That's funny. Well, I liked his dad. He was outspoken. He was a down-home, practical kind of guy. But you know, he was a drinker."
Marianne loves long stories, straight talk, and rueful laughter at the infinity of human foibles. Her eyes go wide when she hears his line about being four to Callista's five. "You know where that line came from? Me. That's my line. That's what I told him."
She pauses for a moment, turning it over in her mind. Then she shakes her head in wonder. "I'm sorry, that's so freaky."
But she's happy to say nice things about him, too. As a husband, she says, he was affectionate, fun, awkward, eager, endlessly inquisitive. Once, she asked him why he was always so full of questions, and he said, "I found that if I listen, I'll learn more. And people like to talk to me."
That's completely Newt, she says. There was something missing inside, so he had to think his way into doing the right thing. "Newt trained himself. He wasn't a natural. He doesn't have natural instincts and insights. Everything has to be a thought process first. It took years and years. It wasn't, 'I have this insight, I am compelled, I can do no other.' It was step by step by step by step, and it was all mental, all learned behavior."
It's kind of touching, really. "He was a shy boy underneath it all," she says.
She met him in 1980, at a political fundraiser in Ohio. She was twenty-eight, the daughter of a small-town Republican mayor. He was thirty-six, a brand-new congressman from Georgia just emerging from an emotional crisis so severe that he drank heavily and contemplated suicide. She told him about the local economic decline, he said somebody needed to save the country. She said that he couldn't do it alone, he asked about her plans for the future. Even then, he was making rash pronouncements that reasonable people made fun of, such as that he would be the next Republican Speaker of the House.
They kept the conversation going on the phone, often talking late into the night. Although he was still married to his first wife, Jackie Battley, Gingrich told Marianne they were in counseling and talking about divorce. That summer, she went to Washington to visit him, and soon afterward he introduced her to his mother and stepfather. "They were thrilled because they hadn't wanted Newt to marry [Jackie]. I think his stepdad wanted to be able to say, 'Look, we always knew this wasn't going to work.' "
At first, she had no idea that the wife he was divorcing was actually his high school geometry teacher, or that he went to the hospital to present her with divorce terms while she was recovering from uterine cancer and then fought the case so hard, Jackie had to get a court order just to pay her utility bills. Gingrich told her the story a little at a time, trusting her with things that nobody else knew to this day, for example, the official story is that he started dating Jackie when he was eighteen and she was twenty-five. But he was really just sixteen, she says.
The divorce came through in February. They got married six months later, in August of 1981.
There were immediate stresses. They had no money at all. Marianne had to take over the budget because it was too stressful for Newt. On a congressman's salary, which was then about $70,000, Gingrich had to maintain households in Georgia and Washington, plus alimony and personal debts and child support. She remembers one reception when a woman asked Newt to buy a charity ticket for ten dollars. Between them, they didn't have a dime and didn't know how they were going to eat for the rest of the month. "Ask Marianne," he said, so the woman came up to her and she had to say, "No, I'm sorry, I don't have ten dollars." When she looked over at Gingrich, he was smiling.
But they shared a thrilling sense of commitment, talking endlessly about the future and how to make things better. "The choice to try and change things consumed both of us," she says.
The challenge was huge. People in Washington called Gingrich "Newt Skywalker" and snickered at his pretensions. "He'd walk into every meeting clutching books, trying to send a signal of intellectual gravitas," says Mickey Edwards, then a prominent Republican congressman from Oklahoma. His own administrative assistant called him "bold but careless, imaginative but undisciplined, creative but sloppy." He would rattle around his office in the Rayburn House Office Building until well past midnight, restless and pacing, brainstorming with his staff or talking on the phone to Marianne. His mantra was that the Democrats were a corrupt permanent majority. And the Republican establishment was the biggest impediment to changing that. "How do we move the politics so that conservative is acceptable?" he would ask. That was the main question.
The answers he came up with made him so powerful that he would humble the president of the United States.
The first answer? Well, of course, Newt Gingrich would become Speaker of the House. That was essential.
The second came from Richard Nixon, who told Newt to build up a cadre of young Turks to take on the Republican moderates. Gingrich had been thinking about this kind of thing since he visited Verdun at fifteen, followed by an obsession with a character in Isaac Asimov's Foundation who "plotted the social and economic trends" of his world and figured out how to manipulate mass psychology by inventing a fake religion. Political change was also the theme of his Ph.D. thesis. A big reader in management theory and military history, he loved graphs and charts and maxims like LISTEN, LEARN, HELP, LEAD.
After the election of 1982, he recruited twelve disciples and named them the Conservative Opportunity Society. Then he took control of a much larger group called GOPAC and turned it into a giant recruitment-and-training operation, sending out a stream of audiotapes and videotapes to promote his slogans and strategies. He began comparing himself to Churchill, FDR, and Benjamin Franklin.
He became a master of wedge issues, calling Democrats unpatriotic, accusing them of sympathizing with communists, even blaming them for Woody Allen's affair with Soon-Yi and Susan Smith's murder of her children in South Carolina. To badger the moderates in his own party, he called Bob Dole the "tax collector for the welfare state" and threatened House Minority Leader Bob Michel of Illinois with extinction.
But it was the nakedness of his attack on Speaker Jim Wright of Texas that shocked traditionalists of both parties. Working the press relentlessly all over the country, Gingrich began calling Wright the "least-ethical Speaker of the twentieth century" and leaking vague but ominous charges: Was he involved in the teenage-page scandal? Did he scam a pension out of the Air Force Reserve? Did he lobby a foreign president on behalf of a Texas oil family? Eventually a few stories got printed and Gingrich passed them out, sparking more stories. A couple of senior Republicans looked into his evidence and told him he didn't have anything, others looked a second time and told him the same. But Gingrich would not relent.
One charge finally stuck that Wright failed to report income from a vanity book he sold in bulk to supporters, earning about $60,000. The charge seems especially brazen given Gingrich's own adventures in creative financing: A few years before, he had taken $13,000 from a group of wealthy friends to write a novel; he took $105,000 to promote another book, and would later use at least $1 million of GOPAC's money to underwrite a satellite-TV college class that fed the staff that produced his books and strategy memos. But it was enough to humiliate and destroy Wright.
"He was just full of hate and venom," says Beryl Anthony Jr., a Democratic congressman in those years. "He was driven mainly by trying to tear down the leadership and gain political power." "I've known Newt now for thirty years almost," says former congressman Mickey Edwards. "But I wouldn't be able to describe what his real principles are. I never felt that he had any sort of a real compass about what he believed except for the pursuit of power."
From that pursuit he would not be deterred. And so by the morning in the fall of 1994 that he gathered three hundred Republican candidates on the Capitol steps to announce his ingenious Contract with America, his transformation from fool to conqueror was complete. Newt Gingrich's ridiculous prophesies that he would change the world had come to pass.
At this point, the sun is getting low in the sky. Marianne is sitting at an outdoor table at an Irish pub eating Chinese chicken salad, laughing and talking with the easy flow of the South. She veers from one subject to another, drawing lessons and breaking off into stories that break off into other stories. She's so spontaneous and good-natured, it's hard to picture her in Washington and no surprise that when she decamped to Georgia in the late eighties, she spent her time finishing her college degree and doing makeovers and selling beauty supplies. It gives her an unusual perspective on the seductions of power.
"Newt always wanted to be somebody," she says. "That was his vulnerability, do you understand? Being treated important. Which means he was gonna associate with people who would stroke him, and were important themselves. And in that vulnerability, once you go down that path and it goes unchecked, you add to it. Like, 'Oh, I'm drinking, who cares?' Then you start being a little whore, 'cause that comes with drinking. That's what corruption is when you're too exhausted, you're gonna go with your weakness. So when we see corruption, we shouldn't say, 'They're all corrupt.' Rather, we should say, 'At what point did you decide that? And why? Why were you vulnerable?' "
For a man operating at his level, Gingrich was keenly vulnerable. His welcome as Speaker was a furious controversy over yet another book deal, this time a $4.5 million advance from Rupert Murdoch he had been offered before he was even sworn in. Though Gingrich had made history and achieved extraordinary power, he still felt like an outsider, and the hatred touched something primal inside him. "All he wanted was to be accepted into the country club," Marianne says. "And he arrives at the country club and he's just not welcome. 'Yeah, but I belong here,' he said. 'I earned my way to this. I earned it.' "
Next came the government shutdown of late 1995, which so alarmed the country that the poll numbers for Republicans went into a steep overnight decline. "Newt's shocked, doesn't know what to do," Marianne says. "He's like, 'Whoa, wait, wait! This isn't just my fault! We need to work this out!' "
Behind the scenes, Gingrich began pushing the social conservatives and hard-liners to compromise, even abandoning his own cherished school-prayer amendment and enraging antiabortion activists by telling them to back off. But he would make the same mistake over and over again no matter how hard he tried to be the cool, analytical leader, no matter how harsh his assaults on others, Gingrich couldn't help taking the retaliation personally. "You know what he hated most?" Marianne says. "When they talked about him being fat. That weight thing was personal."
His bitterness only deepened when the House Ethics Committee started investigating GOPAC's donations to his college class and caught him trying to hide his tracks by raising money through a charity for inner-city kids called the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation. Another charity of his called Earning by Learning actually spent half its money supporting a former Gingrich staffer who was writing his biography. Gingrich even gave out the 800 number for videotapes on the House floor. The Ethics Committee found him guilty of laundering donations through charities, submitting "inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable" testimony, and making "an effort to have the material appear to be nonpartisan on its face, yet serve as a partisan, political message for the purpose of building the Republican party." Seven years after he had destroyed Jim Wright for a lesser offense, the committee punished Gingrich with the highest fine ever imposed on a Speaker of the House, $300,000.
He had no way to pay it. "We didn't have anything," Marianne says. "Just a house that was fully mortgaged." Down in Georgia, the press piled up outside their door.
The irony was downright painful: At the same time he was facing that huge fine with no way to pay it, not so long after fate snatched $4.5 million out of his grasp, Gingrich's success at raising money turned his party around. In the year after he became Speaker, the GOP raised $60 million, twice as much as the Democrats. Other conservative leaders saw what he was doing and started their own PACs. He had the golden touch, but he couldn't touch the gold.
That left just one way to pay the fine he had to write another book. So the staff set aside blocks of time and he began sitting alone for hours, typing with one finger and piling up the pages. The book taking shape amounted to a dramatic apology.
When his inner circle saw what he was writing, they were shocked. "He beat the crap out of himself," Marianne says. "I mean, it was weird. It was the most self-blaming we were all just like, 'Newt, what are you doing?' "
They all gathered at a long table in Gingrich's office and took out their red pens, cutting one page after another. Newt's mea culpa would remain unpublished, a secret.
After that, Gingrich started to deteriorate. There were times, Marianne says, when he wasn't functioning. He started yelling at people, which he'd never done before, and he'd get weirdly "overfocused" on getting things done manic, as if he was running out of time. He took to taking meetings while eating, slurping his food, as if he wasn't aware or didn't care how strange it looked. The staff responded with gallows humor: "He's a sociopath, but he's our sociopath."
One day during the summer of '97, senior members of the Republican leadership tried to stage an intervention on the Speaker's balcony. Newt was late arriving, and his leadership met first with Marianne, pleading their case, asking that she help them reason with her husband. His temper was by then volcanic. Would she stay for the meeting? And then they opened the door and Gingrich was standing there. They told him a softer version of what they'd told her that the dysfunction was causing a dangerous level of anger in the Congress and the country. The members actually left in a more cheerful mood Gingrich was always good at letting people think he agreed with them, Marianne says. But from then on his behavior only got more erratic.
But that was also the period of his greatest political achievement. After getting rolled by Clinton on the government shutdown, Gingrich was convinced that Republican fortunes were dependent on his ability to at last deal with the White House. He worked hard to persuade reluctant hard-liners and eventually hammered out a compromise in exchange for tax cuts for example, he gave Clinton $24 billion to pay for health care to uninsured children. And the budget was balanced, driving the economic boom of the next three years.
These days, Gingrich takes all the credit. Liberals prefer to focus on the effect of Clinton's 1993 budget. Others point to booming revenue from a growing economy. But the truth is, it never would have happened without Gingrich. His relentless pressure forced Democrats to make painful cuts.
But it wouldn't have happened without Clinton, either, who had done things that had been thought impossible for a Democratic president. That's why Newt's next move was the secret negotiations to put Social Security and Medicare on the path to long-term sustainability. For years, the two parties had refused to agree on the necessary taxes and cuts, but Gingrich and Clinton hashed out a rough draft in a few intense weeks.
Gingrich remembers their peculiar bond to this day. "Clinton and I used to talk like it was a graduate-school session," he says. "We both like books, we both like ideas, we both like exploring language and exploring concepts and trying to find solutions."
But then in 1998, Monica Lewinsky exploded and war broke out between the parties. Of all the ironies in Gingrich's paradoxical career, this was certainly the most bitter at the very moment when he tried to rise above the ugly partisanship he had done so much to foster, it dragged him back down.
In all his years of partisan warfare, Gingrich's talent had been in never overplaying his hand. But now his party was doing just that in spectacular fashion. Tom DeLay took charge of the impeachment, as the rest of the Republican leadership was concerned that Gingrich was "too close" to Clinton and too vulnerable to the girlfriend charge himself. And suddenly, even though Clinton was the one being impeached, it was the Republicans who were in danger of losing Congress.
One night, Marianne says, Bill Clinton called from the White House. She answered the phone and the president asked if he could please speak to her husband. Could the Speaker come over immediately? After he hung up, Newt summoned his driver and went in the back door to the Oval Office. During that meeting, he would tell her later, Clinton laid it out for him: "You're a lot like me," he told him.
Whatever else happened at that meeting, Newt Gingrich was muzzled in the critical run-up to the '98 midterms. Three weeks before the election, Gingrich got a visit from Kenneth Duberstein, a senior Republican who had served as chief of staff to Ronald Reagan. "He says, 'What's going on? We're gonna lose seats if something doesn't change.' " Marianne jumped in, too. "I asked Newt, 'What are you doing? Why aren't we out there blasting them?' "
This was his true turning point, she believes. As his personal failures and his political contradictions closed in on him, she began to entertain fears about his fundamental decency. "I used to tell him I don't care if you lose Congress as long as you're standing for what you believe in and what we've worked for as long as you don't sell out," she says. "But he wanted the life he wanted. You can call it opulent. You can call it self-indulgent. You can call it anything you want to. But that's not me."
Marianne remembers watching the election results with Gingrich in their war room down in Georgia, the dismal feeling as one Republican after another went down. The Republicans held on to the House majority, but not by much.
The next morning, Appropriations Committee chairman Bob Livingston of Louisiana threatened to run against Gingrich if he didn't resign as Speaker. His unpopularity was dragging the party down. He faxed a list of demands to their house in Georgia, Marianne remembers, insisting that Newt cede him complete power over the appropriations process.
The next day, Gingrich called Marianne into his office and told her he had come to a decision. He was going to step down as Speaker. And resign from Congress, too, though he had just won another term. Later that week, on a conference call with a few party confidants, Gingrich said, "I'm willing to lead but I'm not willing to preside over people who are cannibals... . Frankly, Marianne and I could use a break." His political career was over.
In the history books Gingrich loves, exile is a defining moment when a leader's true strength of character is revealed. But his own behavior just became more erratic in the months after his fall. Some days he was full of bravado, conspiring with Duberstein and Marianne on a five-year plan to restore his reputation and rebuild his power base so he could run for president someday. He even turned down an American Express commercial that would have paid $500,000, Marianne says, because acting in a commercial didn't have sufficient gravitas for a man of his once and future stature. And he got some good news from the IRS, which said his college course didn't violate the tax laws after all.
But other days, Gingrich was bleak and hopeless. He was like a "dead weight" at times like that, Marianne says. You just couldn't get him to move. The contrast reminded her of his mother and her manic depression, and she told him he needed help.
But Marianne was having problems of her own. After going to the doctor for a mysterious tingling in her hand, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Early in May, she went out to Ohio for her mother's birthday. A day and a half went by and Newt didn't return her calls, which was strange. They always talked every day, often ten times a day, so she was frantic by the time he called to say he needed to talk to her.
He wanted to talk in person, he said.
"I said, 'No, we need to talk now.' "
He went quiet.
"There's somebody else, isn't there?"
She kind of guessed it, of course. Women usually do. But did she know the woman was in her apartment, eating off her plates, sleeping in her bed?
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.
He'd just returned from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he'd given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values.
The next night, they sat talking out on their back patio in Georgia. She said, "How do you give that speech and do what you're doing?"
"It doesn't matter what I do," he answered. "People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live."
When they got to court, Gingrich refused to cooperate with basic discovery. Marianne and her lawyer knew from a Washington Post gossip column that Gingrich had bought Bisek a $450 bottle of wine, for example, but he refused to provide receipts or answer any other questions about their relationship.
Then Gingrich made a baffling move. Because Bisek had refused to be deposed by Marianne's attorney, Newt had his own attorney depose her, after which the attorney held a press conference and announced that she had confessed to a six-year affair with Gingrich. He had also told the press that he and Marianne had an understanding.
"Right," Marianne says now.
That was not true?
"Of course not. It's silly."
During that period, people would come up to Marianne and tell her to settle, that she was hurting the cause.
Ten years later, Gingrich has built an empire of wealth and influence by turning the fundraising scandals of his past inside out. His American Solutions for Winning the Future is a political-advocacy group similar to GOPAC or the PACs that support regular candidates like Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney, but with a twist: Regular PACs can't take corporate money or personal donations larger than $5,000. Instead, American Solutions is a "527" group, which can accept unlimited contributions as long as it doesn't promote the interests of a specific candidate. So Gingrich takes hundreds of thousands of dollars from coal and oil companies and spends it to fight energy regulations and promote conservative leaders at critical moments as the archconservative Townhall.com observed, the "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less" campaign he launched in the spring of 2008 was "likely the source of John McCain's miraculous rebound in the polls."
And American Solutions is not just another advocacy group. Its reach is enormous. The $17 million it raised in the first five months of 2010 is more than double the money raised by the second-biggest 527 group, the Service Employees International Union one of America's largest unions. That makes American Solutions the biggest political-advocacy group in America today, with an expansive issues agenda that just happens to advance the political fortunes of Newt Gingrich.
Then there's the Center for Health Transformation, another group Gingrich runs. On its Web site, it describes its work in Georgia as a model for all its efforts and says the "cornerstone" of its work is a group called Bridges to Excellence. But CHT "had zero role in creating Bridges to Excellence," says Fran็ois de Brantes, the group's CEO. CHT helped with organization for one year and hasn't been associated with them since 2008. The CHT Web site also singles out the "Healthy Georgia Diabetes and Obesity Project" as its major diabetes effort, but that was news to the American Diabetes Association. "We were not able to find any information about this," says the ADA's communications director, Colleen Fogarty. "The person that was in contact with them is no longer here." It turns out that the CHT is a for-profit outfit that charges big health insurers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield up to $200,000 a year for access to the mind of Newt Gingrich.
But it is not a registered lobby. Neither is American Solutions. So if Gingrich talks to a politician about energy policy while energy legislation is pending, he's just an intellectual exploring ideas. And he can go on TV and/or write articles without declaring his financial interest in pending legislation. One of Gingrich's former advisors told The Washington Post that he's "making more money than he ever thought possible, and doesn't have to tell everybody where it's coming from."
Gingrich also is a central figure in Citizens United, the fourth-largest political-advocacy organization in America, the group that tested the limits of corporate power in politics by taking Hillary: The Movie to the Supreme Court. Was it legal for a corporation to pay to show the movie a shameless piece of campaign propaganda masquerading as a documentary just before an election? As it happens, Gingrich has released five of his movies through Citizens United. Most are faux documentaries just like Hillary: The Movie. The great conservative scholar James Q. Wilson captured their spirit perfectly with comments that were included in the Congressional Ethics Committee special counsel's report about Gingrich's history course:
"It is bland, vague, hortatory, and lacking in substance... Philosophically, it is a mishmash of undefined terms... Scientifically, it is filled with questionable or unsupported generalizations... I could go on, but I dare not for fear I have misunderstood what this enterprise is all about... If this is not to be a course but instead a sermon, then you should get a preacher to comment on it."
Throughout, Gingrich's modus operandi has been startlingly similar to the way he shifted money from GOPAC to the charities that were secretly supporting his college course. And here's a mystery: According to Bruce Nash of Nash Information Services, a company that tracks movie sales, these films some directed by a man best known for a TV show called Bikes from Hell are spectacular failures. "The most popular appears to be Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny, which is most likely selling a couple thousand copies a year through major retailers. Rediscovering God in America sells perhaps two thousand units."
But the lavish productions do afford Gingrich and his wife luxurious world travel. At the premiere of the latest, Nine Days that Changed the World, a film about how Pope John Paul II toppled communism, the producer joked from the podium about Gingrich's champagne tastes. "We didn't travel steerage, that's for sure." Most of all, the religious emphasis of his documentaries underscores his recent conversion to Catholicism, and perhaps helps to dim the memory of his ugly divorces.
When asked about his conversion, Marianne laughs.
Why is that funny?
"It has no meaning."
It has no meaning?
"It's hysterical. I got a notice that they wanted to nullify my marriage. They're making jokes about it on local radio. The minute he got married, divorced, married, divorced what does the Catholic Church say about this?"
She's not angry at all. She just thinks it's the only path Gingrich could take after his idealism died, threatening the self he had invented out of the biographies of great men. "When you try and change your history too much," she says, "you lose touch with who you really are. You lose your way."
In New Orleans, Gingrich strides onto the stage at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference to the tune of "Eye of the Tiger." Thousands of activists in a party looking for deliverance rise to their feet.
Gingrich stands there grinning, soaking up the applause.
When he begins, his voice is strong and confident. "When you speak from the heart, you don't need a teleprompter," he says, launching into his slashing and scholarly indictment of the Obama secular socialist machine that wants to take away their rights. And once again, when a man from the audience says we should just end the goddamn income tax already, Gingrich walks him back. "We've got to pay for national security." He even defends spreading the wealth. "None of the Founding Fathers would have said that George Washington, owning Mount Vernon as the largest landowner, should pay the same tax as somebody who was a cobbler."
At a moment of doctrinal crisis in the Republican party, Newt Gingrich is the only major figure in his party who is both insurgent and gray eminence. That is why twelve years after his career ended twelve years after any other man in his position would have disappeared from view he is ascendant.
"Will he run?" Marianne asks. "Possibly. Because he doesn't connect things like normal people. There's a vacancy kind of scary, isn't it?"
One thing is certain Newt Gingrich loves the question. "That's up to God and the American people," he tells you, in the serene tone of a man who already knows what God thinks.
I was thinking of reading this rather long piece, then saw how truly TLDR it was and who posted it, and postulated it was most likely a liberal-biased hit piece whose ultimate conclusion would be "Ging-GRINCH is EVIL, like HITLER!"
Saved myself alot of time. By all means, if our resident liberal progressive social welfare democrats don't like Gingrich, they definitely shouldn't vote for him in the Republican Primaries.
But really, when it comes down to it for Republicans and other righties, does the opinions of people who could never ever be swayed to vote (R) over (D) in the first place, really matter when discussing those (R)'s?
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Yeah, I didn't read that either. I don't even know or care if it was hit piece, because I still believe that Newt has no chance at the nomination. This carousel of "the flavor of the month" has been the only consistent thing about the Republican nomination process.
Not to toot my horn, but I said it about Bachmann, I said it about Perry, I said it about Cain, and I'll say it again about Newt: HE HAS NO CHANCE. Zip. Zilcho. Is he a smart guy? Yes. Do those book smarts translate into sensible policy? No. Plus, he's got way too much baggage, personally and professionally.
His marriages and divorces are none of our business, so far as his political problems that was in the past. Obama has skeletons in his closet. Rev Wright, Louis Farakhan(sp) and his neighborhood friend the murderer Bill Ayers. Lets not forget the gun running to Mexico where a US agent was killed with one of the guns!
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[QUOTE=MnJetFan;4264217]His marriages and divorces are none of our business, so far as his political problems that was in the past. Obama has skeletons in his closet. Rev Wright, Louis Farakhan(sp) and his neighborhood friend the murderer Bill Ayers. Lets not forget the gun running to Mexico where a US agent was killed with one of the guns![/QUOTE]
[QUOTE=MnJetFan;4264217]His marriages and divorces are none of our business, so far as his political problems that was in the past. Obama has skeletons in his closet. Rev Wright, Louis Farakhan(sp) and his neighborhood friend the murderer Bill Ayers. Lets not forget the gun running to Mexico where a US agent was killed with one of the guns![/QUOTE]
So Newtron Bomb dumping his wife while she was in the hospital and dodging the draft is none of our business? It's funny these are the same people who have been screaming at us for the past 20 years about Clinton getting a bl_wjob and dodging the draft was the end of Western civilization. The Obama-hatred will change any conservatives' outlook on the world.
I am fairly conservative. Gingrich is a BUM. Does he possess any positive character traits? Honor, loyalty, integrity? NO!
I will grant he is intelligent and can speak well. Real character counts and he has none. Better to have a moderate like Romney. I would sooner sacrifice a few conservative points than have trash and a trash wife in the White House.
[QUOTE=TerminatorJet;4264555]It's funny these are the same people who have been screaming at us for the past 20 years about Clinton getting a bl_wjob and dodging the draft was the end of Western civilization.[/quote]
It is funny....
.....because now the very same folks who defended to the end that Clintons sex life was not the public's business, that Obama's family and personal and religious life was none of our business, and that dodging the draft is never a bad thing, is suddenly flip-flopping on all of those issues now that they have a candidate against them where it works.
[quote]The Obama-hatred will change any conservatives' outlook on the world.[/QUOTE]
As does Obama-manlove it seems.
Or maybe it's just the same old "politics as usual", it's bad when "their guy" does it, but fine when "your guy" does it.
I think the best thing about Newt's skeletons is that they are all well known and yet he still has traction. He is not the guy I want but it seems the candidates I like have no chance at all. Newt did a good job as speaker. Many of his ideas are far too spend happy social program related for me. I have read a couple of his books and he defintely talks a good game.
.....because now the very same folks who defended to the end that Clintons sex life was not the public's business, that Obama's family and personal and religious life was none of our business, and that dodging the draft is never a bad thing, is suddenly flip-flopping on all of those issues now that they have a candidate against them where it works.[/QUOTE]
That is exactly NOT the point.
When you are part of a family that makes "family values" party of your core philosophy and political platform....don't be surprised when you get called out for it. Did Clinton or the Dems make "family values" and important issue for them? Nope.
[QUOTE=PlumberKhan;4264795]That is exactly NOT the point.
When you are part of a family that makes "family values" party of your core philosophy and political platform....don't be surprised when you get called out for it. Did Clinton or the Dems make "family values" and important issue for them? Nope.[/QUOTE]
Ah, the usual hypocrites reply:
You hold them to values you yourself do not hold!
Always fun to see that one trotted out. Almost as good as Buster slamming Christie for building roads and bridges because he had to BORROW to do it!
Just like despite (D)'s rampant support for all things homosexual, when an (R) does something gay, it's a HUGE issue.....even those (D) loves the ghey!
And on and on and on........not because (D) cares about or supports "Family Values", but because it can be used as a weapon. In effect, two standards, one for (R) and one for (D). (D) can do anything, and it's ok, they don't support that anyway!:D
No worries. Like the rest of JI's liberals PK, you seem to want Romney (or lolHuntsman) to get the nom., which means you want Obama, Round II. I get that, so no worries.;)
[QUOTE=TerminatorJet;4264555] and dodging the draft [/QUOTE]
Rules for radicals #2 -hypocritically complain about Vietnam era GOP who had deferments then forget all about Biden, Dean, Bill Richardson, Bubba etc who did likewise or traitors like Kennedy and Kerry who actually did serve in the military yet consorted with our enemies
Don't worry though, the Crypto-Liberals/Pseudo-Conservatives here have your back!
[QUOTE=PlumberKhan;4265205]Newt is to family values what Larry Craig is to the sanctity of marriage.[/quote]
For what exactly?
And if we follow your previously posteed rule of "Don't condemn something as morally wrong WHILE YOU'RE DOING THE SAME GOD DAMN THING yourself", what has Newt done that you, PK, have not done yourself.
Funny you mention Craig, since he was destroyed without any actual proof of wrongdoing, or proof of being a homosexual.
It's a great spot to be a Liberal, because you promote any behavior you like, you ca then do any behavior you like criticism-free, while still gaining all the benefits of attacking your opposition for breaking not YOUR rules, but their own.
[QUOTE]Go ahead, GOP. Nominate this fat f*ck. Do it.[/QUOTE]
So are you a Romney supporter PK, or an Obama supporter then?