the long march of newt gingrich

Interview Howard Callaway

Image of Howard Callaway

Q: You blazed the path for the Republican party in Georgia and then the next decade rolls along and here comes a man named Newt Gingrich -- what did you make of him?

Callaway: Well you see I've known Newt since '66 and I thought he was just as bright as could be. And when he began he ran against a good friend of mine, Jack Flynt, a Democrat. We voted differently a lot of times--but he's still a good friend. But I had to support Newt because I'm supporting a Republican. And the interesting thing was trying to get people to believe in Newt. They would say Newt Gingrich? An assistant professor at West Georgia College? With no political experience and no elected office, except running a little campaign, he is going to run against the dean of the Georgia delegation, who was seen to be the most conservative Democrat in the delegation. And Newt was the liberal. So I went to the business community, the people I knew in the business community, and said, 'I want you to support this Republican.' Well, they thought it was a little strange. But a lot of them did. And they stuck with him through all three elections. So, as they say, the rest is history.

Q: It seems throughout his life he has taken chances and been audacious.

Callaway: It's unbelievable. Everywhere he goes he takes chances and is audacious, but he knows where he's going. And it was not just, 'Hey, I think I'll do this today on a whim and do something tomorrow,' it was a plan that he kept with this Conservative Opportunity Society. They began to get 10, 15 members of Congress together. And it was not something where you sort of sit and talk and have a bull session and go on and do your work. There were plans and you're assigned this role, and another is assigned this one, and a third is assigned that one. And all of a sudden John Rhodes would be coming along. That's why he didn't think that much of Newt. John Rhodes would be coming along with a nice little plan and all of a sudden, "whoof!," these guys would be taking one-minute speeches, doing special orders, and writing letters --they call them "Dear Colleague" letters in the Congress -- to all of the members in the Republican Party. They'd be getting together and they would start doing their agenda, which was to have some confrontation on the issues they believed in. The Republicans' approach was: 'OK, the Democrats control the Congress, always have, always will, so let's accommodate and let's see if we can get a little bit either for our district' or, if they want to, in Jack Kemp's words, 'if they want to paint the room red, let's see if we can paint it a little lighter shade of red.'

And you are never going to win politically that way. How can you get people excited if you say, 'Well here's the bill that the Democrats want. Here's the vision that we've got. And we want it too, but we want a little less.' You have to have your own vision. So, Newt and the C.O.S. were saying, 'Here's our vision. It's opposed to their vision. No, we don't want to compromise. We want to sell our vision.' And that was just unthinkable. I mean, that got everybody pretty well shaken up.

Q: And Newt actually went after members of the establishment in Congress. He went after Diggs on ethics charges, later the Tip O'Neill confrontation and finally, Jim Wright.

Callaway: Oh yeah, and the Diggs was well thought-out. I think O'Neill sort of came as a happenstance. But Wright was really well thought-out. I was pretty close to Newt at that time and he agonized over it month after month, maybe even a year. And he said, 'Am I doing the right thing?' You don't take the Speaker on lightly. And he talked to his colleagues and he went through the issues. He went through the charges that he thought were valid and, of course, to make a charge by a member of Congress to the Speaker, you don't do that lightly. And he's still paying the price for it, I think.

Q: Describe GOPAC, in terms of trying to build-up what some people call the 'farm team.' The push toward a new Republican majority. What was the original idea behind GOPAC?

Callaway: Pete DuPont had been a member of Congress and he'd gone on to be governor of Delaware. A very articulate, bright guy that I think the world of. He formed GOPAC with the idea that millions and millions of dollars have been spent in the last, say, 20 years, to elect Republicans to Congress. But nobody thinks about control and we just sort of wandered around doing our best. We'd gotten an N-R-C-C, National Republican Congressional Committee, doing a great job, raising a lot of money, putting on training programs, making advertisements, doing everything they know how to do. We're not getting anywhere.

So he says, 'We're not going to get there this way.' One of the ways that the Democrats beat the Republicans very badly in those days was when there was a special election or maybe when there were three democrats running. Maybe you'd have a state senator, a pretty good-sized city mayor, and a county commissioner, all of them experienced in politics, and some Republican businessman says, 'Well, I think I'll give it a try.' And you're just plain out-gunned. You don't have anyone. So, the idea was to build a farm team --that's the baseball analogy Pete DuPont used. You don't expect Bo Jackson, one of the greatest athletes any body's ever known--I don't know if you recall, in the minor leagues he couldn't hit the pitching, not even minor league pitching. But after he'd been on the farm team he turned into a very great baseball player, obviously --all-star games and all of that. So you've got these all-stars out there, but they need some seasoning.

And that was the whole idea of the farm team. Basically, Pete DuPont would call around to people he knew. He'd call me, I was chairman of the Colorado Republican party, and say, 'Who are 5 or 6 Republicans running for the state legislature, who, with a little help, not a whole lot, $500, $1000, might make a difference and put 'em over?' And we would know the people there. We'd tell him the 3 or 4 people and he'd give them some money. He did that all over the country. It was extremely helpful. The whole idea was to build a farm team. And there wasn't much ideology to it. It was just who could get elected as a Republican and there wasn't much else to it. Not that there needed to be anything else, because it was a very fine program. But that's what the GOPAC was about.

Then Pete DuPont ran for president and when he was running for president, he said, 'I do not want to use GOPAC to help my presidential ambitions. I want someone else to run it.' And he called Newt and said, 'Newt, would you run it?' and Newt said he would. Very shortly after that, Newt asked me if I would come and sort of run the day-to-day affairs. His title was General Chairman and mine was Chairman. But there's no question who ran it: it was Newt's; I was running it for him and I was trying to make the trains run on time.

Q: Why do you think DuPont, out of all the people he could get, turned to Newt Gingrich, who at that point was still a relatively unknown junior congressman?

Callaway: Well, I don't know. Pete never talked to me about that. But it was a very logical thing if you wanted someone who really had ideas and Pete knew Newt pretty well. And you know, you can't talk to Newt three minutes without getting seven new ideas. And maybe you have to throw out some of them, but you'll get some really good ideas talking to him. And he correctly thought that if he'd given this to any of the other people they wouldn't have contributed the new ideas that Newt brought to GOPAC.

Q: Was there a kind of fire in the belly and real belief there could be a Republican majority? Was that part of it?

Callaway: For Newt? Oh absolutely. Absolutely. Newt never had one minute's doubt. Newt knew we were going to have a Republican majority. He was generally planning toward '92, but '94 would work. Close enough.

Q: What kind of people gave money to GOPAC and how did you approach them when you were soliciting funds?

Callaway: Well, we raised the money with small donors the same way Pete DuPont did. We had the same kind of direct mail that goes out and you prospect and when you get prospects you mail them three or four times a year. So that didn't change. But that was a small amount of the total money. Most of our money was the big money and the big money was a program that Pete DuPont had started called the Charter Program. That's $10,000 a year and that's basically what I spent a large part of my time doing, soliciting $10,000 a year from people, which is still a lot of money even though you have the Team 100s and all of that. $10,000 is a lot of money and nobody's going to give you $10,000 without thinking about it. You've got all of the programs, the Republican party and the Democratic party. In the Republican party you had the Senatorial trust, you have the Eagles, you have the Congressional, I think they call it the Leadership Assembly in Congress. And all of those are ten-now fifteen thousand dollar programs. A large part of what they do to solicit, they of course want you to believe in their cause and people would not give it if they did not believe in the cause, but a large part is glitzy. If you are an 'Eagle,' you go to Jerry Ford's home, you go to Mount Vernon with all the senators and congressman present, governors are there. I mean it's a very glitzy experience.

So, they basically raised their money on the glitz, although you had to believe in the cause, obviously. Not that GOPAC didn't have glitz. But the basic thing about GOPAC is you really believed in the cause. And the people we got were the true believers-- we got them believing that we would control Congress. We are going to control the U.S. House. And we got people believing that because Newt believed in it. I believed in it. Our staff believed in it. It wasn't just some casual, 'I'll wake-up and think I'll believe in controlling the House.' We had plans, how we would get there, how we intended to do it. And opposed to these other committees, when we'd have a GOPAC meeting, people got really involved. We've got a number of those GOPAC charter members who are still extremely involved and take a great deal of pride in saying, 'I had something to do with bringing in a Republican-controlled House,' which was a dream of many people for many, many years.

Q: Team 100 people--it was Republican establishment -- big corporate people for the most part. Was GOPAC different? Were these a different group of business people?

Callaway: Yeah. We did not reject the establishment and we had some establishment, but GOPAC was clearly not the establishment. GOPAC was people who really believed in Newt. People who really wanted to be close to Newt. When Newt ran for the whip, the whole GOPAC people -- this is our race, they were involved in it. This is our candidate. This is us. We're part of it. And not that Newt needed financing for the whip, they didn't need that, but several of the GOPAC members came just to say, 'I want to be on hand- Can I help you running for whip?' And they were just very, very involved and they were people obviously of wealth. You can't give $10,000 unless you have wealth. But they were generally not people of great wealth. They just believed.

Q: Self-made people? Entrepreneurs?

Callaway: Yes. A lot of entrepreneurial self-made people. Certainly not the big business in the sense of General Motors and IBM and the very huge corporations. We've never gotten help from them in any major way.

Q: The issue about whether these names should have been made public --members of GOPAC. In retrospect, do you think it would have been better to release these names?

Callaway: In retrospect, it probably would have been, but a lot of those people who were not giving to a lot of other things, just plain did not want their name in the paper for privacy. I am thinking of one very good friend of mine -- I'd get him to give $10,000 but he would say, 'My name's not going to be in the paper, is it?' And that's legitimate. I think I'm correct in saying there's never been any law requiring GOPAC to release its names. And there are people like GOPAC under the same kind of thing and use Common Cause and don't release names. With Newt's prominence, I understand why they released the names and I support the release. I've always been a very open kind of person and think they should release the names.

There's still some problems. As you know, if you're one of the regulars, if you have a campaign and release the names, if the federal election committee commission gets the names, then you're prohibited by law to use them to solicit. If we release names, nobody's prohibited by law and they can just take those names and solicit every conservative cause that anybody thinks of and so I think we have some obligation to give some protection. But my understanding is that they're all released, but some complain, 'Why don't you give us copies instead of letting us go look at 'em?'

Q: With regard to the GOPAC donors themselves, what are their views concerning business and government?

Callaway: I would bet if you took a vote of the charter members today on the issue of the so-called business perks, I bet you'd get 90 percent of them saying 'take them all away.' What they want for business is to have the government leave you alone and stop the onerous regulations. They're not for dirty water, they're not for having people hurt on the job, they're not for that, but those of us who are in small businesses know how much time you spend on regulations. Well, the GOPAC people would say, 'Have the government allow the businesses freedom to flourish.' But they would not say give perks to business.

Q: What was the main thing the money got spent on in GOPAC?

Callaway: Well, we continued to do what Pete DuPont did and that was to continue to give money to the farm team. But knowing Newt, you've got to do something beyond what your predecessor did. You know, you have to do something new. And he got involved in how the language of a candidate gets him elected --what you say to get elected. The feeling, which I don't think Newt's paranoid about, is that a large part of the press would be more Democratic than Republican and that it's hard in a lot of places to get the Republican message across. So, how do you get that message across? How do you work with the press to get your message across? And what kind of message do you want to give if you believe the kinds of things the people of GOPAC believe, which is, relatively conservative in the sense of free enterprise (as opposed to a government regulation kind of a business).

So, he got the idea of doing some training. And he'd go out and train himself. He was very good at that. People would just say, 'Oh wow, I can take this and I can get elected with it' and it was very successful. But, even before he was whip, one congressman doesn't have time to go all over the country and do everything he wants to do. So we started a videotape program. We videotaped Newt in front of a regular audience doing the same kind of training he does. Through the use of anecdotes, he effectively communicated to candidates what kind of language to use to help your campaign. Then our director of training, Tom Morgan, would take that videotape to a number of states around the country and the local party, or someone local would sponsor it, so we'd bring in whoever the local candidates are and then he would show the tape. He'd show maybe five or ten minutes of the tape and he'd stop and he'd say, 'Ok, now let's discuss that. What did Newt say here? How does this affect your campaign? What do you do in Mississippi that fits this?' And then he'd say, 'Alright, we've discussed that, let's do another five or ten minutes of the tape. And it really was extremely effective. And then Tom would train others. And he would get other people going around. So those tapes went all over the country in, I would say, virtually every state and some trainers were present and it was enormously effective. It elected a lot of people.

Then Newt would say, 'Yeah, but that's not enough, we need to get to more people.' And so, we should have known it instinctively, but every candidate spends a lot of time in his car. Virtually everyone of them owns a tape deck. So we got the audio tapes. Now, the videotapes you send to somebody. I don't know how many you get, I get 20 a month and I don't look at many of them. But, audio tapes, I'll generally stick one in the car because I'm in the car a lot. And I'll generally do that, listen to it, and if I like it, I'll listen to all of it. So we began doing these audio tapes. We began giving them to candidates and it started out with just Newt, but it ended up with a lot of other people. I mean, Jack Kemp and people of that kind would be on there. And the candidates really enjoyed listening to 'em. And they got to be so powerful that I remember one time, George Bush had a State of the Union in maybe '91 and Newt thought it was a particularly good one. Newt said, 'That's good, do you suppose we could get permission from the White House to put this on the GOPAC tape?' So I called over there and they were ecstatic. We were promoting George Bush, the president of the United States on our tapes and they were ecstatic. And of course we have an introduction by Newt. He said: 'Now this is a great speech by President Bush. I want you to listen to these points.' At the end of it, he said, 'Did you listen to those points George Bush made?' And they were totally ecstatic about it.

At the time, Newt was actually elected as the candidate for the Republican conference to be speaker, which was in the fall of '94. When he was elected, he asked, 'How many of you have listened to the GOPAC tapes?' And it was just virtually unanimous. Almost all of them. And, you just stick 'em in your car. They almost caused divorces because this candidate calls in and says, 'My wife wants this tape and I've got it' and we said, 'Well, if you notice, you can copy it. We don't mind that.' And so they would ask for extra copies for their wives and they'd wear them out. They'd wear them out so much that they'd say, 'I'd give it to my campaign manager, then I'd give it to my brother-in-law, then I'd give it to this one.' And they'd listen over and over and then they would want to get the language just right. They would say, 'That's just the way I want to say it.' And it really was an effective thing.

Q: This was a Republican revolution by audio tape?

Callaway: Yes. I think that if I had to pick the one thing that GOPAC did the most effectively, I'd say it was the audio tapes.

Q: George Bush and Newt Gingrich. Newt supported Bush, but on a couple of key issues they differed and one was the tax plan. Do you think Newt was right on that one?

Callaway: Yeah. There's a lot of story to that. At the time that George Bush said that taxes are on the table, it was maybe a month or two before he agreed to the Democratic plan. I was at a meeting in Atlanta where we had about four of the top GOPAC people there. And all four of us in the GOPAC organization said George Bush is defeated the morning when he said it, not because we wanted him to, we just thought, 'You can't do that.' You can't say, 'Read my lips,' and then go back to raise taxes. I remember one night I was riding with Jim Pinkerton, who's one of the good guys in the White House, in my opinion, in the Bush administration, and Newt Gingrich and I were in the car, and I said to Jim, 'Please tell them at the White House to listen to Newt. I don't think they're listening. You think Newt's going along with this, whatever it is, out of loyalty to the president. And he's telling you he's not. He's telling you that this is what this package has to have for him to go along with it. And I don't see the package happening now. And if it doesn't, Jim, he's not going along. Please tell them that, because I don't think they know that.'

Now, Bush thought he was betrayed in the Rose Garden and all of that. And who knows, maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. But I know that Newt told me consistently from the very first day what he had to have to go along with that package. I know he told the White House that. I know I told Jim Pinkerton that. I know Jim Pinkerton told the people in the White House that. I think they didn't believe it. I think they just figured that this is a Republican congressman and a Republican president, and the Republican whip is not going against his president. And they just guessed wrong. But Newt gave them every signal, every time. George Bush is one of the great humans that ever lived. But, Newt thought he was wrong. Of course, I think Newt was right to do that. What brought Bush down more than anything was the fact that he went along with it -- that Newt came out against him was a very small part of that.

Q: But it seems Bush viewed it as a betrayal -- isn't it another thing contributing to Newt's reputation of being mean-spirited?

Callaway: I've never seen Newt betray anyone that he gave his word to. He's never done that to me or anyone I've seen. One of the reasons people like Newt is that you can talk to Newt, anybody can talk to Newt. He'll tell you what's on his mind. He doesn't stop thinking, well, wait a minute, if I tell Steve this, then they might use that in this way so I better be careful here. And you know, 99 percent of politicians think that way after a while. They get burned once or twice and they say, 'I'm not going to do that again. I'm going to be a little more careful. I'm going to hedge my words.' Newt does not hedge his words. So if something occurs to him, he sees something, boy, he's got something coming out that makes great 30 second sound bites, and the 30 second sound bites get played on everything and some of those sound bites, if you take just the 30 seconds, sound mean-spirited.

Newt believes so fundamentally that the welfare state is hurting the people it's trying to help, specifically, the poor in inner cities. It's hurting the people. And he believes that. A lot of people don't believe that but he believes that. And he thinks that he's compassionate in trying to help the people in the inner cities by getting the government off their back and getting some new ways of doing things that will give them more of an opportunity as opposed to hand-outs which last from generation to generation. Now, whether you believe that or not, or whether a particular viewer believes that or not, Newt believes that and it's a very compassionate belief. And he's a compassionate person.

Q: What drives him?

Callaway: I don't think anybody will ever know what drives Newt Gingrich as hard as he's driven. This guy's amazing. Up every morning at 6 o'clock. 10 o'clock at night he's just thinking of three more meetings he's going to. I've never seen anyone driven as hard. And frankly, he's got to slow down. He's still being Speaker the way he was Whip and he's still being Whip the same way he was Congressman. There just isn't enough time for that. He's got to find ways to relax. And I know he wants to do that and he means to do that, but Newt--he just goes all the time.

Q: Different people have different things that make them get into politics, ideology, playing the game of politics --What about Newt?

Callaway: Well, nobody in politics, no matter what they say, ever does anything that doesn't sort of enjoy the power. And the day he was sworn in as speaker, I just looked up there. I was watching him and I said, 'This guy's having more fun than a little boy.' There's a lot of little boy in him. He was just having a lot of fun. He also enjoys the power--being able to say, this is what we're going to do and the whole House goes along with him.

But I really believe that Newt thinks as a Ph.D in history, as a student of history. I think he sees a role for himself in history. And I think he would say I'm disloyal to my role if I do not do the things that I believe. I think he would feel he's letting down more than his colleagues, more than the country. It's his role in history. And I think he sees this as an appropriate role in history, as one that will make this country better for Americans. And he's driven by that. I really believe that.

Q: Is this a revolution that's going to work?

Callaway: I don't know. I'll let you know in November of next year. I think the jury's out. There are a lot of people who are going to be very critical of this contract. There is a continuum of one theme and that's the Democrat theme today which is that it just isn't fair to take money from the people who need it and give it for a tax break for the rich. If the American people believe that, we'll lose. We're starting a real revolution to give a true opportunity for the people who really need it, particularly in inner cities but throughout America, the working people, the poorer people who really need to have a chance to have a part of this great country. That's what we're trying to do while, at the same time, we get our economy really going by relieving some of the burden of taxation that smothers the economy and holds it down. If the American people believe that we'll win. I can't tell you who's going to win that yet. We'll find out next election. If the Republicans pick up 26 in the House next time, 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.

People ask me a lot about the candidates, I know all of them running. They're all good friends. They're all wonderful people. But I say, it's immaterial. Give me 20 seats in the House, I'd like 60 in the Senate, but give me 20 seats in the House, and the revolution will continue. Because the 20 seats in the House will be somewhat like the freshmen, I mean, that's who you're going to get. And those 20 seats will probably replace 40 people, 20 who you've changed and 20 pick-up. And you know, then the revolution will continue. I can't tell you whether it will or not.

Q: Does Newt Gingrich want to be president of the U.S. at some point?

Callaway: I don't think there's anybody who's ever been elected to sheriff that wouldn't like to be president of the United States at some point. I don't think there's any chance he's going to run for president this time. I think he sees his role as Speaker of the House. Now, he has put a self-limitation on himself, his eight years there. Clinton, if he gets reelected, cannot run again in four years, so there's an open time for the presidency. If Bob Dole runs, I think, because of his age, he'll probably be one term, if he wins it. Newt's still young at the end of 8 years. You know, I think he probably will keep that in mind.

My strong advice to him is: do not run for president now. When you've got a personality as strong as Newt Gingrich's, you make a lot of enemies. I mean, the whole Left, as they should, sees him as the person who's taken away their cookie jar. He's doing that and so he's the one they're fighting. And they've got a lot of power and they're fighting him hard and he does make things on sound bites that he wishes he hadn't said, things that make him sound mean-spirited. If he would run for president today, all that would come out and he might overcome it, he might not. But it would all come out, this mean-spirited person, which I know he's not, would be there. But in 4 years from now or 8 years from now, that's all over. Everybody knows who Newt Gingrich is. You like him or you don't. But they will have to know by then that he's a compassionate person. They will have to know by then that he's got the good of the country at heart. And whether you believe in his philosophy or someone else's, that is what elections are all about. So you go have an election. But if it were now, his issues would never get out. I'm afraid that he would just get personally attacked.

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