Gingrich Offers Advice For Future GOP Solutions
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
On this day before a Democratic president's inauguration, it's worth recalling that it wasn't that long ago that Republicans swept Washington. In 1994, the party won a majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years, and the man who engineered the takeover was Newt Gingrich. He has two bits of advice now for his fellow Republicans today.
Mr. NEWT GINGRICH: The first is to look back over the last four or five years and figure out what went wrong. Unless they learn some lessons, there's no reason to believe that they're going to be better prepared to govern in the future.
The second challenge for Republicans is to become the better-solutions party, not the opposition party. It's very easy to get tempted to just scream no, and that's not a very adequate role. The American people know we have very real challenges both at home and abroad, and the job of the Republican Party during this period in the minority is to take the time, focus the energy, and come up with an entire generation of new solutions.
INSKEEP: New solutions for what Newt Gingrich says is the biggest challenge today: an economy in crisis. Our Renee Montagne sat down with the former House speaker in his Washington office.
Mr. GINGRICH: The real challenges to President-elect Obama makes partisan posturing irrelevant. He's going to inherit an economic mess. It is a genuine historic mess. It's deep enough, it's big enough, it's frightening enough. Three or four years from now, he's either going to have carried us a long way towards recovery, or he's not. And all of these partisans sniping between now and then aren't going to make much difference.
RENEE MONTAGNE: Let me ask you about tax cuts that have come up in the stimulus package that's being proposed. When I spoke recently to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, he said those tax cuts were a good way to get bipartisan support.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): The one thing that unifies Republicans, typically, from Maine to Mississippi is tax relief. And depending upon how this tax component is crafted, it could well have broad Republican appeal, and make it much more likely that the measure passes with broad, bipartisan support, which is what the new president would like, and what we would like.
MONTAGNE: Why are tax cuts so critical to ensuring Republican support?
Mr. GINGRICH: I think for two reasons. I think first, because Republicans as a general rule want to see government smaller and not larger, and cutting taxes and reducing revenue is one of the ways of achieving that.
And second, because Republicans believe that real job creation occurs largely in the private sector. In a sense, there's a party of entrepreneurial, small business and self-employed and free enterprise, and there's a party of bureaucracy and politicians and government spending. And they're fundamentally different theories of how the economy works.
MONTAGNE: Although there is a question of whether Republicans are too narrowly focused on the tax issue, maybe just at this point in time. If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to play another clip. And this is an interview that we did with conservative columnist David Frum.
Mr. DAVID FRUM (Columnist): You don't want to forget who you are. Republicans are the party of limited government, lower taxes, pro business, more freedom. That's all understood. Then you take that philosophy, and you listen to people when they tell you what's bothering them. And if they say, you know, I'm a lot more bothered about health care than I am about taxes, you don't say well, then, we have a nice tax cut for you.
MONTAGNE: Does that ring true to you?
Mr. GINGRICH: Well, look, I think first of all, having helped balance the budget for four years and pay off $400 billion in federal debt, Republicans ought to be for smarter government rather than dumber government. And I think that if you're to go around and interview everybody and say, how big do you think the government would be if it was as small as possible? If you went around and interviewed the 40 most conservative Republican members of the House and Senate. They're talking about a government that's still a trillion, $500 billion. Well, we ought to then have a smart, trillion, $500 billion government, not a dumb one. Lincoln built the transcontinental railroads, one of the key factors in the rising Republican majority of his generation. Theodore Roosevelt built the Panama Canal. Eisenhower proposed the interstate highway system as a national defense act and as a result, every middle-class American has been able to go on vacation and visit their families and do things. There are smart things government should do. My favorite, for example: doubling the size of the National Science Foundation. I think it's absolutely imperative that we make the investment to remain the world's leader in science and technology. And the Republicans ought to play a role of offering you both lower taxes, smaller government, but also much more effective government.
MONTAGNE: But those projects that you've just mentioned as examples, they sound very much like the projects that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi mentioned to us just a few days ago.
Mr. GINGRICH: Well, I haven't heard them describe any large projects. I mean, Lincoln didn't...
MONTAGNE: Education, national - mass transit.
Mr. GINGRICH: Throwing money at things, but, you know, Lincoln didn't say let's build 75 small railroads, one in each congressman's district.
MONTAGNE: She did, though, say no earmarks.
Mr. GINGRICH: Well, I'd be interested in seeing how they spend the money. You can have a bill that says, I am for transportation, here's $40 billion, there are no earmarks, but by the way, the whole bill is going to be spent fixing potholes. There's a huge jump from the transcontinental railroad president to a pothole presidency. What I've seen so far is a tendency to have relatively tiny projects that have no strategic impact on the country's long-term future.
MONTAGNE: Would you identify those as the shovel-ready projects that are being so much talked about?
Mr. GINGRICH: Yeah. And my question is, you know, are they shovel-ready projects that get you beyond temporary employment of shovels?
MONTAGNE: Let me just ask you one last question. What is your assessment, though, of President-elect Barack Obama in this latter period of transition? I'm really thinking of the fact that he succeeded in freeing up the $350 billion left in the Troubled Assets Relief Program, TARP, by going to the hill and twisting arms.
Mr. GINGRICH: Sure. I give President-elect Barack Obama very high marks, both for how he selected his Cabinet and his staff, and the fact that he did the opposite of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt in 1932 would not intervene at all until the inauguration, and the situation got much worse. President-elect Obama has intervened in talking with the president of Mexico about what I think is the largest foreign policy challenge we have, which is the civil war under way in Mexico. And President-elect Obama took the lead in reaching out to the Senate to get the additional money. And while I happen to think the money is largely being wasted, from his perspective, to achieve what he wanted, he was right to intervene. So he's actually, I think, probably been the most active pre-inaugural president-elect in American history.
MONTAGNE: And you think that's a good thing?
Mr. GINGRICH: I think that in this circumstance - I think it fits the nature of our time. And you have 24-hour news cycles, and I suspect we'll look for ways to accelerate the transitions in the future, because I don't think once you've had a decision by the American people, you necessarily want to wait two months in order to make the transition to new leadership.
MONTAGNE: Mr. Gingrich, thank you very much.
Mr. GINGRICH: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaking with our own Renee Montagne. Since leaving public office, Mr. Gingrich founded the Center for Health Transformation, which is a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Now tomorrow, NPR News will bring you live coverage of the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama. We will broadcast on many member stations; we start at 10 o'clock Eastern Time, 7 o'clock on the West Coast. And if you simply must see it as well as hear it, turn on the TV. Turn down the sound. Listen to the NPR voices you trust. You can also visit npr.org at your desk or on your mobile phone to watch video, join our chats and get in-depth analysis tomorrow.
This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.