I have been a fan of Newt Gingrich for nearly a quarter-century. I first heard him speak in the summer of 1982 at the College Republicans’ 90th anniversary and was impressed with his energy and his vision. At the time, he seemed a younger version of Ronald Reagan. He could well and succinctly promote conservative ideas, using terms and anecdotes to which ordinary people — as well as idealistic college students — could relate.
I applied to intern with him and worked in his office the following summer. I had hoped that this smart, principled man could serve as a mentor to me. Instead, I saw a human dynamo, a man always moving. He didn’t even have a desk in his office.
So focused was Newt on the big picture that he rarely attended committee meetings and did not seem much interested in the details of legislation. (The latter quality not too different from Ronald Reagan.) He had countless ideas for how to build the GOP nationally, such that I predicted he would neglect the Georgia district he represented and lose his seat in 1990. (That year, he barely held onto his seat, winning reelection by only 974 votes.)
Despite my appreciation for the former House Speaker’s commitment to conservative principles, I think he would make a lousy president. He is more a philosopher than a statesman. Whereas former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has distinguished himself as a leader, Gingrich has distinguished himself as an idealistic pugilist, more eager to put forward his ideas, engage his intellectual adversaries than to take decisive action.
Powerline‘s Paul Mirengoff agrees. To be sure, he did appreciate Newt’s presentation last night at Cooper Union with former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. But, he finds the former House Speaker “more valuable doing what he is doing at present.” (Over at National Review Online, Stephen Spruiell offers a good summary of the event.)
Paul’s got that one right. Newt is more valuable doing what he’s doing at present. We need outspoken men of ideas like Gingrich on our side. Removed from elective office, he can serve his party better since he no longer has to mince his words. He can tell the truth about the state of his party. And he has, having become an excellent critic of the GOP, attempting to keep his fellow Republicans “honest,” that is, true to our principles.
And that’s why he should continue to speak out in fora like that at Cooper Union — and on TV talk shows. But, he should not throw his hat into the presidential ring unless his purpose is to remind his fellow Republicans that they are seeking the mantle of Ronald Reagan — and taking on that mantle means articulating and defending conservative ideas.
Outside of politics, the former House Speaker has dedicated himself to promoting to those ideas. It would nice if more Republicans who are in the arena showed a similar commitment.