Program Transcript[This transcript is provided as a service of Journal Graphics. The WGBH Educational Foundation is not responsible for any errors or mischaracterizations in this transcript. JES]
FRONTLINE Show #1409
Air Date: January 16, 1996
ROBERT GINGRICH, Stepfather: You either love him or you hate him.
PIERRE LAURENT, Thesis Advisor: _brash_
WEBER: He certainly thinks of himself as a general.
FRED WERTHEIMER, Former President Common Cause: _a self-proclaimed revolutionary_
PIERRE LAURENT, Thesis Advisor: _very capable_
CIPITI The best thing to happen in this country in a long time.
SCHROEDER: You wouldn't trust him any further than you can throw him.
GUY VANDER JAGT, Former Republican Congressman: _this Don Quixote, "the impossible dream"_
PAUL WEYRICH, Conservative Activist: _the leading practitioner of the Washington influence money game.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH, (R), Georgia, House Speaker: I am a genuine revolutionary.
ANNOUNCER: Correspondent Peter Boyer examines "The Long March of Newt Gingrich."
PETER J. BOYER: Inside the "second American revolution," a year in power has revealed the glory and the burden of triumph.
GOPAC SPEAKER: Oh, Lord, deliver us from all evil. Look upon us with Thy favor. Bless our GOPAC family and all its work. Bless Speaker Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and their families. And now, almighty God, we thank you for the food that is before us. May it strengthen us to do Thy will. Amen.
PETER J. BOYER: The first November after the Republicans took over the Congress, the underwriters of the revolution paid homage to its creator.
GOPAC SPEAKER: Ladies and gentlemen, the man who is the guiding light for conservatives, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the honorable Newt Gingrich.
PETER J. BOYER: Newt Gingrich has what he always wanted: political power and the chance to change America. But he is uneasy with his triumph. A victor, who still sees enemies everywhere, a man so convinced of the rightness of his cause, he always seems surprised at the ferocity of those who would undo his revolution.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH, (R), Georgia, House Speaker: You know, it's a very hard thing when you're simply trying to be a good citizen and you're simply trying to be active in pursuing your right of free speech and you're simply trying to do something to help your country and that becomes an excuse for newspapers to attack you, for the Federal Election Commission to sue you and for your enemies to say the vilest things about you with no legal recourse.
PETER J. BOYER: America has come to believe Newt Gingrich is the revolution and the Speaker has come to understand that his victory is fragile because it rests on America's ultimate judgment about him.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: And_ and I hope I can convey this in_ in_ in a way that you can really feel, that this is truly a historic moment for our whole country. We may lose next year, but if we lose, we will be able to look our children and our grandchildren in the face and say we did everything we could to save this country.
PETER J. BOYER: What is most remarkable about the man who so dominates this political moment is the soaring audacity of his quest. He is, at heart, a romantic _ a ruthless romantic _ a political pit bull who has cast himself as the savior of American civilization. Brawling is in his blood. His father, Big Newt McPherson, was a hard-drinking bar pug, a 19-year-old mechanic, when he met Kathleen Doherty at a roller rink in a little railroad town in eastern Pennsylvania. She was just 16.
KATHLEEN GINGRICH, Mother: I wanted to break our engagement and my mother said, "You can't because it's going to be in the paper tomorrow." Really. Really. I should never have gotten married, but I didn't have anyone. I know now I did, but at the time, I didn't know because my aunt, my mother's sister_ I should have gone to her. She would have backed me up and we wouldn't have had_ but then we wouldn't have Newtie, you know, so_ I'd rather have him.
PETER J. BOYER: She says the marriage lasted three days, after Big Newt hit her and she walked out. Nine months later, June 17th, 1943, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Newton Leroy McPherson was born. He was his mother's prize and was doted on by a circle of adoring female relatives. His father had joined the Navy and rarely saw his boy. His mother went to work as a junior mechanic at a local war factory. One night at the roller rink, she met a young soldier. Bob Gingrich was strong and silent and willing to be a father to young Newt. They married after the war.
KATHLEEN GINGRICH: I was working in Delta's, which is a men's clothing store_ assistant credit manager. And Big Newt was about four months behind with his payments for Newtie and he called and said if we would drop those four months, he'd let us adopt Newtie. And that's how we got to adopt Newtie. His wife was pregnant. They needed the money.
PETER J. BOYER: Surrendered by his natural father, the boy was now Newt Gingrich and had to adjust to life with a stern stepfather. Newt later described the relationship as a "classic psychodrama."
KATHLEEN GINGRICH: It was a Sunday and we were sitting in the living room and Newtie had gotten new white_ yeah, "white"_ Stride-Rite shoes, high-tops. And he wanted my attention and I wasn't giving it to him and he came over and he kicked me in the shin. "Whop!" He got cracked across the rear end and Bob said, "We won't have that again." And that's right, never did.
ROBERT GINGRICH, Stepfather: He was a little bratty, too, at the time because he had been living with his mother and a grandmother, who was a doting grandmother. But he was_ he was not a brat. He was precocious.
PETER J. BOYER: That precocious only child soon had two new sisters, but no real friends. He would say of his childhood, "I was never alone, but I was lonely." He was drawn to animals, everything from dinosaurs to snakes. [interviewing] Tell me about the zoo. He_ he apparently quite loved the zoo_ still does.
KATHLEEN GINGRICH: Oh, yeah. Yeah. He really does. That's what he really wanted to be in life, a curator. That was his aim. I tell him he has his own zoo now!
PETER J. BOYER: With Bob Gingrich away in Korea, young Newt's audacious impulses were often indulged. When he was 10, he decided the city of Harrisburg needed a zoo. On his own, he boldly presented his plan to the mayor. A local newspaper picked up the story. [interviewing] Do you remember breaking the news to_ to the colonel that_ to Bob that Newt's been_
KATHLEEN GINGRICH: Yes, and he wrote back, "Keep that kid out of the paper." "Keep the kid out of the paper," and I go, "Yes, it's easy to say."
PETER J. BOYER: There was one place this lonely boy could find stories as big as his own ambitious imagination: at the movies. One day he sat through the Sands of Iwo Jima four times.
JOHN WAYNE: ["Sands of Iwo Jima"] I'm going to tell you how to button your buttons. I'll even tell you when to blow your noses. And if you do something I don't like, I'm going to jump and when I land, it'll hurt. I'm going to ride you till you can't stand up. And when you do stand up, you're going to be Marines!
PETER J. BOYER: Newt identified John Wayne's aloof, intimidating Sergeant Stryker with his own stepfather. [interviewing] Did you ever have hope or expectation that he might pursue a military career?
ROBERT GINGRICH: No. No. Newt, he is very near-sighted. You probably know that. He can barely see across the street without his contacts. He has two of the flattest feet that there ever was. He was never physically capable or qualified to be military.
1st ACTOR: ["Sands of Iwo Jima"] I guess your father'd be pretty proud to know you're carrying on the tradition.
2nd ACTOR: Not my father. He'd have expected me to find some soft duty somewhere. In fact, he told me so.
1st ACTOR: I don't get it.
2nd ACTOR: Well, I_ I embarrassed my father. I wasn't tough enough for him. Too soft. "No guts" was the phrase he used.
PETER J. BOYER: Do you have any sense of what your influence was in his life?
ROBERT GINGRICH: He says it was a great deal. He says. I don't know. I_
PETER J. BOYER: By his teens, it was clear that the awkward, bookish, loquacious Newt would not be cast in the mold of Bob Gingrich. Between stepfather and son it was a stripped-down relationship reduced to an occasional test of authority, like the night Newt broke curfew.
KATHLEEN GINGRICH: That night, when Bob came home, he_ we lived in a gorgeous house there. He came in the front door and walked right over to Newtie and Newtie was leaning against the wall. And he picked him up, like this, and he says, "I don't want that to ever happen again." Now, Newtie was a big boy and he was no_ I don't remember him ever being little. And that was that. I mean, he didn't hit him or did anything else. He just lifted him up, you know? Got his attention.
PETER J. BOYER: But by Newt's account, he got from his military stepfather one great gift, an experience that changed his life. When he was 15 and the family was stationed in Europe, Newt's father took them on a visit to Verdun, the battle site where nearly a million men had died in World War I.
ROBERT GINGRICH: You can still see barbed wire, trenches. Newt walked along a road and he picked up an American helmet, a German helmet and a French helmet, all rusted, but they were still laying there.
MEL STEELY, Friend and Biographer: Newt's father _ actually, his stepfather _ made the point to him that this wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for the politicians. And_ and that really kind of caught Newt and, you know, the people responsible for wars are not the warriors. They fight them, but it's these other people that cause them.
PETER J. BOYER: At the time, did you recognize that as some great watershed moment in Newt's life?
ROBERT GINGRICH: No. And he never_ never said anything about it. He never discussed it. But evidently, it made a lasting impression upon him. And there's something about Verdun that will make a lasting impression. It's one of the gloomiest places that I've ever been in my life.
PETER J. BOYER: His stepfather's lesson was that politicians kill soldiers, but Newt says he saw something much larger at Verdun, that it was politics that truly shaped the world. He had found his calling. Newt came back to America, to Columbus, Georgia, where Bob Gingrich was stationed at Fort Benning, in 1960. For the untethered Army brat, this would be his first real home town. Here he would begin to imagine his life in politics_ not just a career, but a quest, a romantic vision of the promise that had whispered to him at Verdun. And in Columbus, Newt would find his first real friend, Jim Tilton, a high school hero.
LINDA TILTON, Widow of Jim Tilton: Actually, I think Jim kind of took Newt under his wing. Newt was new and he_ he kind of didn't_ he looked like a kind of a nerd, really.
ELEANOR TILTON, Mother of Jim Tilton: I think that there was a period when he probably was a very lonely youngster. I really do. He didn't dwell on it a great deal. It just seemed as if Newton were always forward-looking. Always. "What's happened is past. What's ahead is exciting. That's the way I'm going to go."
PETER J. BOYER: Jim shared Newt's romance with the movies. Their all-time favorite was the classic fable, The Magnificent Seven.
MEL STEELY: He was tremendously impressed by that movie, the idea that you had these seven guys who were coming in to face the bandits in a situation that was hopeless, for people who couldn't pay you, and you did it all because of a cause. "This is what we do. We go and help these people." You're the one that has to go and save the villagers.
PETER J. BOYER: There's a largeness to his_
MEL STEELY: Yeah.
PETER J. BOYER: _to his self-projection almost all his life.
MEL STEELY: Yeah.
PETER J. BOYER: And what I'm wondering, is that just a psychological quirk that this kid was born with or_
MEL STEELY: I don't think it's a quirk. I think it's an acceptance in his mind.
PETER J. BOYER: An acceptance of what, a calling?
MEL STEELY: Fate. A calling. Yeah, I think that may be making it sound more religious than he would.
ACTOR: ["The Magnificent Seven"] Via con dios.
YUL BRYNNER: Adios.
MEL STEELY: And I think he believes there is a plan out there and you have a chance to make a difference. And if you're the person that can make the difference, then you take advantage of it.
LINDA TILTON: Both of them spent a lot of time with military history and reading books and_ and visualizing battles and had their military heroes and tactics and strategy as a big part of that. And I think that they began to see politics in the same way that they saw war.
PETER J. BOYER: Newt learned to play politics as an outsider. He and Tilton were Republicans in a state owned by Democrats for a century. Newt ran Jim's successful campaign for student body president. In the senior class play, written and directed by Newt, he cast himself as Richard Nixon and told a teacher that one day he would be president himself. With his customary audacity and a measure of mature political foresight, he proposed an article for Harper's magazine predicting a coming Republican majority. But in high school in 1960, Newt's brainy political precocity had limited value. Jim Tilton convinced him to go out for football.
JAMES "BUBBA" BALL, High School Football Coach: Newt was a boy that came in that had never played football and really wasn't given a lot of athletic talent. But he came onto the field, wanted to play football. And we had a little trouble getting a helmet that would fit him. Auburn didn't have one. Tech didn't have one, Alabama, Troy State. So we had to call Rudell and they had to make up a special helmet.
LINDA TILTON: Newt has a large head and there were no helmets in Columbus that would fit Newt except for these 1940 football_ these leather things with the little earflaps, I gather. This is what Jim's story always was, anyway.
PETER J. BOYER: Football was a bust and so, apparently, was his social life. He didn't date. The closest he got to a campus princess was a job tutoring one. What he did do was start a furtive romance with his geometry teacher, 24-year-old Jackie Battley.
LINDA TILTON: They were out at Fort Benning, making out secretly. They had to sneak around because she was a teacher, for heaven's sakes. And so it got time to go home and they got caught in a tank trap out at Fort Benning! Couldn't_ couldn't get the car out! And I think they walked, finally, till they got to a telephone, called Jim and a bunch of kids went out and rescued the car. But that was_ that was big trouble. I mean_
PETER J. BOYER: Newt falls in love.
KATHLEEN GINGRICH: Uh-huh.
PETER J. BOYER: Except he falls in love with his math teacher.
KATHLEEN GINGRICH: Right.
PETER J. BOYER: Do you_ do you recollect your_ when you_ when you found out about that?
KATHLEEN GINGRICH: Yes, I do, because Bob said, "Uh-uh." I mean, there was too much riding on Newtie even then, as to what he was going to be, what he was going to do. And marrying his math teacher was not one of them.
PETER J. BOYER: But Newt followed Jackie to Atlanta and married her after his freshman year in college. It was an act of sheer presumption and his ultimate rebellion against his stepfather.
KATHLEEN GINGRICH: We didn't go to the wedding because Bob would not go to the wedding. He said he would drive me there and wait for me. But I couldn't go in that church without Bob because it would point right at him. "Uh-huh, it's the dad." I couldn't do it. And Jimmy Tilton that night brought me my corsage. Newtie just said that Jimmy knew I was coming. He just knew I was coming to the wedding. But I didn't make it.
PETER J. BOYER: By the mid-'60s, with a wife and two little girls, Newt was at Tulane University in New Orleans, working on a Ph.D. in history.
PIERRE LAURENT: He tended to politicize everything then and he_ and he_ you know, this brash, very capable, cocky, very self-confident. But it was his_ the French have a_ engagement_ he loved engagement, to engage, to_ he loved combat, intellectual combat. He still does. He still does.
PETER J. BOYER: Something of an intellectual faddist, Newt became a devotee of the futurist Alvin Toffler. Swimming cautiously through the cross-currents of the '60s, he taught a course at the Free University and even experimented with marijuana.
DAVID KRAMER, Friend: One night, we went to a Jefferson Airplane concert and_ in New Orleans and he found that very interesting, in that there were a lot of people there that were very excited. And of course, his question was, "Is there any political value in this?"
PETER J. BOYER: When the campus paper tried to publish this photograph of a naked artist and his erotic sculpture, Tulane's president claimed it was obscene. The students cried "censorship" and a protest erupted.
DAVID KRAMER: Newt immediately began organizing the thing. He loves political organization. I don't think he was interested in the student movement, per se. I think he was interested in testing what part of this political energy makes sense.
PETER J. BOYER: The '60s pushed Newt to the liberal wing of the Republican Party. In 1968, he helped organize Nelson Rockefeller's campaign against his old hero, Richard Nixon.
PIERRE LAURENT, Thesis Advisor: I_ I have some difficulty with people who talk about Newt as the academic turned politician. I think I saw the politician from the very beginning or, for the lack of a better word, who was engaging in the academy en route_ en route.
PETER J. BOYER: Newt surprised his colleagues at Tulane by taking a teaching job in the academic backwater at West Georgia College, but it was a calculated choice. Newt figured that Georgia's sixth Congressional district, where the college sat, was the perfect place to launch his political career.
MEL STEELY: Ever since I've known Newt, he has felt that he would have an impact on history, that he was a historical person. When he was a teacher here at West Georgia, he viewed himself as a historical person in his young years. Talk about the young Churchill_ you know, you study that to try to get an idea who this guy is later on, and so forth. But he knew that he was going to have a major role in history some way.
LEE HOWELL, Friend: And we became_ became friends and, eventually, I took a class from him. He's a very good teacher, very stimulating. That's what you want a teacher to be, is make you think. And he did make you think. If you take his lectures, or nowadays, if you take his political speeches, and put them down in black and white, you realize they're pretty shallow and you realize you can shoot holes through them and he's not the most logical person. But when he's_ when he's speaking, he's impressive.
W. BENJAMIN KENNEDY, History Professor: One of his colleagues who taught with him in a team-taught course _ he taught this for three or four years _ said they referred to him behind his back as "Mr. Truth" because, you know, he always seemed to know it or at least to assert that he did, whether he did or not.
PETER J. BOYER: Newt liked teaching, but never undertook to build a serious academic career. He always had his eye on bigger things.
NEWT GINGRICH: I'll be running in the Republican primary. I'm running against a man who's been there 20 years, and for a seat that I think needs aggressive, vigorous leadership.
PETER J. BOYER: In 1974, in the middle of Watergate, Newt launched his first Congressional campaign, running Quixotically as a liberal Republican in the Democratic South.
Rep. JACK FLYNT, (D), GA: And, of course, I've heard it and, really, it's nothing new. I've been hearing reports like that for_ for years.
PETER J. BOYER: His opponent, the very conservative Jack Flynt, was an entrenched old bull of the Southern Democratic establishment.
ENVIRONMENTALIST: And in the state of Georgia, in the last session of Congress, Jack Flynt had the lowest rating of all of Georgia's Congressmen.
PETER J. BOYER: The new environmentalists endorsed Newt, who was running hard as a reformer.
NEWT GINGRICH: The second thing I do as a Congressman, I think, is demand a sense of real ethical fairness in the Congress. I mean, the place is sufficiently corrupt right now that there's no reason for anyone back home to have any trust in their Congressman.
PETER J. BOYER: Flynt retaliated with negative ads, pricking Newt's thin skin.
NEWT GINGRICH: And this is a direct violation of the Fair Campaign Practices Committee code of ethics and I am filing a protest with them, asking them to come in to investigate his commercial and to ask him to take the commercial off the air and to apologize for it.
PETER J. BOYER: Jack Flynt was never really worried about this unlikely Republican upstart and Newt lost the race. But he had done pretty well.
L.H. "KIP" CARTER, Campaign Treasurer, 1974, 1976: You got to remember, we had a long-haired college professor who wore glasses, whose name was Newt. He was a Yankee. He had no connections in the community at all. And to take a guy like that and to win 47, 48 percent of the vote was_ was pretty incredible.
PETER J. BOYER: In 1976, when he ran a second time against Jack Flynt, the campaign sensed victory, but he was swept away in Jimmy Carter's Southern landslide and now Newt was broke. He turned to his political benefactors for help.
CHESTER ROUSH, Georgia Businessman: He wanted to write a novel and his idea was to write a novel based upon a possible land war, with the Russians coming after NATO. And so it sounded good. Two or three of us offered to help him financially with some seed money and it ended up about 14 or 15 of us.
PETER J. BOYER: Newt accepted $13,000 from local businessmen, took his family to Europe to do research, and wrote a partial manuscript that was never published.
L.H. "KIP" CARTER: I think the primary focus was to keep him alive till the next campaign. He is_ I mean, I don't write well, either, but he's not a good writer. Anybody that's ever read anything he has written knows he's not a good writer. I don't think there were any illusions that he was going to write the "great American novel."
PETER J. BOYER: By the summer of 1978, the college was fed up with Newt's political absences and he lost his teaching job just as he was launching what could be his final run for Congress.
L.H. "KIP" CARTER: We were desperate. I mean, this guy has no job. He's got a wife and two small children. We got all these debts that we're on the notes for. I mean, we were scared to death. Plus it was our third campaign.
PETER J. BOYER: With everything on the line, that 1978 campaign would become the pivotal moment in Newt Gingrich's life, when the boy with the romantic quest learned the ruthless road to power. Jack Flynt had retired. Now Newt's opponent was a moderate, like himself. He called in professionals from Washington and recast himself as a conservative.
ROBERT WEED, Political Consultant: This one, my take on it is we run this straight as a left-right race, that we're the conservative, she's the liberal, and that's 90 percent of the race.
PETER J. BOYER: In a speech, Newt unveiled his new strategy. Republican candidates should be nasty, willing to stand up in a slug fest. "We're fighting a war," he proclaimed, "a war for power." His advice: "Raise hell. Raise hell all the time."
ANNOUNCER: [television commercial] Virginia Shapard is on record with her solutions.
PETER J. BOYER: Newt had once complained about Jack Flynt's negative ads. Now his campaign hounded Virginia Shapard with the same stuff.
L.H. "KIP" CARTER: Virginia was a little heavier than average and they had this sort of fat arm come out wearing an iron bracelet that looked like it belonged to "Ilse, she-wolf of the S.S." And it had a big rubber stamp in its hand and it stamped a big red "No" in the middle of the bill. And we did that for, like, three or four bills. It was just totally unfair.
PETER J. BOYER: The Gingrich campaign accused Shapard of coddling Welfare cheaters, in league with Julian Bond, the Civil Rights activist.
L.H. "KIP" CARTER: And so between the print ads and the T.V. we did and the radio we did_ I mean, it was all, in a sense, experimental. We were learning what to do. And I think he learned very well that negative campaigning worked. And it did work.
PETER J. BOYER: Determined to press every advantage, Newt even enlisted his wife in the attacks on Shapard.
LEE HOWELL, Press Secretary, 1974, 1976: I personally don't think that she wanted to_ wanted Newt to run a third time. I know that she probably wouldn't want to be involved in it. She'd just overcome her first cancer operation the summer before that campaign. But when he made the decision he was going to run, she threw herself into his campaign and worked as hard as she could and wrote the famous letters of "Let our family represent your family in Washington."
PETER J. BOYER: Jackie wrote a campaign letter that exploited Virginia Shapard's announced that if elected, she would commute to Washington and leave her family behind in Georgia. Jackie said Newt was a good husband who would take his family with him. But in truth, the marriage was falling apart and several campaign workers say Newt was seeing other women.
L.H. "KIP" CARTER: We all knew, but it, you know, was after hours and, you know, we were so focused on the campaign_ I mean, I look back at that and I think to myself, "How could I have been so focused on that campaign that I wouldn't say to him, you know_ you know, `This is not right. You don't need to be doing this. You got two small children.' " You know, I thought it was a kind of_ I guess I thought_ I mean, I rationalized it by saying, well, it was a passing fancy and there were so many of them, it couldn't possibly have meant anything. You know, it's just some sort of psychological problem he's got.
PETER J. BOYER: Since his first defeat, Newt had made lots of new alliances, aggressively soliciting campaign contributions from local corporations, including Southwire, the nation's largest producer of copper wire, the same company he had once criticized for polluting.
LEE HOWELL: After he'd been criticizing them for a while, a vice president _ I forget who it was _ asked him if he'd like to come out to the plant and tour the plant and see exactly what they were doing. And Newt said "Sure" and he did. And after that time, he became not quite as vocal a critic and eventually stopped being a critic at all.
PETER J. BOYER: The Gingrich campaign was also taking contributions from oil and refining companies such as Young Refining, a local company with a history of pollution problems.
L.H. "KIP" CARTER: Every dollar counted. I mean, at that time, I could have told you how much a radio ad cost on every radio station in rural Georgia. And we counted every dollar. Every dollar.
REPORTER: It took him three times, but he finally did it. Newt Gingrich, a Republican, has taken over a Congressional seat that's been a Democratic stronghold for a quarter of a century.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: A number of you, frankly, I was a little embarrassed to call and ask to help a third time. And I'm grateful that you acted on faith because I certainly didn't have any results to prove anything.
CAMPAIGN SUPPORTER: We should have done this three nights before the election, I'll tell you that!
PETER J. BOYER: Newt had won by shedding his old politics and his old profile. And many of his old friends _ the reformers, the environmentalists, the liberals _ would feel betrayed. And Jackie, a loyal political wife, would soon be discarded, as well. A little more than a year later, Newt demanded a divorce.
Rev. BRANTLEY HARWELL, Gingrichs' Minister: Jackie did not want the divorce and_ and was humiliated, bitter, angry.
LEE HOWELL: She was in the hospital and Newt came to visit her and while he was visiting her, he pulled out his legal pad and wanted to talk about the divorce settlement.
Rev. BRANTLEY HARWELL: As he was fixing to leave_ the girls were there and he was fixing to leave and asked her if they might discuss some of the division of the property and alimony and that kind of thing. And that's when she really got angry. And I can see Jackie getting angry. I can see any woman getting angry. She's already anguished enough.
L.H. "KIP" CARTER: It wasn't long after that that, you know, Jackie was supposed to be getting alimony and child support and he refused to pay. And so Jackie and the kids were down there in that house with no food and, you know, electricity and water and all that sort of stuff. So at the First Baptist Church and some other places in town, we took up money and we took up canned food and took it down to the house so that she could keep the lights on and keep the kids fed.
PETER J. BOYER: Six months after his divorce from Jackie was final, Newt married 33-year-old Marianne Ginther.
FRANK GREGORSKY, Former Chief of Staff: I think it was sort of Newt going back and being a teenager again. Marianne was younger, more impressionable, more willing to sort of_ "humor" is not the right word, but to take Newt seriously when he said, "My goal is to save Western civilization."
PETER J. BOYER: Newt came to Washington defiant of the status quo Democratic power and of the ancient code for all new Congressmen: "Go along, get along and wait your turn."
MARC ROSENBERG, Gingrich Political Consultant: My first question to him was, "What is it, exactly, that you hope to accomplish as a member of Congress?" His immediate answer was his objective was to become Speaker of the House.
GUY VANDER JAGT, Former Republican Congressman: He came not necessarily as a bomb thrower, but as a dreamer. He was the only member, other than myself, that really believed that it was possible to build a Republican majority. He was sort of this Don Quixote, "the impossible dream."
PETER J. BOYER: In Congress Newt recruited a small cadre of his ideological blood brothers called the Conservative Opportunity Society.
MARC ROSENBERG: Gingrich learned that the easiest way for someone to get access to the news media was to be controversial and, in particular, to be quotable. And so from the very beginning of his stay in Washington, he was quotably controversial.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: Today's national Democrats have a pessimistic, defeatist and skeptical view toward America's role in the world.
PETER J. BOYER: To mount his insurgency, Newt opened his own lines of communication. He seized on new media like C-Span to attack the enemy and recruit his own political army.
FRANK GREGORSKY: Newt did build his empire, his movement, through C-Span. It was a big part of_ of_ well, the plan, I guess.
PETER J. BOYER: At the end of one day's House session, Newt delivered an ideological broadside, a long list of accusations against House Democrats for being soft on communism. No Democrat replied because the chamber was empty, a shot the C-Span cameras never showed. The Democrats were outraged by Newt's sneak attack.
FRANK GREGORSKY: Tip O'Neill viewed it as an attack on his colleagues and as McCarthyism.
Rep. THOMAS P. O'NEILL, Jr., (D), MA, Speaker of the House: My personal opinion is this. You deliberately stood in that well before an empty House and challenged these people and you challenged their Americanism and it's the lowest thing that I've ever seen in my 32 years in Congress!
FRANK GREGORSKY: And then for three hours _ this was May 15th, 1984 _ from about noon to about 3:00, there was an old-fashioned partisan intellectual and ideological shoot-out.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: Is it wrong for those of us who have grown up as historians, who believe in looking at history, to raise questions of history? Is it wrong for us to go back and do the research and lay it out?
Rep. THOMAS P. O'NEILL, Jr.: Will the gentleman yield?
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: I am always delighted to yield to our distinguished Speaker.
Rep. THOMAS P. O'NEILL, Jr.: Very interesting, the way the gentleman talks, as an apologist for the remarks that he made the other day. Let's look at the truth of the thing.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: I_ I will_
Rep. THOMAS P. O'NEILL, Jr.: Let's look at the truth.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: I reclaim my time for one minute, Mr. Speaker!
Rep. THOMAS P. O'NEILL, Jr.: I want to know why you went_
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: I am reclaiming my time!
Rep. THOMAS P. O'NEILL, Jr.: _back to 1970 and 1971_
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: I reclaim my time, Mr. Speaker!
Rep. THOMAS P. O'NEILL, Jr.: I thought you_
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: Just to make the point_
Rep. THOMAS P. O'NEILL, Jr.: I thought you said you would give the Speaker the courtesy_
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: I will yield to_
Rep. THOMAS P. O'NEILL, Jr.: _the courtesy?
FRANK GREGORSKY: They all sort of came at Newt. And Newt had some defenders, but it was really a hell of a gunfight. I mean, he was holding off the big guns of the Democratic Party simultaneously. It was one of his finest hours.
PETER J. BOYER: Gingrich, the son of an Army officer, saw a military analogy in his own political quest. He ordered his staff to study military history _ books by Heinz Guderian, the German general who invented the Blitzkrieg, and Miyamoto Musashi, a samurai warrior _ in the hope of deriving political lessons from the art of war.
REPORTER: How many signatures, congressman?
NEWT GINRICH: Seventy-two.
PETER J. BOYER: Newt learned that the way to fight outnumbered and win was to seize the initiative. In 1987, that's just what he did, mounting a daring one-man assault on the citadel of Congressional power. He accused the Democratic Speaker, Jim Wright, of ethical misconduct, including the charge Wright had made over $60,000 on a bogus book deal.
Rep. JIM WRIGHT: Have I made mistakes? Oh, boy! How many? I made a lot of mistakes. Mistakes in judgment? Oh, yeah. Lot of them.
PETER J. BOYER: The battle lasted two years, but Newt brought down Jim Wright.
PAUL WEYRICH, Conservative Activist: Because he took on Wright and won, he became a serious political figure, at that point. Up to that point, he was regarded as an interesting political figure, somebody that was very good for a quote, but not somebody who was perhaps going to be in the power structure. When he took on Jim Wright and he won, he was regarded very seriously from that moment on.
PETER J. BOYER: But to defeat the Democrats, Newt believed he must also destroy the old Republican mindset, the complacent minority, always compromising with the Democrats' liberal agenda. In 1990, when George Bush caved in to the Democrats on a tax increase, Newt, now the Republican whip, defied his party and refused to support his president. Behind the scenes, Newt had been building a new political army to take over the House. He took control of the Republican political action committee, GOPAC, and made it a potent instrument for his conservative vision.
HOWARD "BO" CALLAWAY, GOPAC Fundraiser: The basic thing about GOPAC is you really believed in the cause and the people we got were the true believers that really_ we got them believing we are going to control Congress. We are going to control_ we were a House committee, really. We're going to control the U.S. House.
PETER J. BOYER: Since Newt took over 1986, GOPAC has raised more than $15 million to recruit and train new conservative candidates. For years GOPAC was able to keep the names of its donors private. They were a new breed, ideological entrepreneurs, men like J. Patrick Rooney, head of the Golden Rule Insurance Company. He and his company have given more than $150,000; Owen Roberts, a financial planner from Florida, gave more than $350,000. Textile tycoon Roger Milliken gave more than a quarter million; and $785,000 more from the Kohlers of Wisconsin, Mary and Terry, who tapped their family fortune built from the bathroom fixture company.
PETE DuPONT, GOPAC Founder: When he began the campaign with GOPAC, the serious part of building to a majority, he said, "The first thing we've got to do is we all got to use the same language. We've got to start talking about"_ and Newt said this hundreds of times_ "start talking about a conservative opportunity society replacing the liberal Welfare state." And he'd say, "Bang that language into your head. Use it every night. Use the same words and pretty soon it will permeate to the American people." And that was the right strategy.
PETER J. BOYER: Newt's greatest weapon was a piercing political language and GOPAC promoted "Newtspeak" relentlessly. The razor-wire rhetoric that had sliced up the big Democrats on Capitol Hill was exported to the provinces for use against local Democrats. GOPAC distributed Newt's training tapes to emerging conservative candidates across the country.
EDDIE MAHE, GOPAC Political Consultant: There were two of us, myself and Owen Roberts of Florida, in a GOPAC meeting several years ago, who promoted the idea of starting the tape program for GOPAC, which I believe did more than any single thing that we ever have done since Newt came up here to parlay his language, his vision, his positioning, his rhetoric, his knowledge out across the country to 10,000 people, 10,000 up-and-coming political leaders every month.
Rep. GIL GUTKNECHT, (R), MN: I started receiving GOPAC tapes probably five years ago, when I was in the state legislature. And when they would come, I mean_ and you spend some time in a car, particularly going back and forth to the state legislature_ when they would come in the mail, I mean, I would open them up right away and I would put them in a cassette player within 24 hours. I mean, I_ we were always eager to get them. And it was almost like a chalk talk with a great coach.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: [GOPAC training tape] 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.
Rep. GIL GUTKNECHT: And_ and it was constantly that same theme, that "We are the majority. We can win. The American people are counting on us." And so it_ it became almost a mission that_ that we were sent on and being called to from Newt Gingrich himself.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: [GOPAC training tape] If you'll fly with us, work with us, fight with us, we are going to create a real revolution, we are going to replace the Welfare state.
PETER J. BOYER: GOPAC hatched another idea: "Professor Newt." He presided over an American history course transmitted nationwide by satellite. "The goal," Newt said, "is to create a shared doctrine for perhaps a quarter million citizen activists. The foundation of that doctrine was Gingrich's core belief that the very survival of American culture was in peril because the country had embraced the values of the Great Society.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: The Welfare state has failed. We had recently in Atlanta a 15-year-old girl kidnapped, tortured for three days and then killed because she wanted to leave a gang. That's level of barbarism that 50 years ago would have been unacceptable. They would have just lynched the entire gang. They would have been enraged. I'm not suggesting lynching. Understand my point here, that the culture wouldn't have tolerated the barbarism. And now we're numbed by it.
PETER J. BOYER: This is the school of Newt. His philosophy rests on a gauzy, romantic memory of a lost America to which he has attached a lifetime of eclectic ideas that have stuck to his flypaper mind.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: But I want to start you were I started, which was with Roger Milliken, because Milliken, I believe, was a revolutionary experience. The Milliken company has a shared vision, shared strategies. They have open discussion.
ROGER MILLIKEN: [Milliken company video] It makes working fun.
PETER J. BOYER: The course was chock full of plugs for the pet ideas of some big GOPAC donors, ideas Newt also pushed in Congress, raising the suspicion that his intellect and his agenda are guided by the highest bid.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: One of the people who first developed the concept of medical savings accounts is Pat Rooney at Golden Rule Insurance Company. What I want to do is take just a minute now and let you see this idea as Pat Rooney explains it because I think it's a very powerful, revolutionary change.
PAT ROONEY: Have you ever heard of a sale on mammograms? Well, I never have. But if people were spending their own money, pretty soon there would be clinics offering sales on mammograms to get the business because now the consumers are spending their own money!
FRED WERTHEIMER, Former President Common Cause: Now, this company is headed by an individual, Mr. Rooney, and between them, they have given huge sums of money to Gingrich's campaigns to run for office, to GOPAC, to his foundation. They've given soft money to the party. They are a source of huge contributions, new money from someone who wanted a fundamental change in government policy, a controversial change, a change that Newt Gingrich has pushed very hard. That appearance of corruption is part of why we have limits on the system, limits that Newt Gingrich walked around, evaded, when he started playing out his GOPAC campaign over the years.
PETER J. BOYER: In the fall of 1994, the strands of Newt's life came together. He had marshalled his political army and, in the distance, he could see the victory he had dreamed with Jimmy Tilton more than 30 years before.
PAUL WEYRICH: When all other political analysts and even party officials were writing off the chance to win a majority in the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich was there, telling them, "No, it can be done. And if you'll just push a little harder and you win your seat and our other guys win theirs, we're going to do it." He was the only one.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: Every item in our Contract is supported by 60 percent or more of the American people. Some of the items are supported as much as 80 percent of the American people. And outside Washington, this is a contract with Americans for America!
PETER J. BOYER: In a remarkable political moment, Republican candidates literally bound themselves to Newt and his ideas, signing a compact that promised Congressional reform, Welfare reform and a balanced budget.
GUY VANDER JAGT, Former Republican Congressman: Newt has the tremendous, overwhelming loyalty of his troops and especially of those 73 freshmen who came rolling in, having all signed the "Contract with America." And it was Newt who was traveling at 3:00 o'clock in the morning to get to a 6:00 A.M. breakfast and that was out there raising money for them and_ and they were listening to his tapes.
PETER J. BOYER: And it worked. Forty years of Democratic power vanished in a moment.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: Those of you who know me well know how much from the heart this comes. This is truly a wildly historic night. I mean, this is just_
Rep. RICHARD GEPHARDT, (D), MO: Our new Speaker, the gentleman from Georgia, Newt Gingrich.
PETER J. BOYER: The center of domestic political power had moved from the White House to Newt's house. The ruthless romantic had reached his moment, with the chance to change America. In a remarkable display of discipline and purpose, Gingrich's House passed all but one of the "Contract's" 10 commandments in its first 100 days. More importantly, the fundamental debate had shifted to Newt's agenda. Suddenly, the question was not whether to balance the budget and shrink the government, but when and how. The fulcrum of power had shifted, but so had the harsh glare of the spotlight, exposing the Speaker's flaws and his excesses.
REPORTER: Could we get a picture of you with your book?
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I know that my publisher will resent this kind of vicious exploitation, but_
PETER J. BOYER: The once penniless college professor stepped forward to grab his chance for a big pay day. He took a $4.5 million book advance from Rupert Murdoch, blind to the craven image of making himself rich while cutting aid to the poor. He was shamed into giving the millions back. The disorder of his personal life, which first became apparent in that 1978 campaign, resurfaced in the press, making things awkward for the secular leader of the "family values" crowd.
MAN AT BOOK SIGNING: But, I mean, you profess family values. This is hidden wisdom in the Holy Bible. And I want to know here where it says oral sex doesn't count as adultery. I'd like you to sign it because, you know, you've been cheating on your wife. You've been declaring "family values." I don't know where here it says oral sex is moral while you're trying to take away children's rights and children's benefits. Will you sign it?
PETER J. BOYER: And in the heat of the budget battle, that impetuous child with the impossibly large sense of himself suddenly materialized.
Rep. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D), NY: Mr. Speaker, when I heard last night that Newt Gingrich said he had shut down the government because he didn't get the right treatment on an airplane, I was amazed. I couldn't believe it. But today it's true. Here it is in black and white in my home town paper, the New York Daily News, "Cry baby_ Newt's tantrum. He closed down the government because Clinton made him sit at the back."
PETER J. BOYER: He that troubleth his own house, the Book of Proverbs tells us, shall inherit the wind. Democrats gleefully exploited Newt's troubles, taunting him on C-Span in a raucous House whose tone he had set and where the Speaker was not a figure of respect, but a target of derision.
Rep. PATRICIA SCHROEDER, (D), CO: There is absolutely no question that Newt Gingrich has now absolutely sewn up the category of best performance by a child actor this year.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: Now, what you've got in this city is a simple principle. I am a genuine revolutionary. They are the genuine reactionaries. We are going to change their world. They will do anything to stop us. They will use any tool. There is no grotesquerie, no distortion, no dishonesty too great for them to come after us.
PETER J. BOYER: Of course, it all had a ruthless symmetry. In December, the House Ethics Committee, the very body Gingrich used to take out Jim Wright, reprimanded him for his book deal and appointed a special counsel to investigate the funding of the satellite history course. And the Federal Election Commission sued Newt and GOPAC again, charging illegal use of funds during Newt's 1990 campaign.
Rep. DAVID BONIOR, (D), MI, Minority Whip: Now we know why the Speaker has been trying to keep all of this hidden. According to evidence filed yesterday by the Federal Election Commission, GOPAC is a personal, multi-million-dollar slush fund for Speaker Gingrich.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: On what?
REPORTER: Can you talk about the FEC filings and_
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: Sure. They're total_ they're_ they are false and they're malicious.
REPORTER: Did GOPAC ever contribute_
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: No.
REPORTER: _to your 1990_
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: No, it did not_
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: _in any way.
REPORTER: Not at all?
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: And the FEC filings are false and malicious.
PETER J. BOYER: The unwelcome truth that Newt Gingrich is beginning to confront is the one that every revolutionary, every warrior, must ultimately face. Thirty-five years ago, sitting in the dark with Jimmy Tilton, imagining his life to come, did he notice how these stories always seemed to end, what happens to the warrior when the peace is won, to the revolutionary who stormed the gate when he is finally inside?
ACTOR: ["The Magnificent Seven"] You could have stayed, you know. They wouldn't be sorry to have you stay.
YUL BRYNNER: They won't be sorry to see us go, either.
ACTOR: Yes, the fighting is over. Your work is done.
YUL BRYNNER: Adios.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH: Okay. Good to see you all.
REPORTER: Bye-bye. Thank you.
PETER J. BOYER: Newt Gingrich and his allies certainly believe their war is just beginning and the revolution is far from over, but the final word on that will come from America's voters this election year.
HOWARD "BO" CALLAWAY, GOPAC Fundraiser: If_ if we, the Republicans, pick up 26 in the House next time, then we've won the revolution, in my_ I would say we've got it for 20 years or, you know, who can say longer than that? If we lose 20 seats and lose control, I think it's over. You're not going to have another revolution like this. They'll say, "We tried it and it didn't work." You know, "We're not going to have it again." I can't tell you which way that's going to go.
PETER J. BOYER: What can be said for certain is that at this moment, Newt Gingrich and the Republican revolution are inseparably fused together. He has been its strength and he is now its frailty. Inevitably, America's judgment of the revolution will be decided by its judgment of him.
ROBERT GINGRICH: You either love him or you hate him and he's the kind of person that you can't ignore. So you do, you love or you hate him. He's going to be in your face at all times, one way or the other.
ANNOUNCER: And next time on FRONTLINE_ Pablo Escobar, the richest, most violent criminal in history.
EXPERT: Escobar is probably the head of the largest criminal organization the world has ever known. Escobar was to cocaine what Ford was to automobiles.
ANNOUNCER: Next time on FRONTLINE, "The Godfather of Cocaine."
THE LONG MARCH OF
Peter J. Boyer and Stephen Talbot
Peter J. Boyer
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