GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
Judging by the attacks on Newt Gingrich at last night's GOP debate in Des Moines, the former House speaker is the man to beat for the moment.
NEWT GINGRICH: I think people have to look at the person to whom they're going to loan the presidency. And they have the - they have the right to ask every single question. They have to have a feeling that this is a person that they can trust with the level of power we give to the presidency. And I think that's a very, very important issue.
RAZ: Gingrich now leads most polls in Iowa. The past few weeks have seen a remarkable turnaround for his campaign. It wasn't long ago when his bid was all but left for dead. Just this past summer, nearly his entire campaign staff resigned on a single day.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: There is breaking news...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Media outlets are calling it Newtiny.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: His entire senior campaign staff has quit today.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: After a string of awkward missteps...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Politicos and pundits reporting on the Newtiny agree Gingrich is done for.
RAZ: One of those staffers who left was Gingrich's longtime communications aide Rick Tyler. He's here in the studio with me. Rick, welcome to the program.
RICK TYLER: I'm glad to be here.
RAZ: Before I ask about what happened between then and now, I want to ask about last night's debate. Take a listen to how Gingrich's rivals went after him.
REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL: He's taken some positions that are not conservative. He supported the TARP funds. He said that he would like to eliminate in some cases the child labor laws.
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: If you will cheat on your wife, if you will cheat on your spouse, then why wouldn't you cheat on your business partner, or why wouldn't you cheat on anybody for that matter?
RAZ: OK. It clearly - he seems to be the man to beat for the moment, but not just in Iowa, I suspect, but for the nomination.
TYLER: Well, I think that's right. I mean, the national polls now have him ahead by double digits. I read 12 percent on one poll, a national poll this morning. He's clearly the guy to beat in Iowa and in South Carolina and in many ways. His - the gap between he and Romney is closing in New Hampshire.
RAZ: Do you think Romney's worried, genuinely worried about him?
TYLER: Of course, he's worried. I mean, one thing that's remarkable to me is that Newt Gingrich had every opportunity to, of course, attack his preceding front-runners and never did so. And now he's the front-runner and people are attacking him. And what's really amazing about this campaign is it seems that the base does not want you to attack a fellow Republican.
And I've seen on Tea Party focus groups that the Tea Party activists cringe when one Republican attacks another. And I know in some ways, negative advertising can work. For some reason, it does not seem to be working in this campaign.
RAZ: Now that he is clearly the front-runner, let me ask about a potential weakness. He has been called undisciplined. He speaks off-the-cuff. For example, in recent days, he seemed to suggest that Palestinians don't have legitimate claims to statehood. I mean, you were his spokesman for so long. Does he need to be reined in from time to time?
TYLER: I think there has been an occasion in Newt's career where he is seemingly undisciplined. I worked for Newt for 12 years, and I will say that he has always fostered the spirit of creativity. And I think in many ways, that's served him very well. He actually orchestrated the first balanced budget since the 1920s, did that for four straight years, created welfare reform, which was a cultural change. Ronald Regan had introduced it 23 years prior, he got it done. Paid off $400 billion worth of debt. Eleven million jobs were created during Speaker Gingrich's tenure. And taxes were cut. Now that takes an extraordinary amount of strategy and creativity, and you have to foster creativity.
And so Newt does often listen to a lot of ideas and talks out loud about a lot of ideas. But I would urge people to look at the legislative record. That is, what actually made it into law and judge that against the conservative agenda as opposed to just saying, gee, Newt had this idea that didn't ultimately fit in the conservative agenda and he dropped it.
RAZ: Hearing you speak right now, it's hard not to imagine that you are his spokesman. I mean, you are clearly very, very loyal to him.
TYLER: I'm loyal to both Newt and Callista Gingrich. I think of them as my family. I mean, many principles will set aside, you know, this is my family and this is my staff. Newt never did that. So I'm just grateful for the whole experience.
RAZ: Rick, what happened between the summer when he was, as I say, all but left for dead, polling in the single digits, nobody thought the guy had a shot, to now? I mean, how did he turn this whole thing around?
TYLER: I think Newt's biggest mistake, actually, was hiring senior advisers.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
TYLER: I mean, Newt is probably the smartest political strategist in the country bar none. Maybe Bill Clinton might be a close second. And it turns out when Newt is the senior strategist to his own campaign, you can see the results. When he wasn't, you saw the results there. And, you know, for my own part, I think I lost perspective in the campaign, and that happens in people in politics from time to time.
RAZ: When you say lost perspective, what do you mean?
TYLER: We had an avalanche fall on us. And...
RAZ: The avalanche...
TYLER: Just an onslaught of negative press and missteps and things that could've been done.
RAZ: I mean, this is after he called Paul Ryan's plan social engineering, right-wing social engineering.
TYLER: Yeah. But notice in the end, Newt was right. Now it was an inelegant way of saying to Paul Ryan that you should listen to my advice. But, I mean, the guy who reforms welfare with a Democratic president gets half the Democrat Congress to vote for it. If you're looking for large-scale change, and Newt Gingrich gives you advice, I'd take the advice. Ultimately, Newt was right. He was saying you can't compel people into a program that they may or may not want to go into. You have to make it optional, let the market work and let people choose to migrate there.
RAZ: But at the time he made those comments and at the time there was all of this, as you say, negative press about Newt Gingrich, you felt that this was irreparable. This campaign was going nowhere.
TYLER: Yeah, I did.
RAZ: That's why you left.
TYLER: Absolutely. I thought it was going nowhere. I thought we were, you know, but I should've had the long view, which Newt did, which was we're going to dig in ourselves out of the avalanche and ascend the mountain. That's where he is today.
RAZ: Was he angry with you?
TYLER: He didn't express anger. I think in some ways - and we've talked subsequently - that, you know, that he was hurt and I felt horrible that I had actually might have hurt his feelings. I mean, it just felt like he was hurt over it and I just felt terrible about it. But, you know, again, people do lose their perspective in politics. People who cover politics lose their perspective from time to time. So that is what happened.
RAZ: It sounds like you'd be happy to go back.
TYLER: I've left that door open. I mean, you know, I want to help Newt.
RAZ: Do you think at some point, you would want to say to him, look, I'm sorry if I let you down? I'm sorry?
TYLER: I would say it right now. Newt, if I let you down, I'm sorry.
RAZ: That's Rick Tyler. He was Newt Gingrich's campaign spokesman and his personal spokesman for more than 12 years. Rick, thank you so much for being here.
TYLER: Glad to do it. Thanks.
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