Newt Gingrich for President?

His e-mail newsletter reaches more than 200,000 subscribers—and another 1,000 sign up every week. His 90-second radio commentary hits the airwaves on 350 radio stations and is one of the most downloaded political podcasts on iTunes. This month he's releasing a new edition of his best-selling book "Winning the Future" with added chapters on red-meat issues like activist judges and immigration reform. And his busy travel schedule includes a stop to see the "piggies" at the Iowa State Fair this summer. Is Newt Gingrich gearing up for an '08 presidential bid? He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Debra Rosenberg about the current political situation and his future plans. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: In your book, you talk about tough love for the Republican Party and say that it's time for "an intervention." What do you recommend?

Newt Gingrich: I start from the premise that we have to be prepared to face the things that aren't working and to fix them. We have to understand that the country doesn't particularly want to elect liberal Democrats, because it doesn't believe in them and in fact it finds them slightly strange. But the country has a performance problem with the Republicans right now. The more the Republicans can understand that and meet the challenge so that people can say, "Yeah I want more of that because I see you're back on track," I think the easier the '06 and '08 elections [will be].

You've talked about how the Democrats could potentially win this fall.

Right. I think clearly if you look at the polling numbers they could potentially win. They currently have a bigger generic ballot lead than we had when we took control in 1994. But I think that we have every opportunity in the next four months to reset the stage. We have the president, the Senate and the House. You have all the necessary elements of communication and of agenda-setting. I don't think we win by staying the course. I think we win by changing course back to being a grassroots-oriented, reform party. And there are some signs that are encouraging. I think the recent fight with the Senate over spending was actually very good. The House stood up, the president stood up and they took $18 billion out of the Senate supplemental [spending bill]. That was a very good signal. The House has immigration right and the basically liberal Democrat amnesty bill in the Senate is wrong. If the House will stick to its guns, by this fall immigration will be a net plus for Republicans.

Is the White House doing what it needs to do for the fall elections?

I think they're moving in the right direction. In many ways they've been off their stride since the election. The failure to deliver on Social Security. The disaster of Katrina. The whole problem with Iraq is much harder than they thought it would be—than we thought it would be. I'm part of the "we" in this process. There are things that are objective success stories. The economy is much stronger than anybody on the left thought it would be with tax cuts. The deficit has been cut down by more than half several years earlier than the president said it would. Medicare part D has attracted 35 or 38 million people and it's coming in at 35 percent cheaper than the original projections.

Are the Democrats squandering their opportunity?

Somebody from the [Washington] Post called me today and said they were very struck that the Democrats had just lost the language war over this debate on Iraq. He said, "What would your advice be?" I said, "Change policies." This is a core problem they have. ... I don't think you can write a Contract with Vermont and San Francisco. I think the problem the Democrats have right now—you see it in the most important primary this year, the Joe Lieberman election. Al Gore has refused to endorse his vice presidential running mate. A party which is so driven by its left that—I don't know if you saw the blogger meeting in Las Vegas? From the standpoint of an average American, some of that stuff was weird. Candidates out there run a risk of resembling the people they're trying to appeal to. Normal people I think become distanced by that stuff. I think the Republican Party has few allies more effective than the Daily Kos. It puts them into an echo chamber of listening to each other. There was a reason [2004 Democratic presidential nominee John] Kerry looked normal—because Howard Dean looked so strange. So you have Dean as national chair, you have Gore coming back as a true left winger to Hillary's left, you have Lieberman unacceptably pro-national security, you have Nancy Pelosi from San Francisco... Let's drop Nancy Pelosi into a typical exurban swing district and see how she does. You listen to her talk and it's all about the counterculture, unilateral disarmament type of babble.

Back to bloggers. You like technology. I'd think you'd be a blog kind of guy. Do you have a problem with the medium?

Conservative talk radio mobilized an entire country. And you really can't explain the Contract with America and the rise of conservatism without thinking about Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and all the different people....it's an interesting and understudied phenomenon that there is no successful left wing radio. It's partly because the coalition of the left is a genuine coalition of different groups of people who actually don't want to listen to each other. So it's much less homogenous than the right. The bloggers are on the one hand helpful to the left because it gives them a voice with each other and the left is overwhelmingly represented in the academic world and therefore writing and reading blogs makes perfect sense to that faction. The problem they have is that it almost is carrying them back to the McGovern era where the very intensity of the anti-war Democrats in 1972 took them off a cliff. You get on these blogs and you talk to each other and you build up your intensity and you begin to think it's the real world. And then these candidates now want to be liked by these bloggers who after all spend all day writing to each other. And that can create an impossibly high standard. If you do what the bloggers want in the end, you're going to be so far to the left.

So when all these people go out to Las Vegas and court the bloggers?

They'd have been better off going to a suburban county fair and hanging out with normal people. It's an interest group that asserts its own moral superiority and renders judgment every day. That's what bloggers do.

So what if they insert themselves into the Lieberman race?

If you think that defeating in the primary the vice presidential nominee who is universally respected as an honest man is a clever tactic to build a majority, then people who believe that know nothing about American politics. If Lieberman loses on Aug. 8, they're going to look like such a left-wing unilateral disarmament party.

I've noticed your travel schedule seems to involve places that have early presidential contests.

It's true that my son-in-law, and my grandson Robert and I are going to go out and see the piggies and the cows at the Iowa state fair.

You've been saying you might run?

I'm actually pretty direct about it. I'm going to talk about ideas and talk about solutions. There will not be a vacuum of ambition and there won't be a vacuum of competence. But if next October it's clear that we can create a national movement that would be like the Contract, then I'd be interested in running. What really matters is to recognize the challenge of the next 20 years. I think this is the biggest challenge we've had as a country since April of 1861. I think we do not realize how hard this is going to be or how big it's going to be. And so I'm going to try to spend the entire next year and a half—from now until October of '07—laying out a strategy for winning the future and laying out a series of policies, much the way I did with the Contract. And then see what the reaction to it is. It's really going to be focused on the ideas—the notion of trying to create a grassroots movement that would radically change Washington, not just preside over it.

When you say this is the biggest challenge that we've faced since 1861, what do you mean?

The Cold War, the Second World War, the Great Depression were very hard but they were focusing. And they came in sequence. You didn't do both simultaneously. What I try to summarize is that science is going to change 4 to 7 times as much in the next 25 years as the last 25. China and India are going to be genuine economic competitors. Baby boomers are the longest living generation in history. The definition of American citizenship, controlling the border and the decision on immigration are enormous. And in the world at large we have four layers of challenges. We have the long war with the irreconcilable wing of Islam, of which Iraq is a piece. We have the threat of dictatorships that want to get nuclear and biological weapons, like Iran and North Korea. We have the emergence of a verbal anti-American coalition.... You can see the pattern. And then the challenge of how in an age of real-time television and cell phones, a country like ours leads the pack in a way that is persuasive rather than coercive and that increases our acceptability rather than decreases it.

You take that list I just gave you, we've got a heckuva decade, a heckuva 15 years. I don't want to preside over the decay of the country. But I have every interest in finding out whether or not we can build a genuine movement in state legislatures, and county councils and school boards. If we don't fix a number of these things, I think we're in very big trouble.

I imagine some of your decision will be based on who else runs?

It will actually be based on who picks up the ideas. It's much more about a movement and a set of ideas. We're going to offer all these ideas, all this material to everybody. And if somebody else can put together a movement, that's fine. I also hope that we can in 2007, I would really like to see the Republican party offer to the Democratic party to hold a series of bipartisan conversations rather than the usual political bitterness and actually spend 2007 talking about what kind of country should America be.

You've talked about some of the Democrats. What about Hillary Clinton? You've teamed up with her on some health issues.

She's very competent. She's very professional. She works very hard. The question is whether or not there's a ceiling. She clearly is the best-financed candidate.

You mean a gender ceiling?

No, no. A Hillary ceiling. For a lot of Americans, the prospect of Bill being in the East wing just sort of stops them. I tried to get one of the networks to do a situation comedy called East Wing with a Bill-Clinton-type First Spouse bouncing around. Her husband is probably the smartest politician in our generation, so if the two of them work at it hard enough they are very formidable. I think we can beat her in a general election. But I don't think it's easy. And I don't think you do it by being negative about her. Everybody who wants to be negative about Hillary already knows everything they need to know. What you have to do is offer a better vision of a better future that people believe is real.

So if not you on the Republican side, who else?

You have to say that McCain, Giuliani, Romney, Frist, Allen, Huckabee—at a minimum all six of them are in the race. And it is probably the most open race on the Republican side since 1940. And I think you have to say John McCain is the frontrunner and Giuliani is a close second. But it's also 2006. And nobody has a Reaganite or George H.W. Bush kind of organizational structure. So I think it's pretty wide open.

You haven't talked about a lot of social issues. What role should gay marriage and abortion play?

I think they're part of the fabric of life. But I don't think you can wave them off the table. I am conservative and I favor defending traditional marriage between man and wife, which has been for 2,000 years the primary relationship—3,000 years if you count the Jewish experience. I am pro-life. And I think those issues do matter and they are significant.

Newt Gingrich for President? | News