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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Did Gingrich, in 1986, attack Reagan for "weak policies" that were "clearly failing" in the Cold War?

Remind me never to get on the wrong side of Elliott Abrams, who clearly has a long memory and holds a grudge. Nevertheless, if these purported quotations of then-mere-member Newt Gingrich criticizing Ronald Reagan in the mid 1980s are accurate and in context — I'm not vouching for them and haven't checked, so that's a sincere and substantial "if" — then those quotations may affect some opinions among the conservative faithful of 2012.

I'm surprised that Mr. Gingrich can still surprise me, but this did. (Hat-tip Betsy's Page via Maetenloch at Ace's.)

Posted by Beldar at 07:00 AM in 2012 Election, Congress, Politics (2012) | Permalink


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(1) JeffC made the following comment | Jan 26, 2012 9:31:39 AM | Permalink

so did WFB ... and Mitt Romney opposed Reagan every day he was President ...

(2) Milhouse made the following comment | Jan 27, 2012 2:13:26 PM | Permalink

It seems to me that there's a difference between attacking a policy as wrong, and attacking it for not going far enough, and for being inadequate to achieve its purpose. Gingrich agreed with Reagan's goals, but thought he wasn't doing enough to further those goals, and that his weak efforts would therefore fail. He turned out to be wrong; the enemy was weaker than he thought, and fell even to so weak an attack. That doesn't mean a stronger attack wouldn't have been better, and might not have worked better. This is fundamentally different from the attacks Reagan was getting from the likes of Ted Kennedy and Steven Solarz, who were against his goals, and on the other side. Kennedy even offered to collaborate with the enemy to bring Reagan down! I don't think they can be compared.

(3) Greg Q made the following comment | Jan 27, 2012 3:33:25 PM | Permalink

Sorry Milhouse, I think you're missing the point.

Newt said (and even his defenders agree that he said) that Reagan's rhetoric was "adequate", but his actions were weak and a failure.

Newt was wrong. His judgment was wrong, his assessment was wrong, and given that he made this assessment in 2006, and the Berlin Wall fell all of three years later, his crystal ball clearly sucks.

This all goes to what I perceive as Newt's biggest problem: he's entirely and unjustifiably full of himself. It's one of the big reasons why, now that Perry's gone, I'm supporting Romney.

(4) Beldar made the following comment | Jan 27, 2012 6:18:42 PM | Permalink

Milhouse, Newt is claiming to be Reagan's true heir. I didn't compare him to Ted Kennedy and agree that's not a good comparison. But these quotes are not those of a loyal, supportive ally. They're public declarations of no confidence, bordering on ridicule. Hindsight shows them to be ridiculously overblown. So I have to write this down as another episode of poor judgment on Gingrich's part — poor judgment in the 1980s when he attacked Reagan, and, less forgivably, poor judgment today in claiming he was Reagan's loyal collaborator and his current heir.

Somewhere inside Newt, there should be a self-governor that keeps him from making these preposterous exaggerations and inventing these fictions. The lack of such discipline has always been one of his major problems, and I think it is particularly crippling in the context of a presidential campaign in which he would be running against another man whose ego vastly exceeds his genuine accomplishments or merits.

(5) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 28, 2012 10:07:08 AM | Permalink

Reagan's biographer, Steven Hayward (who writes at Powerline), adds context and perspective.

(6) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 28, 2012 10:39:02 AM | Permalink

At Hot Air, Karl has a similar perspective.

(7) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 28, 2012 10:41:47 AM | Permalink

I agree with Karl. Ultimately this tells us more about Team Romney's abilities than Newt's conservatism.

(8) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 28, 2012 10:48:59 AM | Permalink

Since he seems to be taking an ownership role in the Romney campaign, I wonder what role John McCain might play in a Romney Administration?

(9) Beldar made the following comment | Jan 28, 2012 5:50:59 PM | Permalink

DRJ, thanks for the comments and links.

I'm happy to have people provide more context. I agree that it would be a mistake to contend that these quotes somehow prove that Gingrich is a closet liberal or that he consistently opposed the Reagan Administration. Either proposition would be silly. Moreover, I assume there's a vast amount of documentation out there somewhere — most of it pre-Internet, so it's a bit harder to track down and link — which would document Gingrich's frequent support of Reagan.

That's why I noted in my original post that I didn't know whether Abrams' comments were taken out of context or inaccurate. From the Gingrich's campaign's reaction, I gather they're accurate, but he does contend that the broader context has to be considered, and I don't quibble with that at all.


When I read these quotes, my reaction wasn't to conclude that Gingrich actually impeded Reagan on anything substantive, but simply that Gingrich's exercise of inexcusably bad judgment fits a consistent pattern that long, long predates his time as Speaker.

John Hood writes, on The Corner, that "the knock on Gingrich for criticizing Reagan is overblown," and links the same Hayward post from Powerline that you did, DRJ. In response, I left the following comment there (slightly revised here for clarity):

Mr. Hood, you're rather missing the point. If the main point were "Newt was mean to Ronnie," then your essay would make sense. The main point is whether Newt has consistently, since the 1980s, shown poor judgment in his public attacks on allies.

This isn't arriving on the scene in a vacuum, which your essay seems to presume. It arrives midst a GOP presidential primary in which Newt Gingrich had no answer and no excuse for why he sat on the famous outdoor couch with Nancy Pelosi, or why he savaged the Ryan/House budget as "right-wing social engineering."

The issue isn't being nice to Ronnie in 1986, it's whether Newt is too loose a cannon to entrust with the GOP nomination in 2012.

Isn't it?

It doesn't help Newt on that topic when someone points out that others in the 1980s were sometimes similarly imprudent and spectacularly wrong in criticizing Reagan. Will your next "defense" be that Newt also shoots off his own toes at least as often as he shoots off the toes of his allies? Because that's also true, and also no defense.

With due respect, I think Karl's analysis also pretty much misses this point. I disagree that this reflects badly on Romney or his campaign; they have to suck it up and acknowledge Romney's own self-distancing from other conservatives and the Reagan legacy when he was running in MA, but that ought not handcuff them from pointing out Gingrich's own deviations, which both pre-date and (much more disturbingly) post-date Romney's. Newt doesn't even have the mitigating circumstance of having had a moderate-to-liberal constituency; Scott Brown today is certainly vulnerable to the same criticism, but doubtless feels impelled to reflect that constituency, which frequently doesn't align itself with movement/ideological/constitutional conservatism.

And none of the "look at the context" arguments actually argue that Newt was right, do they? He wasn't; he was spectacularly wrong, so pointing out that his critique was "from Reagan's right" doesn't excuse the attacks.

Again, to summarize: my concern is the extent to which this further demonstrates a pattern of consistent poor judgment on Gingrich's part. And for that purpose, I think these quotes are fairly persuasive evidence.

Finally, re McCain, he's of course entitled to endorse and comment on this race. His endorsement is a non-event, however, and his day is past. I'd be very disappointed to see him entrusted with any responsibility in a future GOP administration; indeed, if I were an Arizona Republican I'd probably be actively supporting some worthy replacement for McCain in the Senate. I can't imagine why McCain would want a cabinet seat, even DoD, and I don't see any obvious upside to Romney or any other future GOP president from offering him one.

(10) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 28, 2012 6:12:08 PM | Permalink

Good points, and I agree the issue is who we want to entrust with the Presidency. I feel a lot more comfortable with a loose cannon than the author of RomneyCare, primarily because I think conservatives can push Gingrich to the right -- if and when it's needed. What leverage will conservatives have to push Romney anywhere?

(11) Beldar made the following comment | Jan 28, 2012 6:26:25 PM | Permalink

DRJ, we share many discontents. I share yours about Romney. I keep waiting for him to close the deal with me, to persuade me to hold my nose and climb on board. I was almost there in the last debate, in which I thought Romney did probably his best or second-best job of the series.

And then Santorum just absolutely pantsed him on that Romneycare cross-examination, and I thought: "Oh, Mitt, you should have had a serious change in heart, an epiphany about personal liberty and limited government, sometime no later than July of 2010 in which you repented and promised to mandate no more." I just want to grab his immaculately pressed suit lapels and shake him and say, "Admit you were wrong, Mitt, so you can claim your conservative redemption!" But he seems not to be able to do that.

Your indisputable observation of a few weeks ago, DRJ — that any "brokered convention" scenario would mean a candidate who hadn't been vetted and tested and trained by these debates and primary campaigns — is what keeps me from hoping none of these guys gets the nomination.

(12) Greg Q made the following comment | Jan 28, 2012 10:40:30 PM | Permalink


Unfortunately, IMHO you have things exactly backwards. newt thinks he's God's gift to Conservatism, and a genius among men who knows what's best for us. Our chances of pushing Newt one way, when his "brilliance" pushes him the other, are somewhere between slim and none.

Romney, OTOH, knows he's not trusted by conservatives, and that we're not going to cut him any slack. Assuming a House and Senate where Tea Party conservatives hold the balance of power, we will have far more leverage w/ President Romney than we would w/ President Gingrich.

Will I be holding my nose when I vote for Romney? Yes. But he's hands down better than Gingrich or Santorum. Because I want a GOP controlled Congress and Presidency come 2013, and I don't want the Republican Party lead by a self-important blow-hard.

(13) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 29, 2012 11:07:04 AM | Permalink

You have to have an over-sized ego to run for (let alone win) the Presidency, but I agree Romney knows conservatives don't trust him. You'd think he would try to win their trust by backing off RomneyCare, but he's not because either (a) he's a man of principle who can't imagine flip-flopping on an issue just to win an election, or (b) he knows he can't win the primary without relying heavily on moderates, so he doesn't want to back off it. I'm betting on (b) and that's one reason I think Romney will owe moderates, not conservatives, if he becomes President. I'm also concerned about Romney because he reminds me of McCain. I'm curious if you think McCain would have been a reliable conservative as President?

Finally, Gingrich isn't the only candidate with problems. Romney has problems that won't play well in the general election.

(14) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 29, 2012 11:18:13 AM | Permalink

To be more clear, as President, Romney will do what both Bushes did -- reach across the aisle to show he's above petty politics and a better leader than partisans like Obama. The more he stands up to the Tea Party and the conservatives, the less partisan and more Presidential he will look.

(15) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jan 29, 2012 12:41:41 PM | Permalink

Dear DRJ: Isn't one solution to your concern that Romney will be a reacher across aisles, that of electing the most conservative Congress possible, e.g. one Ted Cruz et. al.? Given the Democrats tendency to eliminate their own right wing (see: Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln) who is Prez Romney going to "reach to?" I should think Gingrich's sofa chats with Pelosi would cause far more alarm than they have. You can't reach much farther than trying to shake Pelosi's hoofs.

Your point about an unvetted dark horse candidate is well taken. I object to it on these grounds: in all the cannonading done to Romney and Gingrich, have you seen any evidence that either one is developing an effective defense against the broadsides? I haven't. All that seems to be happening is that the Democratic opposition researchers are having easy pickings.

"Least said, soonest mended." This old saw has some truth to it. I'm far less wild for Romney than I was in 2008. But that Gingrich could savage Paul Ryan's thinking in 2011 as "right wing social engineering" gives me pause in that quarter. This primary season will just have to be lived through.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(16) Beldar made the following comment | Jan 29, 2012 3:06:45 PM | Permalink

DRJ, I share all of your concerns, and in like degree, about the possibility that Romney, when elected, would "move to the center" and away from solid conservative principles. But the reason you think Newt would not be suckered into Bush-like agreements with the Democrats on important matters of principle is ... ?

We're talking about the same Newt who — unforced, for no reciprocal gain to the GOP or conservatism whatsoever — climbed onto the couch with Nancy.

I'm sorry, but I think it's quite a bit more likely that Newt would make deals with the Dems and then adopt the Dems' language to then excoriate his (former) supporters on the right — exactly as Newt's adopted the Dems' anti-capitalism class-warfare memes in attacking Romney re Bain, and exactly as he adopted the Dems' "right-wing social engineering" language to attack the House budget last April.

The nature of a loose cannon is that you don't know who it's going to shoot. And that, alas, is the essence of Newt.

(17) Greg Q made the following comment | Jan 29, 2012 5:21:57 PM | Permalink


I think Romney is a weather-vane, and will go whichever way he is pushed. With a Republican House and Senate, and lots of Tea Party conservatives in both, I expect Romney to be pushed to the right. With the Tea Party primarying "Republicans" who vote with the Democrats, and with Romney having absolutely Zero ability to go to Tea Partiers and say "please don't primary this person, I need him / her", I expect that the laws that end up on Romney's desk will be laws I want to see passed. And I don't expect him to veto them.

Gingrich? Him I would expect to veto laws that didn't meet his desires. And I also expect him to want to engage in some "Grand Bargins" that leave conservatives screwed.

No thanks.

(18) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 29, 2012 8:37:52 PM | Permalink

We'll be able to compare notes and see if you're right in a couple of years. If Romney is the GOP nominee, I hope he wins the general election and I hope even more that your analysis is spot on.

(19) DRJ made the following comment | Jan 29, 2012 8:43:47 PM | Permalink

Gregory Koster,

What you say is true and I wouldn't worry about this if Romney were running for Governor of Texas, but there are plenty of moderates to reach out to in the rest of America -- especially in the Northeast and Midwest that he calls home. I fear a President Romney would want to impress the DC/Beltway and his home region's politicians more than he would want to reach out to Red State politicians, much like the Rockefeller Republicans from my youth. I hope this is my weakness and not Romney's.

(20) Beldar made the following comment | Jan 29, 2012 10:23:36 PM | Permalink

I just watched, from DVR, this morning's Fox News Sunday. The featured guests were Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan. And right now my forehead is sore from beating it against the wall.

I'm not taking down my "Draft Ryan" sidebar until there's a GOP nominee.

(21) DRJ made the following comment | Feb 1, 2012 12:34:28 PM | Permalink

Hold out hope for Ryan all you want, Beldar -- after all, I don't think Obama has a copyright on Hope and Change -- but I think it's just a form of denial. Like them or not, these are our candidates.

For me, there are elections when principles means more than persons, and I think this is one of those elections. Gingrich may have a super-sized ego but Romney has no conservative principles. Hoping a mushy, divided Congress will compensate for that is far more dangerous for our future than one President's ego.

(22) DRJ made the following comment | Feb 1, 2012 12:52:23 PM | Permalink

What about Santorum?

(23) Beldar made the following comment | Feb 1, 2012 8:33:38 PM | Permalink

Santorum has impressed me during this campaign so far, and I already had a generally favorable opinion of him. He's substantially to my right on several social issues, but so too are most of the other GOP candidates. However, Santorum lacks ideological consistency and clarity on some other issues that are higher on my list of priorities: His notion that we should prefer "manufacturing" businesses to others in the tax code, for example, betrays a disturbing willingness to use the federal government to pick winners and losers, and an unjustifiable Obama-like belief in the ability of smart regulators to draw such lines (the definitional problems would be vast and would end up just further empowering an already bloated and power-mad federal taxing bureaucracy). I think he's an old-school traditional Eastern Republican, a man of the 20th Century and not the 21st. And while I find him personally likable, he polls disastrously, and lost his last Senate election by a larger margin than other GOP candidates on the same ballot in the same election, to a not particularly distinguished opponent. In particular, because of the zeal with which he promotes his views on social issues, Santorum will happily, even eagerly, permit Obama to re-define this election to be mostly about those issues -- thereby permitting Obama to paint Santorum in frightening terms that will divert attention and responsibility from Obama's own abysmal performance. So I'd prefer Santorum to Gingrich or Paul, but not to Romney, under the rationale of the "William F. Buckley Rule": He's the most conservative candidate, but every objective indication is that he's outside the set of conservative candidates who can win a general election, so he won't have my support unless and until he wins the nomination.

I share your concerns about Romney. I don't share your belief that Gingrich is more principled than Romney, though, and I am certain that Gingrich is much more a creature than Romney of the very "Washington elites" that Gingrich now purports to be running against. In terms of the Buckley Rule, I'm unpersuaded that Newt is more conservative than Mitt — the only way Newt wins that calculation is if you discount to zero Mitt's claims to have become more conservative with age and experience, because on their current positions, Gingrich is either singing from the same hymnal as Romney (e.g., both have supported an individual mandate requiring purchase of government-approved healthcare, but neither claims to support a federal mandate now) or Gingrich is objectively to Romney's left (e.g., on illegal immigration, in which Gingrich seems to be in favor of an outright amnesty). I don't and won't forgive Newt for his Freddie Mac bonanza, nor for his embrace of Nancy Pelosi and the AGW hoax, nor for his "right-wing social engineering" attack on Paul Ryan and the House GOP budget. I am still spitting mad at Gingrich for his incredible betrayal of the entire conservative movement when he embraced Democratic/populist anti-capitalist arguments in trying to demonize Romney's wealth and his performance at Bain; that was treacherous and stupid, unforgivably so. And while I think Newt did wonderful things on his path to becoming Speaker, those accomplishments are (a) now quite distant, (b) nearly outweighed by the shambles in which he left the House GOP when he was forced out, and (c) thoroughly outweighed by his current disorganization and unreliability as a candidate and, alas, as a human being.

I also believe Newt is spectacularly unelectable in a general election. How is he supposed to beat Obama now, when he couldn't beat Clinton in a very principled fight over the government shut-downs of 1995 and 1996? Coming out of that slugging match, Gingrich's negatives were already high, and with the blunders he's made in this campaign he's doubled or tripled them. He lacks the charm of Reagan, so he's not going to soothe anyone's fears about him; instead, he doubles down, and he's often quite nasty and hateful. The man has no clutch between his brain and his lips. He can't even be trusted to qualify for the primary ballot in Virginia, his current home state! No, Newton Leroy Gingrich is just too leaky, damaged, and flawed a vessel in which to entrust our hopes for beating Obama. So I won't be supporting him unless and until he wins the nomination either, and I prefer him only to Nor Laup among those currently in the race.

I very much wish, in fact, that Gingrich would drop out, and let Santorum and Romney carry on to the convention. Without Gingrich soaking up all the oxygen, Santorum might have the chance to prove me wrong about his general-election electability, but he'd have to start by proving that in the remaining GOP primaries; and I see no chance of that happening if Gingrich stays in the race.

(24) DRJ made the following comment | Feb 3, 2012 10:34:38 AM | Permalink

What makes you think Congress will be conservative enough to push Romney right? This WSJ article suggests the GOP may not even be able to hold the House, let alone re-take the Senate. My guess is that will be even more problematic in 2014 if we elect a Republican President in 2012.

At least Gingrich cared about balancing the budget at one point in his career. When has Romney fought for anything conservatives believe in?

(25) Beldar made the following comment | Feb 3, 2012 3:29:27 PM | Permalink

DRJ, I'm not by any means sure that "Congress will be conservative enough to push Romney right." I hope so, and think that's a goal worth working toward whoever becomes the GOP presidential nominee. If in fact I were sure of that, or even very confident in it, I might have jumped on the Romney bandwagon. But I'm not there yet. As I wrote on January 7th, the possibility that pragmatism (as related to hopes for a second term) and a GOP Congress might drag Romney to the right when his instincts are toward the center or its left is simply the "best comfort for American conservatives who are wondering whether they can generate enthusiastic support for Gov. Romney if he becomes the nominee." It might be a sufficient hope to push some doubters over into the Romney camp now. It hasn't yet done that for me, but it will be the best consolation available if in fact Romney becomes the nominee.

(There are other unique and different consolations I could point to if any of the other existing candidates became the nominee. None of those factors have yet been sufficient to overcome the reservations I have about those candidates, either.)

If the Texas primary were tomorrow, I'd reluctantly cast my vote for Romney as the least-worst alternative on the ballot. But that doesn't mean I'd be happy about it, and I continue to believe that there are better candidates available to the GOP than any now running, even if that's unrealistic and even if you're right (as you well may be) that I'm simply in denial.

As for Newt and the balanced budgets he claims credit for:

Gingrich and Bill Clinton, of course, both want to take near-exclusive credit for the short period of supposedly balanced budgets in the late 1990s. (Of course, none of those actually turned out to stop the growth of the federal deficit even in those years; the "balance" was based on some assumptions that didn't pan out.) I personally think that neither is entitled to more than a fraction of the credit they claim. Rather, most of the short-term and temporary improvement in the amount of deficit spending was due to increased tax revenues from an economy that was consolidating productivity gains from increased world-wide trade and, especially, the integration of the computer and information-age revolution.

And things are very different today, as I know you fully appreciate, DRJ. Gingrich and Clinton didn't have to face the enormous outlays in entitlement spending that are now bearing down upon us, and they didn't even pretend to do that. Now, the only responsible and comprehensive plan offered by either party to reform those programs has come from today's GOP leaders in the House — the "Young Guns," Paul Ryan foremost among them. Not only can Gingrich not be given any credit for their work, he's done everything a former GOP House Speaker could do to discredit them and to legitimize the most outrageous attacks on them by Democrats.

Why did Gingrich make that "right-wing social engineering crack"? It wasn't because he had a better plan. He didn't; worse, he still doesn't. He made that crack because he thought — impulsively, and incorrectly, and cravenly — that he'd gain a political advantage by adopting language of the Left to attack someone whom he perceived as being to his own right. That was Newt trying to look moderate — quite the opposite of what he's trying to do now.

To me, that's a disqualifying factor that outweighs any credit he gets for work he did almost two decades ago as speaker. But your mileage may vary. I acknowledge that these are very subjective judgments, and I'd never argue that my own is the only reasonable judgment.

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