Who is Newt Gingrich? The man who would be president

Gingrich has had to court hardline religious types to make amends for his affairs. Will he make the White House?

George Sandeman
On 25 May 2011 07:45

With an announcement on Twitter and a video on YouTube the former Speaker of the House and Congressman from Georgia, Newt Gingrich, declared his candidacy to be the Republican nominee for President in 2012.

In the video he told viewers: "There's a much better American future ahead with more jobs, more prosperity, a better health system, longer lives, greater independent living and a country that is decentralized under the 10th Amendment with power once again back with the American people and away from the Washington bureaucracy."

In a not-so-veiled shot at the Obama administration and the Democratic Party he said: "There are some people who don't mind if America becomes a wreck as long as they dominate the wreckage."

The author and historian, 67, is most famed for regularly locking horns with then President Bill Clinton and engineering the 1994 Contract with America which gave the Republican party control of the House for the first time in 40 years. However, just four years later after a disastrous performance by the Republicans (GOP) in the mid-term elections Gingrich resigned and has been working as a campaigner, as well as author, ever since.

With his long career in Washington politics he has developed strong ties with several big GOP donors and party operatives. So a strong, well-structured and well-funded campaign is expected.

Gingrich does however face questions about his family values and fidelity: he is already onto his third wife, Callista, who was a Congressional aide that he had an affair with whilst still married to his second wife.

He blamed his aberration on his love of country and the stresses of congress. He has also recently converted to Catholicism but now has to work hard to win the religious, and protestant, socially conservative base.

To do so he has associated himself with a rather controversial pastor, the evangelical John Hagee who said on radio in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that New Orleans suffered the "judgement of God" due to its "level of sin." (No doubt a dig at the perceived culture around Bourbon Street in New Orleans, although Hagee later retracted his words.)

Gingrich's campaign has, however, got off to a bit of a rocky start with the right of the party over his approach to the possible reform of Medicare. In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" he labelled a GOP plan to overhaul the long-standing legislation as "right-wing extremism." The comments were seen as a rebuke to the orchestrator of the plan, the party's conservative rising star, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.

A lot of the criticism levelled at Gingrich has come from the socially conservative and Tea Party-embraced members of the GOP. South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley commented: "Here you’ve got Representative Ryan trying to bring common sense to this world of insanity, and Newt absolutely cut him off at the knees."

Haley's endorsement is very much sought after as she governs the state that holds the primary season's third contest.

Later, Gingrich mentioned that he felt somewhat blind-sided by "Meet the Press" presenter David Gregory's line of questioning despite having appeared on the show 35 times. He has also drawn fire for his position on Obama's healthcare legislation as he didn't completely denounce it, initially, which is something widely expected of GOP members since not a single Republican in either the House or the Senate voted in favour of the bill.

Regarding the individual mandate to take out health insurance, whether governmental or private -- a key element of "Obamacare" and opposed by Republicans -- he said: "I agree that all of us have a responsibility to pay — help pay for health care." He later tried back-tracking on this by stating that he flatly opposed the law and backed his comments up by signing a pledge to repeal it.

On top of this, Gin­grich then ran into new issues about his personal life. A report by Politico stated that he previously owed approximately $500,000 to iconic jewellery store Tiffany and Co. The accounts were apparently filed by his latest wife Callista. Whenever pressed for details, Gingrich has continually declined to comment.

As it stands, Gingrich's support amongst GOP voters is somewhat weak. In recently published polling, CNN showed only 10 percent support amongst GOP voters while he got five percent in a Quinnipiac poll.

Once a Republican heavyweight, Gingrich may not wield the power he did just over a decade ago, but his access to the party's largest financial backers is nonetheless unmatched and remains the the envy of his competitors, except maybe Mitt Romney who has, of course, many millions in his own pockets that he could dig into should his fundraising river ever dry up.

George Sandeman is a political blogger now writing almost exclusively on the forthcoming American presidential election at USA 2012: The Next President, and can be found on Twitter @GeorgeSandeman

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