Newt Gingrich's political career began officially in 1973 when he declared himself a candidate for Congress. In 1974 he gave a quote to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution which was clearly meant for the history books: "[My ambition] is to be an old-time political boss in 20 years." Not the most idealistic of intentions, but that was Newt and he has done it --on his own, feverish timetable.
Most of the people who worked on the Gingrich congressional campaigns during the 70s were actually Democrats. "My mama said that the only Republican who'd ever done anything for that part of Georgia was William Tecumseh Sherman," says Kip Carter. "We downplayed the Republican thing completely...You don't see 'Republican' in any of the ads or campaign posters." Says James Gray, a professor who was Newt's officemate for three years. "I voted for him in 1974 and it's the only time I ever voted Republican. I thought he was a moderate."
Along with his amorphous political persona, Newt showed a propensity for the kind of behavior boys boast about in the locker room. Throughout his first campaign he was having an affair with a young volunteer. Dot Crews, who occasionally drove the candidate, says that almost everybody involved in the campaign knew. Kip Carter claims, "We'd have won in 1974 if we could have kept him out of the office, screwing her on the desk."
The Gingriches entered marriage counseling, but Newt continued to behave as if other people's rules didn't apply to him. Dot Crews observes, "It was common knowledge that Newt was involved with other women during his marriage to Jackie. Maybe not on the level of John Kennedy. But he had girlfriends --some serious, some trivial."
One of those women, Anne Manning, became romantically involved with Gingrich during his '76 campaign. The curly-haired young Englishwoman, then married to another professor at West Georgia, Tim Chowns, was an avid volunteer in Newt's Carrollton office. "I did have a relationship with him," she discloses for the first time, "but when it suited him, he would totally blow you off."
In the spring of 1977, she was in Washington to attend a census-bureaus workshop when Gingrich took her to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. He met her back at her modest hotel room. "We had oral sex," she says. "He prefers that modus operandi because then he can say, "I never slept with her." Indeed, before Gingrich left that evening, she says, he threatened her: "If you ever tell anybody about this, I'll say you're lying."
She tells me this, she says, because she fears that Newt might become president someday. "I don't claim to be an angel," she says, but she is repelled by Newt's stance as Mr. Family Values. "He's morally dishonest. He has gone too far believing that 'I'm beyond the law.' He should be stopped before it's too late."
Kip Carter, who lived a few doors down from the couple, saw more than he wanted to. "We had been out working a football game --I think it was the Bowdon game-- and we would split up. It was a Friday night. I had Newt's daughters, Jackie Sue and Kathy, with me. We were all supposed to meet back at this professor's house. It was a milk-and-cookies kind of shakedown thing, buck up the troops. I was cutting across the yard to go up the driveway. There was a car there. As I got to the car, I saw Newt in the passenger seat and one of the guys' wives with her head in his lap going up and down. Newt kind of turned and gave me his little-boy smile. Fortunately, Jackie Sue and Kathy were a lot younger and shorter then.
The conventional line on Newt's political ambitions is that he has been single-mindedly determined to gain the Speakership. In fact, he started planning his run for president 20 years ago.
In November 1976, ignoring the minor setback of having just lost his second campaign for Congress, he and his acolytes began to plot a presidential run scheduled for 2000 or 2004. According to a close source, "We were all discussing the timing, his age, working out the one-term and two-term presidencies in between. I think the plan is still going. I think he will be president.
As is his habit, Newt is apparently toying with the notion of accelerating his schedule. So I ask him about some of the scenarios now floating around Washington.
"Some, even your mother, say Bob Dole looks old. By fall he may even look older."
Newt chuckles. He does not defend his fellow Republicans. (Eddie Mahe, one of Newt's advisors, has told me that Newt well understands that it is in his interest to see Bill Clinton re-elected if he doesn't run himself.)
"Some say it's in your interest to have a weak president to kick around for four more years," I propose.
New arches back in mock shock. "Only a city as cynical as Washington could come up with that...I can't imagine anyone who knows me well who would say that. I don't operate that way."
"Suppose," I say to the Speaker, "in late fall the Republicans come to you and say, 'Look, we've got a vacuum, and we really need you to fill this hole.'"
"The last genuine draft for the presidency was in 1789, and he was sitting on Mount Vernon. Think about it this way. This is a moment in time when there's an enormous vacuum, and the baby-boomers know it...We'd better get this country back together again, or they're not going to be able to retire." Newt then verbalizes what sounds like the basis for his own internal debate: "You could spend the next 18 months as one of a number of decent, hardworking people trying to be president, which is an entire job of its own. Or you could spend the same number of months leading 230 other members of the House and framing the environment of the presidential campaign so that the whole team can go in."
Tentatively, he muses that he would probably have a bigger net impact being the Speaker of the House. But in that role he's merely a featured player in the upcoming presidential epic. Wouldn't he rather star as Newt the McPherson? He comes back with bombast --but puts off the choice: "I care about driving and getting this country back together. This country is desperate for leadership."
The General Patton style of leadership which allows Newt to see a hole and drive straight through it does not lend itself to winning friends or building lasting coalitions based on loyalty. His self-confessed people problems --the inability to connect easily with others-- could handicap him in ascending to a higher platform. It may even be a problem already. One of the shrewdest Democratic movers in recent congressional memory defines the Speaker's position in terms of "no depth of loyalty" from his party in Congress. "And he doesn't show loyalty, either."
"Newt read books," says Eddie Mahe. "He doesn't do friendship." Newt's former best friend in Congress, Vin Weber, has also admitted that Newt has problems with interpersonal relationships. "I told him so every day," Weber remarks.
"He always tried to be one of the boys," says Kip Carter. "He never quite was." To illustrate the point, Carter tells a down-home kind of story from the 1970s. Newt and Carter, who was then his campaign treasurer, used to barbecue hogs in the Gingriches' driveway in Carrollton, Georgia. They would go to a friend's farm and pick out a hog --and shoot it.
"One day, Newt says to me, 'I need to be the one to kill the hog. It's only right, just morally.'"
Carter showed Newt how to use a Walther P-38, a W.W. II German pistol. "I said, 'Put some corn in your left hand. When the pig comes over to get it, put the pistol against his head and shoot him between his eyes.'"
"So the pig comes over and he starts eating," says Carter. "Newt flinches as the round hits the pig on the side of the head and ricochets down." But the shot only stunned the hog and sent it fleeing back into the pen. "Newt keeps trying to get this pig to come back to him. Newt's getting madder and madder. I said to him, 'You just shot the son of a bitch in the head, Newt, why do you think he's gonna come to you?'"
Carter recalls urging his comrade-in-arms, "'You gotta get in there, in the hogpen, and go get him.' But Newt wouldn't do it. So I ended up going in the pen and killing the hog."
Unlike Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich cannot easily transmit empathy to the camera or a gathered audience. Like Nixon, he does not easily communicate sympathy, trustworthiness, or compassion. His eyes do not meet the camera. He meets the world with the gaze of an outsider whose attention is inwardly engaged. People willingly give to Newt for quite an extended period of time because they are electrified by his tenacity and vision. But as time passes and they expect their relationship with the man to deepen, it doesn't. And when he is finished using them, he moves on, discarding former loyalists like so much used ammo. Gingrich routinely dismisses any negative public statements as the work of disgruntled former employees, but the depth of feeling among his former allies is remarkable. "There are no former disgruntled employees," says Dot Crews. "We're all just sorry that we ever went to work for him in the first place and that we didn't get out sooner."
Ladonna Lee, president of the Eddie Mahe Company, did many projects with Newt in the 80s. She sums up one aspect of his people problem this way: "He's a very tough taskmaster. A lot of different people who have been his chief of staff or A.A., no matter how well they do, it's never enough."
Newt's style of leadership, described by Eddie Mahe as "the mountaintop philosophy," may be a further complication. Says Ladonna Lee, "He would always get people started on a project or a vision, and we're all slugging up the mountain to accomplish it. Newt's nowhere to be found...He's gone on to the next mountaintop."
Echoes Dolores Adamson, "He would say, 'You have to understand that I am a think tank, I can save the West, and when I come up with a new idea, we need to move on it immediately.' We'd have this big project going, and all of a sudden it just faded away. Everybody went into swarms to try and get something accomplished. And then he turned on them and did something else."
Vin Weber says, "I never saw a lot of crackpot ideas. I saw a lot of good ideas. But there was difficulty in assessing a cost-benefit ratio. Even if every idea is good, resources are limited. With Newt, it didn't matter if we were overreaching, we had to do everything."
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