Newt Gingrich on the New Head of the RNC

When Michael Steele was chosen as chairman of the new Republican National Committee, Friday, he ushered in a new era for the bruised party. After six rounds of voting, he stood out, as both the most moderate of the candidates running and, perhaps more significant, the first African American to take the role. Of course, at this point, radical political change seems to be happening daily, and Steele's promise that he'll infuse the GOP with the game-changing technology and media-savvy personality that George W. Bush so lacked is hardly groundbreaking. To get the pulse of the new party, NEWSWEEK's Kurt Soller spoke to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He told us about his favorite chairmen from years past and suggested what Steele's election means for the Republican Party's future success. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What does the nomination of Michael Steele, the RNC's first African American chairman, mean for the party?
GINGRICH: I thought it was a terrific choice. There were a number of first-class candidates, but he has the energy and the experience to do this job. He has the stature, the television skills and the background as Maryland's lieutenant governor that prepares him. He was also a great contender for the U.S. Senate [in 2006]—it was just a bad year. He's done a good job with GOPAC [a Republican political action committee for young people]. And he clearly represents the new, emerging Republican Party.

What about him represents this new party, and where is the GOP headed?
He's going to reach out to minorities. He's going to reach out to young people. He's going to take all the arguments against the party and talk about them in a new way. This is because he'll bring energy to the party that we haven't seen.

Previous RNC chairmen haven't been stars in the same way. So how is Steele going to fill the role?
Listen, the two best chairmen in my life have been Bill Brock, who ran the party from 1977 to 1981, and Haley Barbour, who did the job from 1993 to 1997 and is now governor of the state of Mississippi. Steele has the same great political instincts as both men. And like Barbour, he has the ability to be really effective in the news media, which is going to add the necessary energy to unite the party.

So much of his success might stem from his media training. How important is that?
Well, he needs to move the whole country, and television and radio are nationwide mediums. You'll be sure to find him bringing in a strong community organizer to deal with individual states and strategy, but Steele will be the voice for the whole country. And the media appearances will help that.

In the last election, we saw a president win with help from a huge technological team. In fact, Steele's campaign video promises that, "this time, our party will develop the technology that wins elections." How much of a priority will that be?
Anybody that wants to build a serious political movement has to start with Google and YouTube and Facebook. You have to go on cable and you have to go mobile. We learned that in the last election. But once you get to the issues of protecting the right to vote, the Republicans will be ahead. Once you speak with people who favor the rights of workers to get organized, the GOP is going to be able to build much bigger e-mail lists than the Democrats. Look at talk radio. That's a great example of what I'm talking about here. You have no successful liberal talk radio in this entire country. That's because this is not a liberal country. In the end, this is a moderate to conservative country. And Steele will help our government get back to that.

So what does it say that the man charged with saving the party is the first African American in the position?
It's certainly a step in the right direction. He'll be able to go to the NAACP, for example, and talk about the benefits of school choice. Given his skills, he'll go anyplace else that invites him. And when he goes, it'll be an alternative to something like, say, Al Gorism that's all high-cost and too much energy.