Newt is looking for a candidate to peddle his ideas

By LIBBY QUAID

Newt Gingrich wants somebody running for president — maybe himself — to embrace his solutions to the nation’s problems.

He’s not thinking about a presidential campaign now, Gingrich insists. Instead, the former House speaker is busy creating ideas, his stock in trade since leaving Congress.

"After Sept. 29, we’ll look," Gingrich said in an interview. "I’m hopeful a number of these ideas are so obviously popular that people will just adopt them."

Gingrich is planning Internet-based workshops on Sept. 27 and 29, inviting officials from every level of elective office — more than half a million people — to learn about his proposed solutions.

He is seeking change on a tremendous scale, similar to the economic and social reforms of the Progressive Movement at the turn of the 20th century.

He wants the Contract With America on steroids.

A rallying platform conceived by Gingrich, the 1994 Contract With America gets credit for helping Republicans capture control of Congress after 40 years of Democratic rule. The document promised a vote on each of 10 priorities — including tax cuts, welfare reform and term limits — within 100 days of Gingrich taking the speaker’s gavel.

"Multiply that times 50, and you’ll have some idea of the depth and scale of what we want to accomplish," Gingrich said. "What we’re trying to do is bring public service and public solutions into the 21st century information age, and so it’s very parallel to the Progressive Movement."

However, the circumstances under which Gingrich left Congress may water down his message, said David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University.

Gingrich quit when his party, after spotlighting President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, lost seats in the 1998 elections. The next year, Gingrich’s involvement with a congressional aide, Callista Bisek, led to his divorce from his second wife, Marianne; he later married Bisek.

Gingrich, 63, has tried to rehabilitate his image by admitting publicly to his extramarital affair during the Clinton impeachment scandal. He made the admission in an interview last month with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and he won praise for the acknowledgment from another conservative Christian leader, the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

"His ideas are sort of tainted by that kind of negative baggage, and I don’t think they have quite the force and vibrancy they did when you first heard of him," said Woodard, who also is a GOP consultant.

"They’ll say, ‘I like him, but I can’t stand the fact this has happened,’" Woodard said. "Social conservatives keep up with all this stuff. They like all the gossip."

For the next six months, Gingrich will be offering ideas to Republicans and Democrats alike in hopes they will adopt his vision. His advice isn’t limited to the current crop of White House hopefuls; Gingrich plans to debate Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in 2004, on global warming next week.

Along broad themes, he seeks to govern from the right, modernize government and bloated businesses, and defend the United States against foreign adversaries.

The specifics are red meat for conservatives unhappy with the three top-tier GOP candidates — former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Among his proposals is establishing patriotic education for children and immigrants, including making English the language of American government and keeping "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance as part of an effort to "re-center" the U.S. on God.

Gingrich came under fire in recent days for equating bilingual education with "the language of living in a ghetto." In response, Gingrich said — in a Spanish-language video statement — that his word choice was poor and he wasn’t attacking Spanish.

His said his point was, "In the United States, it is important to speak the English language well in order to advance and have success."

Other ideas: transforming Social Security into personal savings accounts, reducing lawsuits, simplifying the tax code, pushing Americans to excel at math and science, posting the cost and quality of health care at hospitals and other medical facilities, and investing in "scientific revolution," particularly in energy, space and the environment.

If a candidate embraces his ideas, Gingrich said, "then I won’t run, because there won’t be any reason for me to."

Whether he runs or not, Republicans struggling to find their sea legs after last November’s election losses may look for cues from him, said GOP consultant Greg Mueller, a former aide to conservative pundit Pat Buchanan.

Mueller draws a comparison to Buchanan’s campaign for president in 1992. Buchanan faded after losing the New Hampshire primary to George H.W. Bush, but he helped push a number of issues — taxes, immigration, abortion and gay rights — into the debate.

Gingrich, a regular contributor to Fox News and other television programs, "preaches right to conservatives — he’s got a pipeline into their homes," Mueller said.

"That doesn’t mean he’s going to be a candidate," he added. "It just means they’re going to look to him to provide guidance on the key policy issues we’re facing."

Since leaving Congress, Gingrich has made speeches, written books and articles, helped start a health care think tank, and run a communications and consulting firm.

His visibility helps explain the attention he gets as a possible presidential candidate more than eight years after leaving Congress. Gingrich ranked third in recent national polls, behind Giuliani and McCain, although actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson then edged Gingrich after saying he might enter the race.

"Newt is doing all the things you would do if you were running for office," conservative activist Grover Norquist said.

"It’s actually very wise," Norquist said. "You can’t go around giving speeches about how to reform health care and expect anyone to cover you unless you’re potentially campaigning for president."

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

Comments are closed.