The Long March of Newt Gingrich: Part Five

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December 21, 2011
This week, FRONTLINE is putting up excerpts from our 1996 biography, The Long March of Newt Gingrich. Watch part one, part two, part three and part four.

“You favor a political revolution. You want to replace the welfare state with an opportunity society. You favor workfare over welfare. You want to lock prisoners up and you’re actually prepared to give up some political pork barrel to build as many prisons as you need.”

— Newt Gingrich, GOPAC training tape

In 1986, Newt became the chair of GOPAC, the Republican political action committee, and he turned it into a potent instrument for his conservative vision. Former Delaware Gov. Pete DuPont, one of the group’s founders, explains:

Our original idea was to help 300 or 400 candidates in the first election run for the Ohio State legislature and the California legislature around the country. Newt said, “We can do that, we can help young people, but why don’t we put together some educational material and spread it widely through the country so that people will begin to understand the conservative message, the conservative philosophy?”

Newt’s greatest weapon was piercing political language. He relentlessly promoted “Newtspeak” through training tapes distributed to conservative activists nationwide. “I started receiving GOPAC tapes probably five years ago, when I was in the state legislature,” Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) told FRONTLINE. “And when they would come … in the mail I would open them right away and I would put them in a cassette player within 24 hours. We were always eager to get them. It was almost like a chalk talk with a great coach.”

A leaked 1990 GOPAC internal memo details Newt’s relentless focus on language. It suggested recipients memorize a list of “Optimistic Positive Governing Words” such as “common sense,” “freedom” and “principle[d]” to describe the Republican vision, as well as a list of “Contrasting Words,” such as “excuses,” “pathetic” and “stagnation” to denigrate the message of their opponents.

Newt also presided over an American history course, transmitted by satellite, based on his core belief that the survival of American culture was in peril because the country had embraced the values of the Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. But critics noted that Newt’s course promoted the ideas of GOPAC donors and questioned whether his agenda was being driven by the highest bidder.

Bonus: Were you surprised to see Newt with Arianna Huffington in the footage of a GOPAC event? Read about their tangled history in “Newt Gingrich and Arianna Huffington; A ’90s Story” from Politico reporters Kenneth P. Vogel and Dylan Byers.

Produced by Steve Talbot, The Long March of Newt Gingrich was a co-production with the Center for Investigative Reporting.


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