Gingrich Wisely Left Rockefeller Off Conservative Resume : It's All Politics Newt Gingrich is being criticized by some conservatives for once being a Rockefeller Republican. But while the former speaker left that part of his history out of Monday's debate, he has acknowledged it in the past but shifted right in the late 1970s at a time when that move helped him win a congressional seat in Georgia.
NPR logo Gingrich Wisely Left Rockefeller Off Conservative Resume

Gingrich Wisely Left Rockefeller Off Conservative Resume

At Monday night's Tampa debate, Newt Gingrich left the very strong impression that he was a rock-ribbed conservative all the way back to the Barry Goldwater "extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice" days of the Republican Party.

But as some in the Twittersphere and elsewhere were pointing out Tuesday, four years after Goldwater's White House hopes were buried under LBJ's 1964 landslide, Gingrich actually worked for Nelson Rockefeller, the New York governor who epitomized the northern Republican with moderate to liberal stances.

His critics are using a 1988 video where Gingrich admits as much to allege that Gingrich's expertise as a historian is revisionism.


But in Monday's debate where he was arguing his case for having the best conservative credentials of the candidates, it made sense that Gingrich would've name-checked Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp and omitted Rockefeller. Some experience just doesn't help you get the job you want, in Gingrich's case, the Republican presidential nomination.

Ed Kilgore who writes for the New Republic wrote a piece last March that outlined in broad strokes Gingrich's rightward shift right. Of Gingrich's runs for Congress in the 1970s, Kilgore wrote:

"His incumbent opponent was John Flynt, an old-fashioned conservative Democrat best known for being on the League of Conservation Voters' "Dirty Dozen" list of environmental reactionaries. Unlike many Georgia Republicans who sought to out-flank Dixiecrats by coming across as better-bred right-wing extremists, Gingrich ran to Flynt's left, emphasizing environmentalist and "reform" themes, and enlisting significant support from liberal Democrats. Unfortunately for him, these were the two worst election cycles for Georgia Republicans since the 1950s (the Watergate election of 1974 and Jimmy Carter's Georgia landslide of 1976), and he lost narrowly both times.

"But then Flynt retired, just as Gingrich's form of liberal Republicanism was falling out of fashion nationwide, in the run-up to Ronald Reagan's election as president in 1980. When Gingrich ran for Congress again in 1978, this time against a more conventional Democrat, he reinvented himself as a fighting conservative focused on anti-tax and anti-welfare messages."

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Gingrich's anti-welfare message now is that he wants to be a "jobs president" versus Obama who he derides as a "food stamp president."