Marianne Gingrich, however, doesn't see her husband very often.
"I like adventure," Marianne tells me. "I just don't like the public."
A year ago, she and her husband bought their first home, in the affluent Atlanta exurb of east Cobb County, a former pasture now paved with new money. Cobb County subdivisions have names such as "Beverly Hills" and "Falcon Crest." She spends most of her time there alone.
Marianne's world is a small "cluster house" on a cul-de-sac. "We have two bedrooms and an office room," Marianne says proudly. "We also have a living room with no furniture. I haven't had a chance to go shopping."
What attracted her to Newt Gingrich?
"Good question," she says, adding, "Newt says we started talking and just kept talking. There's some truth in that."
Does she want children of her own?
"Let's not touch that one," she answers.
Newt suggested I ask his wife if he has changed.
"I would have to honestly say that Newt has worked very, very hard to change," concedes Marianne. He has even helped her build an independent career. Last September, a job was arranged for her as a marketing representative for an Israeli-based company seeking a free-trade zone there. She was recommended by Vin Weber after Newt's intercession with top Israeli officials on behalf of Weber's interests as a lobbyist for the company.
Marianne tells me that the job takes a lot of her time. But she has been "hanging on to it for dear life," since Newt's enemies have added it to their list of the Speaker's alleged ethical lapses. "My job has been on semi-hold, because the company has decided basically to shut down some operations," Marianne confides sadly. "But I'm still involved, because they made me vice president of marketing."
I ask Marianne how often her husband takes a vacation with her.
"Let's see, last August..." Her voice drifts off. "But not what you'd call a real vacation." She finally recalls a time, two years ago, when they stayed several days in Stephen Hanser's cabin in the north-Georgia mountains. "We went for hikes, I cooked at home a lot, but we kind of hung out and read and talked."
"He completely ignores her," observes a Washington journalist who has interviewed Marianne. "It's my impression the marriage is a dead letter. He is so self-obsessed, she could open the door wrapped in plastic wrap and he wouldn't notice."
But Marianne has at least made the Speaker notice when she asks him to take out the trash. "Lives are at stake here," he protested one day when she made her request. He had been on the phone dealing with the Nicaragua situation, says Marianne.
"No, no, no," she shot back. "It doesn't matter. Take the garbage out."
What was Newt's greatest test of courage? I ask his press secretary. "Maybe taking on Jim Wright," says Tony Blankley. "He wasn't taking on one man, he was taking on essentially a whole town, relatively alone. He knew what the danger was going in." But by 1984 he was ready for the attack that would be the equivalent of his Normandy.
Wright, a 30-year veteran of Congress, represented Newt's Faustian pact for fame and power. Newt's ultimately successful campaign to unseat the Texas Democrat began in 1987, when he unleashed an extensive round of ethics charges against the Speaker, but the first hostilities came in May 1984, inspired by Newt's recognition that the C-SPAN cameras in Congress offered his main chance for national exposure.
Frank Gregorsky, then a Gingrich staff writer, had worked for nine months on a paper which cited particularly controversial Democratic statements on foreign policy in Vietnam, Cuba, and Nicaragua. According to Gregorsky, Newt said, "We're going to read this on the record. We're going to pick a fight." Democrats were apparently informed that Gingrich was to deliver a Special Order that afternoon. "They just thought it was another Newt thing," says Gregorsky. At the close of the legislative day, Newt read the incendiary paper --before an empty chamber and for the benefit of the C-SPAN audience. He accused the Democrats of believing that "America does nothing right." It was pure theater.
Yet the attack so violated the traditional comity of the House that then Speaker Tip O'Neill "lost his cool" (in Gregorsky's words) and a few days later --in a full session of Congress --accused Gingrich of "the lowest thing I've ever seen in my 32 years in Congress." Representative Trent Lott demanded that O'Neill's words be stricken from the record, and the presiding congressional officer ruled in his favor. Gingrich's tour de force made all the network news shows that night --and a star was born. "I am now a famous person," Newt crowed to the press.
But in his mania for immediate headlines, Newt had drawn blood, and his enemies still swear vengeance.
The mid-80s saw the debut of a new storyteller in the land. Cultural myths are what we live by. And Newt brought us a new myth --the Angry White Man Strikes Back-- delivered in a voice sharpened by Newt McPherson and Bob Gingrich, a voice with the swagger of John Wayne and the stridency of Sergeant Stryker, a voice perfectly pitched to the tenor of the times. In The Ambition and the Power, John M. Barry reports that in 1985 Newt was already aware of the new myth he intended to create for America. As he had done during his lonely childhood, Newt used words as weapons, perfecting a politics of personal destruction. At one lunch, writes Barry, Newt grabbed a napkin and drew a diagram illustrating how he intended to define the opposition "out of existence." On other occasions Newt said that Democratic leaders were "corrupt," that they associated with "thugs," and that they followed Neville Chamberlain's philosophy of "withdrawal from the planet." Their policies, he warned, would bring to American shores "the joys of Soviet-style brutality and the murder of women and children."
The more outrageous his rhetoric became the more "hits" he got on television and in magazines. "We are engaged in reshaping a whole nation through the news media," Newt himself acknowledged to The Washington Post. "Newt's used the media from the beginning," boasts Tony Blankley, who goes on to emphasize that Newt's style and approach actually pre-date the rise of Rush Limbaugh. Newt's press secretary even draws a comparison to the Ayatolah Khomeini, another charismatic leader who created a revolution by audiotape. Newt took over GOPAC in 1986 and transformed the PAC once associated with former presidential candidate Pete du Pont into his personal marketing and money-raising machine. Every Republican candidate for state or local office got a new audiotape once a month; these tapes transmitted the conservative gospel straight from the mouth of Newt to the ear of every young, ambitious true believer behind the wheel of a car traveling the back roads of politics. "Over the years he has put out a total of something like 2,000 tapes," says Blankley.
"Not many of us had much confidence in the post-Watergate era that we would be the ruling majority in our lifetime," says Wilma Goldstein, who was director of survey research for the National Republican Congressional Committee in those years. "Very few, maybe nobody. But Newt was always writing memos to all of us about what a Republican majority would look like."
And on November 8, 1994, Newton Leroy Gingrich triumphed over all the doubters and detractors from his past. He became King of the Hill and spiritual leader of the first Republican majority in both houses in 40 years.
Can Newt Gingrich change? Can the wild-haired warrior tame himself into a silver-haired statesman? "He reminds me of Daniel Ortega in a way," quips Democratic senator Christopher Dodd. "These guys never take off their fatigues after they've won the revolution."
The fact is that Newt Gingrich has been concerned about his ability to shift into a more presidential persona for at least a decade. Ten years ago Wilma Goldstein asked him point-blank, "Are you the right person to be the leader of the movement if we ever become the majority?"
"I've been thinking about that," Newt said. He had just returned from England and a debate at the Oxford Union, lugging a stack of books about leaders who had played both backbench attack dog and seasoned leader. "I want to see if I can learn what it takes to do that," he told Goldstein. "But if I'm not the right person, I won't be that leader."
The point is that Newt's inner dynamic, the single-minded drive that has fueled his quest, is so all-consuming that it may distract him from the need for consistency on issues he sees as peripheral. In July, Newt blurted out his support for U.S. recognition of Taiwan as a free and independent country, drawing fire from even his friend Henry Kissinger. Chastened, he admitted he didn't care much about Taiwan; he was re-enacting a scene from Allen Drury's novel Advise & Consent. "I don't do foreign policy," he said, adding, "I wanted their attention."
Under the pressures of his racing internal time clock, Newt is likely to betray the core issues he sounded so passionate about yesterday. "Newt is decisive but changes his mind, so whatever he's doing might change in six months," says Frank Gregorsky. "But when it changes he is blindingly defensive and assertive about it." The biggest change may be yet to come. Newt, who started out as a moderate, may shed another skin when the pain of the budget revolution kicks in. Newt's loyal point man, Congressman John Kasich, head of the Budget Committee, may be the fall guy.
Newt's military mind-set, formed by Bob Gingrich and the battles of his psychic heroes, is deeply ingrained and an essential part of the way he operates. In a recent appearance on the Charlie Rose show, Newt quoted Mao: "Politics," he intoned, "is war without blood." Gingrich's pal Stephen Hanser says that part of Newt's strategy in the House is based on combat theory, namely the German armed-forces doctrine of Auftragstaktik, or "mission orders." The problem is that in the heat of battle subtleties are lost. Standards fall. Atrocities are forgiven. Especially if the action is rapid-fire.
And with Newt, it always is. Speed is unfailingly of the essence. The 100-day Contract with America is the best proof. The Speaker has the tendency to set up accelerated timetables and artificial deadlines, based on the necessity to keep his "frenetic psyche" within some boundaries. In Newt's world, dominated by hungry media perpetually in need of bigger jolts of adrenaline, there is no debate, no moderation. As Marcella Mc Pherson said, "If he wants something, he wants it now."
"I think the manic part of Newt's personality is troublesome," says one moderate Republican in Congress. "The hyperactivity, the racing thoughts. He flits from one subject to the other and sometimes fails to make the connections."
"You can't sprint when you're in a marathon," frets Stephen Hanser, "and this is a marathon...He does need time to read, he does need time to reflect." And basically, says Hanser, since July of last year, Newt hasn't taken a moment to reflect. His aide-de-camp tried to coax the Speaker to his cabin in north Georgia during his recess that followed his triumphant first 100 days. But Newt was already "laptopping" for his treatise, To Renew America.
One well-known television interviewer recently observed Newt at very close range. "When Gingrich was being made up for his interview, he looked beat, lifeless, exhausted." Once the interview started, he came to life. "But you know from seeing people that wrung out and still under high pressure, their judgement isn't great and they can make disastrous decisions," says the interviewer. "I think Gingrich will inevitably self-destruct."
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