Newt Gingrich is saying all the right things to boost his profile as a potential Donald Trump running mate. He’s been advising the billionaire in private, praising him in public and attacking Hillary Clinton at every turn, fanning the flames for the likelihood that he’s auditioning for the No. 2 gig.
And, perhaps most importantly, the former U.S. House speaker is among a shrinking number of influential Republicans who are ready and willing to take the job.
As Trump nears an announcement for his vice presidential pick — the real estate mogul began formally vetting candidates this week — Gingrich’s name remains at the top of the list.
Whether it’s a good pick or a bad one — Republicans seem as divided over the former Georgia lawmaker as they are about nearly everything else concerning the race — being selected as Trump’s top surrogate offers some built-in advantages for the GOP ticket.
“There are two big assets that Newt would bring to bear: He’s got a track record of working with Congress,” said Randy Evans, his longtime lawyer and an influential member of the Republican National Committee. “And if you put Gingrich on the ticket, everyone will breathe a sigh of relief — you’re going to bring the party home.”
Trump has said he’s looking for someone with political experience, and he acknowledged Thursday that he was vetting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and a handful of other elected officials. He’s said he wants a running mate with strong relationships on Capitol Hill who could help him push his policy agenda. And Gingrich, the architect of the Republican Revolution in 1994, seems to fit the bill.
Former aides from Gingrich’s House days say he is an unrivaled political tactician and big-picture policy thinker whose strength lies in his ability to move an idea from inception to implementation.
“Even though it’s not considered to be a good thing among some voters, he really does understand Washington,” Ed Kutler, a former Capitol Hill adviser to Gingrich, said of his old boss. “Newt would have a good understanding of how to move an agenda with the current Hill actors as well as how to bring together the business community, the lobbying community and to work with the broader public in terms of grass roots.”
Rick Tyler, a former Gingrich spokesman, said his mastery of the media to connect to the public and convince it that change is needed was unparalleled. The welfare overhaul of the 1990s, a collaboration with President Bill Clinton, was top of mind.
“Gingrich was the last conservative who actually knew how to get something done in Congress,” Tyler said. “And the way he got it done is he understood how to win the argument with the country. When you win the argument with the country, the country forces Congress to act.”
The former speaker still proves his media mettle daily, broadcasting his thoughts to more than 1.5 million Twitter followers and responses to big developments on Facebook Live.
And on Friday, Gingrich began reversing course on his decades-long support of free trade deals, which had long been one of the biggest policy differences between him and Trump.
Gingrich’s professorial bent often dithers from Trump’s bombastic public persona, and his sharp elbows have occasionally extended to Trump as well. He’s criticized Trump’s off-the-cuff speaking style, his attack on Ted Cruz’s wife and his comments this month about the ethnicity of Mexican-American federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel, which he called “inexcusable.”
He’s also burned bridges with some in Washington’s political establishment. In 2011, Gingrich called then-House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system “right-wing social engineering.” His vocal criticism of the Iraq war lost him points with some Republicans.
There is also personal baggage.
Like Trump, Gingrich has been married three times. His dogged campaign to impeach then-President Bill Clinton when he was speaker alienated some in his own party, particularly after his own marital infidelity came to light. And even his allies wonder whether he would be content serving in the No. 2 position after years of being in charge.
“I kind of have the feeling that Newt might be better positioned as what is known as a Washington wise man rather than as a Cabinet member or vice president,” said Mel Steely, a retired University of West Georgia professor who worked for Gingrich and later wrote a biography about the lawmaker.
Other former Gingrich aides offer different interpretations. They say that Gingrich is a great listener who would happily and ably serve as vice president, but only if the position was one of real substance.
“As much as people think Newt wants the job, and there’s no question he does, I don’t think he’d take it unless he really felt there was a real role for him,” Kutler said. “If it’s just ribbon cuttings and flying to the funerals of foreign leaders, I don’t think he’d be comfortable with that.”
Evans, who said he thinks Gingrich has a “one in three” shot at the job, said there’s no question Gingrich could take a back seat, pointing to his time as a deputy in the House before the GOP takeover. And some party elders believe he’s the perfect moderating influence on the billionaire.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, the GOP nominee in 1996, said Gingrich seems like one of the few who can rein in Trump.
“Newt and I didn’t always get along when we were in Congress, but I have watched Newt the past several months,” Dole told CNN. “I believe he would be a real asset.”
Not all of Gingrich’s political allies are convinced that Trump would pick him as his running mate.
“It’s a very smart pick and the country would do very well if Gingrich was on the ticket. You just have to wonder if Trump as a neophyte in a sense has the vision and the courage to put a peer with him on the ticket,” said R.C. Hammond, a political strategist and former Gingrich press secretary.
Democrats aim their weapons
Democrats are pining over the possibility of using some of Gingrich’s quotes against him.
“Gingrich himself has pointed out that Trump is ‘aggressively obnoxious,’ that he ‘says really dumb things’ and labeled his actions ‘utterly stupid.’ Those are direct quotes,” said Michael Smith of the Democratic Party of Georgia.
“If Trump is actually considering Gingrich, that’s a whole new level of tragedy for the Trump campaign — when you’re looking for a VP, you’re aware of these comments, and essentially issue a shoulder shrug emoji,” he added.
As for Gingrich, who received vetting paperwork this week, he’s playing it close to the vest. He said in a Fox News interview that Trump’s not likely to make a decision until the party’s convention in Cleveland, which begins July 18.
And, he added, it might not take long for him to review someone who has been in the public eye for almost three decades.
“In the case of a few of us, there’s not much vetting to do,” Gingrich said. “It’s all out there. All you’ve got to do is Google.”
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