Gingrich bids to bridge conservative divide
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 03:14:17 PM EST
With his new group, Renewing American Leadership, and his endorsement of Tax Day Tea Parties, the former House Speaker aims to unite religious and economic conservatives

Of all the possible political enterprises you'd expect to find the ubiquitous Newt Gingrich involved with, an effort aimed at uniting religious and economic conservatives would not immediately come to mind. "Drill Here. Drill Now. Pay Less." Sure. A health care reform plan advocating medical savings accounts? Absolutely. Privatizing Social Security? Definitely. Now with his eyes apparently firmly planted on the 2012 presidential sweepstakes, and sensing a definite opening, the smart and snarky former House Speaker -- who led the 1994 Republican Revolution that took control of the House for the first time in decades, and then later was forced to resign -- has formed an organization called Renewing American Leadership, which aims to breach the gap between conservative factions.

Dan Gilgoff recently reported in U.S. News & World Report that "At a time when many religious conservatives say the Republican Party is ignoring their issues and taking their support for granted, former House speaker and GOP idea man Newt Gingrich is turning his attention to the concerns of conservative Christians like never before."

Renewing American Leadership

Gingrich's new group Renewing American Leadership, was recently designated a nonprofit organization by the IRS. According to U.S. News, he will be "speak[ing] to a handful of large gatherings for politically conservative clergy that have been organized by David Barton, an influential evangelical activist who spearheaded the Republican National Committee's rigorous outreach to pastors in 2004." And, there's a movie "about the role that Pope John Paul II's 1979 trip to Poland played in bringing down the Soviet Union" that Gingrich will release sometime this fall.

"In the last few years I've decided that we're in a crisis in which the secular state, if allowed, will fundamentally and radically change America against the wishes of most Americans," Gingrich told Gilgoff in a phone interview. "You've had such rising hostility to religious belief that I wanted to reach broadly into the country and dramatically raise public awareness of threats to religious liberty."

Gingrich's actions are aimed at revivifying the relationship between economic and social conservatives: "There's too much finger-pointing between economic conservatives who say we're losing ground because of social conservatives and social conservatives who say the opposite," says Barton, who sits on Renewing American Leadership's board. "Instead of having a circular firing squad, we need to start identifying real allies and the real opponents."

"Secular conservatives often operate from a perspective that says, 'Why should I care about evangelical voters?'" said Rick Tyler, who served as Gingrich's spokesman before becoming founding director of Renewing American Leadership. "And I show them why: because when you turn out evangelical voters who support socially conservative candidates, you also get conservative economic policies."

Making conservatives grumble

Last year, when Gingrich appeared in a television advertising spot -- alongside current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) -- as part of Al Gore's $300 million campaign aimed at combating global warming, sponsored by the Alliance for Climate Protection, conservatives were steamed. Debra Saunders, a conservative columnist wrote that "Gingrich's role confirms the suspicion of many Republicans that the Newter will say anything to get his face in the limelight."

In a WorldNet Daily column titled "Newt Gingrich: Reaping with the enemy?" Doug Powers wrote: "As a political philosopher and historian, I have consistently considered Gingrich to be an upper-echelon conservative -- but fairly recently, something has happened to Newt. For one, he's jumped aboard the 'climate-change' train while claiming it's only so he can make sure the gauges aren't broken."

Joseph Bast, the president of the Heartland Institute, the conservative public policy institute that has long led those believing global warming is neither man-made nor a major threat, told John Andrews, a fellow at the conservative Claremont Institute that while "Gingrich was once an important figure in the conservative movement," his appearance in the advertisements run by Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection "confirms what many conservatives have been saying for quite awhile: Gingrich is no longer a conservative."

While Gingrich may have put smiles on the faces of his religious colleagues after there were mass demonstrations around the country following the passage of Proposition 8 -- the California initiative amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage - and he told the Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly that "[T]here is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us," his allies might be stunned to learn that one of the major funders of his American Solutions for Winning the Future, is Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Adelson, who has an estimated net worth in excess of $26.5 billion, has given Gingrich's group more than $5.4 million.

In 2006, Gingrich published "Rediscovering God in America" -- a book maintaining that the Founding Fathers vigorously encouraged religious expression in the public square. The following year, in what many interpreted as a first step towards a presidential run in 2008, Gingrich appeared on the radio program of Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson. When asked by Dobson about his personal failings, Gingrich said: "There are times that I have fallen short of my own standards. There's certainly times when I've fallen short of God's standards." The confessional was clearly aimed at assuring the base that he was done with serial affairs and divorces, and that he could be a trusted ally.  

Endorsing Tea Parties

Recently, Gingrich's new group has teamed up with Donald Wildmon's American Family Association "to encourage churches and religious groups to participate in no-more-taxes rallies across the country on April 15," Gilgoff reported.

Last week, American Solutions for Winning the Future -- an organization that bills itself as non-partisan, while raising millions of dollars from top-shelf longtime Republican Party donors -- announced that it was endorsing and supporting the Nationwide Tax Day Tea Party (NTDTP); a series of events scheduled in over 150 cities and towns across America on April 15 (Tax Day). The Nationwide Tea Party Coalition (NTPC) is a coalition -- formed February 20, 2009 by Dontgo Movement (Dontgo), Top Conservatives on Twitter (TCOT), Smart Girl Politics (SGP), and now includes Gingrich's American Solutions.  

"The American people are fed up with Washington's irresponsible spending spree," Gingrich, General Chairman of American Solutions, said. "There are better solutions than big government."

"I see Gingrich as the ultimate political opportunist," Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a contributor to Talk2Action, told me via e-mail. "He's very adept at exploiting the Religious Right and using its members to lift his profile while giving little back in return except for some speeches. If Gingrich were a liberal Democrat, Religious Right groups would attack him constantly over his personal life and sordid political connections. That they overlook it is only further proof of their hypocrisy."

Newt is first and foremost a political opportunist, we saw that when as Speaker, he tried to shut down the government, and then jumped on the impeach Clinton bandwagon despite Newt's own skeletons in the closet. One thing you can say about Newt, he certainly has no sense of shame or irony. His appeal to the Christian right has all the smell of opportunism about it.

by khughes1963 on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 06:51:14 PM EST
I read at TPM that Newt's becoming a Catholic.

It must have been all that talk about distributive and social justice that won him over.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Fri Mar 27, 2009 at 07:51:22 AM EST

From what I heard, Newt had his previous marriages to Jackie and Marianne annulled so he could marry wife #3, Callista Bisek, in a Catholic ceremony. Great, now we will have Newt the hypocrite to join the ranks of Randall Terry, Deal Hudson, and Screamin' Bill Donohue. Seeing ol' Newt reminds me of the old saying that "hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue."

by khughes1963 on Sun Mar 29, 2009 at 07:52:47 PM EST

Well I guess Gingrich has given up on the independent voters (well, at least for now), probably realizing that there aren't enough of them who are still dumb enough to buy into his shtick.

But I think he'll find that there aren't enough fundamentalists dumb enough to buy into his new-found enthusiasm for their causes either.

And that's Gingrich's problem.  He doesn't have a political base of support any more.  Republicans are still not interested in having a uncharismatic policy wonk as a leader no matter how he dresses himself up.  

by tacitus on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 07:19:57 PM EST

benefit of the doubt by those who know his history, social and economic conservatives are desperate for someone, anyone to come forward and outshine Pres. Obama. So, as I've seen in comments at Freeperville and other sites, many on the right are rooting for Gingrich's success, with caveats out the caboose.

by trog69 on Thu Mar 26, 2009 at 02:22:26 PM EST

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