Over the last three months, Trump watchers have noticed that former House speaker and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has been consistently advocating on Trump’s behalf in the media, on Capitol Hill, among K Street power brokers, and on social media. In fact, Gingrich has morphed into Trump’s unofficial ambassador for GOP peace and unity, while also seeking converts in hostile territory.
Gingrich is the most recognized and respected member of the GOP establishment who is defending the insurgent candidate — even as Trump rails against that same establishment. But now, it has become apparent that Gingrich is waging an active campaign to become Donald Trump’s running mate.
Validating those efforts, Gingrich’s name recently appeared in the pages of the New York Times on a list of “Who Might (or Might Not) Be Donald Trump’s Running Mate if He’s the Nominee.” Which leads one to ask: Could a Trump-Gingrich ticket be a brilliant game-changing winner, or would Gingrich be buying a first-class ticket on the Trump Titanic?
These days, any Trump World speculation is incomplete without comments from Roger Stone — Trump’s high-profile, long-time, on-again-off-again unofficial consigliere who was called “Donald Trump’s Donald Trump” in a recent Politico interview. When I asked Stone about a Trump-Gingrich ticket he said, “Newt has been enormously helpful defending Trump against the establishment” and that he “should be on Trump’s short list.” Most tellingly, Stone told me that “Newt is a revolutionary, and Trump is leading a revolution.”
Curious about Gingrich’s reaction to Stone’s “revolution” comment and to his name being mentioned on the Times’s VP list, I reached out to the former Speaker. This is what he said:
It is an honor to be mentioned. We need a new Contract with America to outline a 100-day plan to take back Washington from the lobbyists, bureaucrats, unions, and leftists. After helping in 1980 with Reagan and 1995 as speaker I know we have to move boldly and decisively before the election results wear off and the establishment starts fighting us. That is my focus.
His answer speaks volumes. In the Times article Gingrich is quoted as saying that “it would be very hard for a patriotic citizen to say no” and that “very few people pass up the chance to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.” I think it’s safe to say that Newt is actively developing a new Contract while awaiting Trump’s call.
I asked Mark McKinnon, former chief media advisor to the presidential campaigns of President George W. Bush and SenatorJohn McCain to weigh in on a Trump-Gingrich ticket. He told me that “Gingrich would add steroids to the [Trump] revolution brand message, yet still bring a wealth of D.C. knowledge and experience that could be helpful.” McKinnon also added this perspective: “The conventional wisdom when picking a VP is to shore up your weaknesses. But, if your whole campaign has been about defying convention, why not double down on your strength?”
“It’s what Bill Clinton did when he picked another young southerner [Al Gore] for his ticket,” McKinnon noted.
Gingrich may not be your traditional populist outsider — he was, after all, the speaker of the House of Representatives — but Newt still maintains a patina of “outsiderness.” If Trump is the embodiment of the populist fantasy of the outsider — with no political experience — who is thrust into power by an angry electorate with a mandate to turn Washington on its head, right all the wrongs, and “make America great again,” Gingrich could be Trump’s wise sidekick. Even Trump knows the outsider-reformist mission is next to impossible, and that is precisely why he is quoted in another Times piece saying that he wants a VP with “a strong political background, who was well respected on the Hill, who can help me with legislation, and who could be a great president.”
Now, who does that sound like?
Besides Newt, only four of ten others on the Times VP list seem to be open to running for the nomination rather than running away from it. They are retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin, and Alabama senator Jeff Sessions. For the record, Sessions is the only senator who has endorsed Trump, and is openly advising his campaign.
Even though the Times lists Ohio governor John Kasich as a possible Trump pick — I made the case for why a Trump-Kasich ticket would make sense back in January — that is looking less and less likely with each passing day. But even when it comes to passing legislation and pulling the levers of power, Gingrich’s skill set and experience are actually better suited to helping Trump than Kasich’s. To use a military analogy: While serving on Capitol Hill, Representative Kasich was a mere one-star general. Gingrich, on the other hand, was the five-star supreme commander when, in 1994, he led the “Republican Revolution” that took back control of the House after four decades of Democratic party rule.
Roger Stone told me that “Gingrich is a man who loves public service.” And I say, at age 73, he has everything to gain and nothing to lose — except maybe his Fox News contract. Even if a Trump-Gingrich ticket were to lose, Newt’s media profile would have been substantially raised and he could cash in with new television contracts, as an author, and on the speaking circuit.
There are other advantages. We already know that in a no-holds-barred Clinton vs. Trump general-election campaign, Trump will be as bombastic as ever. Gingrich, as Trump’s running mate, could be deployed to throw policy red-meat back at Hillary and Bill. Gingrich would be especially effective when the Clintons wax eloquent about their presidential legacy. That is when Gingrich could speak real truth to power because he — more than any other person in Washington — helped shape the Clinton presidency from his perch as speaker of the House. During those volatile years (a period that culminated in Gingrich’s shocking resignation), it was the Clintons vs. Gingrich in political hand-to-hand combat. Now, more than two decades later, a potential Trump-Gingrich vs. the Clinton Machine matchup has all the makings of an epic battle.
Furthermore, if Trump remained weak on policy specifics, speaking only in broad strokes and grand gestures, Gingrich could play wing-man: Trump knows that no one is more versed in the nuances of foreign and domestic policy than Newt Gingrich.
There is an obvious downside, however, of a Trump-Gingrich ticket: With gender issues shaping up to be a yuuge factor in the general election, Newt’s three marriages are sure to raise red flags that Team Clinton will joyfully exploit. Fortunately for him, since 2000, it appears that he has been happily married to the very accomplished Callista Gingrich. Still, with six marriages between Trump and Gingrich, one can only imagine all the trophy-wife jokes that would be thrown at the Republican ticket — especially given that both men are currently married to stunning women 20-plus-years their junior.
The real question is whether Newt would hinder Trump’s ability to attract female voters. That’s unlikely — the real onus for attracting women voters will fall on Trump. But assuming Callista plays an active role in the campaign, she could be a tremendous asset both to Gingrich and to Trump, helping to smooth some of their rougher edges.
Gingrich is media-savvy and a mega fundraising asset. He is good on the campaign trail and could solidify support among conservatives. Newt and Callista could even help rally Catholics. Most important, Gingrich legitimizes Trump’s candidacy and would refine Trump’s somewhat unartful domestic and foreign-policy positions. And if the current general-election polls are correct, and Trump has alienated Hispanic and female voters to the point where the Republican ticket is going to be soundly beaten — Gingrich could possibly use some of his own political capital to help minimize down-ballot losses by stumping for endangered Republican senators and members of Congress.
A Trump-Gingrich ticket would send a strong signal that “Make America Great Again” is not just a campaign slogan but the theme for a new Republican Revolution — with Newt Gingrich as its chief strategist.
Cross-posted at National Review Online