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Newt Gingrich doles out debate advice to the remaining GOP contenders

Thursday, January 24, 2008
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HH: I’m joined by someone who understands debates perhaps better than anyone in America, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich. His brand new book is Real Change: From the World That Fails To the World That Works. Mr. Speaker, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

NG: It’s great to be with you.

HH: Let’s do a little debate prep and come back to the book after the break, Mr. Speaker. If you have a couple of minutes with each of them tonight, what would you say to Mitt Romney? What’s he got to do tonight?

NG: Well, I think he has positioned, as a former very successful business leader, to explain what he would do to lead the American economy, and to get us back to being competitive with China and India. And I think my advice to Governor Romney would be to focus on his extraordinary economic achievements, and to communicate that as a business leader. He’s better suited to deal with the economic problems that have come to be the number one concern of the American people. And frankly, in my book, Real Change, we list a lot of the kind of changes that are needed, and a number of them are very compatible with what Governor Romney’s been saying.

HH: Then let’s talk about the Mayor. How about Rudy Giuliani? What’s he got to do tonight?

NG: Well, you know, Mayor Giuliani is an interesting challenge, because he has put all of his eggs into the Florida basket. He’s campaigned very, very intensely down there, and he’s been all over the state. And I think he has a possibility of winning down there. But the biggest surprise to me has been that he has this great story of fundamentally fixing New York City. I have a chapter in Real Change where we outlined what Rudy Giuliani achieved in fighting crime, which is just a historic change. Crime declined by over 70% in New York City from 1993 to 2006. And New York today is the safest big city in the U.S. per thousand people, four times safer than Houston. But what Mayor Giuliani’s not yet been able to do is to take that terrific New York story and translate it into your life and into my life, to explain to us what it is he will do that will make America different in a fundamental and decisive way. He certainly has the track record of doing it in New York. And if he could translate that, not tell us about the New York experience, but translate those skills and insights into a national program, he would suddenly be very formidable.

HH: Now let’s move to the third of the big three, John McCain. If you’re whispering to John McCain before he takes the stage, what’s your advice for him, Mr. Speaker?

NG: Well, I think, look, first of all, Senator McCain’s had a great two weeks, and I’m not sure he needs much advice from anybody. And the challenge for him is to expand his range of appeal. He does very well with independents, he does very well with moderate Republicans. He does much less well with conservative Republicans, and terribly with hard core conservatives. He’s got to find a way to say to people that his track record from 1982 to today has been a pro-national defense, cut government spending, anti-pork barrel interest, anti-special interest approach, and he’s got to convince people that in the end, if they’re looking for a commander-in-chief, this is a guy who’s had the training at Annapolis, the experience in the U.S. Navy, and has proven as a prisoner in Vietnam, his patriotism, and therefore, he’s worthy of being voted for.

HH: Now Mr. Speaker, you and I both know the litany of complaints that conservatives have – Gang of 14, vote against the Bush tax cuts, McCain-Kennedy, McCain-Feingold. And yet when Senator McCain’s confronted with them, he tends to dismiss the concerns. He says oh, no, the Gang of 14 was good for you. Is that good for him? Or should he candidly admit that he’s got the conservative movement up in arms against four of his signature items?

NG: Well, look, I think people are looking for authencity. John McCain is John McCain. He’s a very stubborn, very self-righteous, very indignant guy who really believes what he believes, and frankly, if you don’t like him, that’s your problem. And yet he’s also courageous and hard working and has great integrity, and is a true patriot. And so, he’s…and it really helped him in New Hampshire, because that was exactly the kind of cantankerous personality that kind of fits the New Hampshire tradition.

HH: But you know, Mr. Speaker, in your book, Real Change, one of the things that really resonated with me on Page 89, you call for cheerful persistence for change. And you cite FDR. And you know, that’s so crucial to governing, and I don’t think Senator McCain has any cheerful persistence for change in him, does he?

NG: I didn’t…listen, you asked me what I would advise each of those three guys, and I told you what I’d advise them. Look, I’m not defending any of the three. Each of them has great strengths, each of them has great weaknesses. That’s why no one has broken loose yet. And Florida become really important in part because either McCain or Giuliani has to win Florida to keep the nomination open. If Romney wins Florida, I think he’s on the way to becoming the nominee.

– – – –

HH: Mr. Speaker, before we went to break, you made a statement I agree with, that if Romney wins Florida, he’s on his way to the nomination in all likelihood. But I want to pause for a moment about Chapter 16 in your book. Green conservatism is the real answer to environmental challenges. Now I’ve followed this pretty closely. John McCain and his McCain-Lieberman bill is not conservative. I don’t know if it’s green conservatism in your eyes, it’s not in mine. It’s capping trade and an energy tax. Do you think it’s green conservatism, what John McCain is proposing?

NG: Well, listen, I’m deeply opposed to any energy tax, and I make that quite clear. The last thing we need is bigger government imposing a more expensive economy. When I describe green conservatism, I want an incentive led, and using encouragement, to encourage the development of new science, new technology, new solutions, to do something like develop a hydrogen engine, so that we can basically liberate ourselves from Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Iran, and Russia, and places that we frankly shouldn’t be depending on for our energy.

HH: You also talk about renewing our commitment to nuclear power. Have you heard any of these candidates urging the return to a robust nuclear industry?

NG: No, and that’s actually a mistake. We have, at the very back of the book, Real Change, we have a section called Platform of the American People. And the only things that are in the platform are items that have an absolute majority, Democrats, Republicans and independents. We call it a tri-partisan majority. And interestingly, nuclear power gets support from all three groups.

HH: Yup, yup.

NG: People understand, by the way, if we had the same percentage of our electricity coming from nuclear power as France does, we would take two billion, two hundred million tons a year of carbon out of the atmosphere.

HH: Yup.

NG: So I say to all of my environmental friends, how serious are you about really trying to get carbon out of the atmosphere? And I’ve got a solution for you if you’re willing to do it.

HH: Now I cut out prematurely on debate prep, because obviously, there are two other people on the stage tonight. I want to get to both of the. Mike Huckabee, good guy, pro-life, pro-marriage, struggling, out of money, basically. What would you have him do tonight, if you get three minutes with him, Mr. Speaker?

NG: Look, I think Governor Huckabee’s a terrific talent. I think he’s got great capabilities. I think when he failed to win South Carolina, which was the perfect state for him to break out, and he failed by a narrow margin, but the fact is this is a tough business, and he failed. I think that he is now basically playing for the vice presidential nomination, and I think that means he’s got to keep his basic support among social conservatives and Christian conservatives, and he’s got to add to it an economic message, and a message that people will be attracted to, that makes him more than just a narrow base candidate. If he can do that, he becomes the most attractive vice presidential candidate. I think he has virtually no likelihood of becoming the nominee since he did not win in South Carolina.

HH: Mr. Speaker, a lot of people would love to see you in the number two slot on the ticket. Are you open to that?

NG: Well, Ronald Reagan once said that he was hoping that Gerald Ford would not ask him in 1976, because a citizen would have a very hard time turning it down as part of their duty. And I always thought that was a wise admonition. And so I can’t quite imagine a nominee foolish enough to offer it, but I would have to consider it seriously if somebody did.

HH: Now I want to talk to you…I talked to Karl Rove about this yesterday, and it concerns me a lot. There are a lot of Ron Paul people. I’m sure you’ve seen them. Wherever I broadcast in the country, they’re hundreds of them that come out. They’re very, very energized, they’re very, very adamant. What’s the party do with them, Newt Gingrich?

NG: Well, I think the party indicates to them that we are committed to smaller government and to cutting spending, and that the kind of judges we would appoint are much closer to their value structure and the kind of country they want to live in, and they have two choices. And they can throw their vote away and guarantee that liberals win, raise taxes, create bigger government, hire more bureaucrats and appoint very left wing judges, or they can swallow their unhappiness in not getting 100%, and decide that the Republican nominee’s dramatically better for their values and their way of life than the liberal Democrat.

HH: Now turning to the general campaign, and I want to finish up here with a couple of comments there. Can Mitt Romney beat Hillary Clinton?

NG: Look, I think we live in a year when virtually anything could happen. When Senator Obama and Governor Huckabee won in Iowa, I thought that was a signal that we can’t predict right now what the American people are going to do. They’re very unhappy with government as it is. They believe that government has been on the wrong track. They want real change, and they’re prepared to insist on real change. And so I would argue that we are in a position where a lot of things could happen. Part of the reason I wrote the book, Real Change, is I think that a Republican candidate who effectively offered and convinced people they were serious about a level of change that would be very different from the current administration and the current situation, would in fact have a real opportunity to win. What will not work is somebody who says basically I’m going to be four more years of the same. And I’m mildly encouraged that Governor Romney’s begun to lay out a real change strategy. And I think if he follows that aggressively enough, and particularly if Senator Clinton is pinned to actually explaining that as far as her public employee unions, her trial lawyers, her left wing friends, her ideology, she’s going to represent the wrong change. And the changes she wants move America towards losing jobs, losing prosperity, and being a much weaker country. And so I think somebody who can make that case can win, but they’re not going to win by running an anti-personality campaign. They’re not going to win by trying to be negative about Senator Clinton. They’ve got to make it a big issue campaign about a really big choice about America’s future.

HH: And now, Appendix 8, I think this is the most important part of Real Change, your new book, and it’s really a speech you gave in September of last year. Part of that is we’ve got to go to 5% of GDP for defense, we’ve got to rebuild this Navy, we’ve got to explain the war in a larger context. Do you see any of them doing that, and how late is the date to make these arguments to the American people, Newt Gingrich?

NG: I think the person who comes closest is John McCain. And in all fairness, whether you like him or dislike him on other issues, and I disagree with him a lot on immigration and on campaign laws and some other things, on national defense, he’s probably been the strongest advocate of a strong America. That’s the tone we need this fall. We are in a very dangerous world, and we should be quite clear that we want to protect America. And in our Platform With the American People, 85% of the American people say we must protect America and its allies, and 75% say we must defeat our enemies, which is very strong language.

– – – –

HH: Mr. Speaker, I saw you on with Sean a couple of nights ago. It was fascinating. And perhaps you, more than anyone in the United States, knows Bill Clinton and knows how to wrestle with him. Your analysis was he was dragging Obama down in the mud, because no one can work the mud better than the Clintons. If you’re the Republican, and you’re getting ready for the mud match, how do you set up well against the Clinton tag team?

NG: I think it’s exactly, if I can use a boxing analogy, you want to always stay out of the clinches. You want to make sure there’s a lot of distance between you and them. You want the American people to see them for who they are, and you want to stay above the fight. You want to focus on big issues, big solutions, big differences. You want to treat Senator Clinton with respect, and I think with a sense of humor. You don’t want to be angry with her, you want to be…you can make fun of her, but don’t be angry. And if you want to say look, if you really believe West German socialism is the American future, and you really believe bigger government, higher taxes, more control in Washington is what we need, you’ve got a terrific candidate, because she’s going to do every one of those things. But then what you can’t do is you can’t get into a narrow na-na kind of fight with them, because they have the news media on their side, and they’re simply better at that kind of fight than we are.

HH: You remember when Al Gore stalked George Bush in the first debate in 2000, and Bush turned around and kind of looked at him funny? I think that encapsulates your advice, which is you look at them funny, but you never start throwing…they’ve got too much dirt to throw at you.

NG: One of the great lines of the 1980 campaign was when Ronald Reagan said it to Jimmy Carter, there you go again. Now that was a carefully thought out line, because they knew that Carter would lie, and they knew that he would grotesquely exaggerate Reagan’s record. And they knew that if you accepted that any part of it was true, that you were in trouble. But on the other hand, he is the president of the United States, and you can’t be disrespectful. So you can’t say you are a liar. And Reagan came up with this line, there you go again, and everyone in the country understood what he was saying. And everyone in the country laughed, and it was over. I mean, Carter couldn’t…if the Clintons can’t get you in a clinch, if you can stay a long way back from them and say look, you want to abolish the capital gains tax or do you want to raise it dramatically? Do you want to make America more competitive or do you want to have lots more red tape so we keep losing jobs to China and India? I mean, if you get to that rhythm, and you stay away from her, then I think you have a real chance to defeat her, because I think that her policies are that bad.

HH: Last question, a prediction on who’s going to win the GOP primary on Tuesday, Mr. Speaker.

NG: I have no idea, and I can assure everybody who’s listening I’m going to be watching Fox that night, and I’m going to be fascinated. I do a blog every morning after the primaries, and I have no idea what I’m going to say on Wednesday morning, because the truth is, I was just down in Daytona and Orlando, and everybody I talked to was totally confused about who was going to win. And I stick with that confusion.

HH: I’ll stick with that, too. Real Change is the new book. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

End of interview.

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