The Long March of Newt Gingrich
Frank Gregorsky
navigation, see below for textcontinued
Q: What sort of books was Newt 'Jingoish' telling you to read?

Gregorsky: It's an interesting thing about those books. None of them are works of philosophy. They are management books, they are futuristic books and they are biographies. In '83, he told us to read Ted Morgan's book, "Young Man in a Hurry," which is a partial biography of Churchill from his birth in 1874 up to 1914. He said, 'Look, you guys, you'll see a lot of me in that.' I mean, Churchill was rambunctious, was bumptious to some extent, changed parties twice, not that Newt's going to do that. But the point was it's possible to be even more of an experimenter than Newt. You could change parties, Churchill did that.

Intellectual, pro-technology, studied history and eventually led England through its great crisis, so we were told to read that and the strangest recommendation I got was to read Isaac Asimov's book, "The Foundation Trilogy." I understand there was a fourth, fifth and sixth volume later, but at that point there were three and it was a science fiction book. Of course, I read it and I came and I said, 'I don't understand this reading assignment. I mean, I don't understand what I'm supposed to get out of this.' I mean it was an interesting book, but what does that teach us about Republican majority or balancing the budget or reforming Social Security? He said, 'It may not teach you anything about those Frank, but what I'm trying to convey to you is that I'm a figure who thinks in terms of 100-year increments and I think in terms of civilization's rising and falling over 500-year increments and that's the level of thought and change that I would like you to get in sync with.' That was an interesting expansion of the job description. It was accurate. He wasn't being a megalomaniac about it. I thought maybe he was, but I know now that he wasn't.

Q: Didn't Democrats underestimate Newt Gingrich for a long time?

Gregorsky: Yeah and they still do. They underestimate him in different ways. They say things like, 'Well, he's his own worst enemy. Well, he's going to self-destruct. Well, he goes after us on ethics but he's sloppy on his own book deal,' and stuff like that. They're entitled to go and make hay and sort of get even, if they can. But in my opinion, the people that really hate Newt, the Dave Boniors of the world, should hate him because he means to destroy the liberal ideological establishment and the Democrats as a functioning institutional majority.

So, if you're a west coast Democrat and there are software writers and tech people on the west coast who are liberal on abortion, liberal on gay rights, but they think Newt's sort of an interesting guy, at least he's not a troglodyte and he talks cyberspace. Those kind of Democrats can get along with Newt. But Democrats like John Dingell and Dave Bonior, almost the exact paradigmatic opposite of Newt, they know that Newt means to destroy them and so they are trying to destroy him.

People say, 'Why can't these guys work together?' In this case, they're not supposed to work together, they really are scorpions in a bottle. They know who they are and in the case of Bonior who wakes up, in my opinion, every morning thinking, 'How can I destroy the speaker,' they're doing it for a reason and the reason by their lights is not illegitimate.

Q: One of the criticisms of Newt Gingrich is he's letting corporations rewrite environmental laws in this country and there is going to be less environmental regulation and so forth. Doesn't sound like Teddy Roosevelt.

Gregorsky: And I think if you scratched down deep you might find that Newt has some problems with that. I think environment in another two or three years is going to be an issue that is redefined by Newt, almost single-handedly. Two factual points. In 1979, Newt along with John Anderson and a few liberal Republicans, was one of the small groups of Republicans who voted for the Alaska Lands Conservation Act --Jimmy Carter's, he says, biggest intellectual achievement as President. Most of us on the staff were appalled at that. We wanted oil wells up there. We had an energy crisis at the time and Newt said, 'No, this is a Teddy Roosevelt bill and I'm going to vote for it.'

Now you could say that's ancient history, but a more recent departure from orthodoxy was the fact that Newt, along with Gerry Studds, who, let us recall, Newt tried to expel seven years earlier, the two of them in 1990 introduced the re-authorization of the Endangered Species Act. Newt did this as House Republican Whip and at that point, a leading conservative light in the country. So yes, there are regulatory reform cut-backs going on now, but if I were a middle of the road environmentalist, not a real Luddite who wants to go back to the Stone Age, but somebody who is a mainstream Sierra Club person, not a tree-spiker, if I was one of those people, I wouldn't give up on Newt Gingrich yet.

Q: He had just gotten together with Marianne Ginther --she became Marianne Gingrich. What was that relationship like --to the extent that you ever saw any of it?

Gregorsky: I met Marianne in December, 1980 and she was different from what I thought she was going to be. I think it was Newt going back and being a teenager again. There was a general consensus then and now that Newt had married his mom, or married the mom he didn't have. Well, he did have a mom, but he married a mother figure in a lot of different ways. I don't want to go into too much detail about Jackie. But 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.' She didn't want to necessarily go cut and save Western Civilization, so she wasn't, in that sense, an ideological soul mate or mission soul mate. But she understood that this was a colorful guy who wasn't talking through his hat. And I think Newt needed that.


more about newt . interviews . his work and writings . his reading list . a chronology
bibliography . feedback . tapes & transcripts . FRONTLINE online . pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation