Newt and the Never Trumpers: Gingrich, Tim Miller and the fate of the Republican party
In two new books, a partisan warrior and a repentant operative paint an alarming portrait of a party gone rogue
In 1994, after 40 years in the wilderness, a Republican party led by Newt Gingrich recaptured the House of Representatives. Eventually, scandals of his own making, the impeachment of Bill Clinton and a drubbing in the 1998 midterms forced Gingrich to step down. But he did not leave public life.
The former Georgia congressman ran for the presidential nomination in 2012, seamlessly adapted to the rise of Donald Trump in 2016, and kept on publishing all the while. His latest book, the catchily titled Defeating Big Government Socialism, comes as his party anticipates another congressional takeover in November.
Tim Miller is another long-term Republican operative, if not a frontline politician. He served in a number of GOP campaigns, demonstrating media savvy and a knack for opposition research. After Jeb Bush left the presidential race in 2016, Miller emerged as vocal Trump critic. Now, in the footsteps of Never Trumpers Rick Wilson and Stuart Stevens, he has penned a political memoir. His subtitle – A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell – refers to a route many would say was partly paved by Gingrich.
The former speaker’s new book is heavy on familiar bombast and predictably short on introspection. Its opening pages deliver a familiar beat-down of China and its financial allies.
“Many of our elites refuse to even recognize the threat from Beijing,” Gingrich writes. “For many, it is because they make so much money from China.”
He would have done better to check his own financial disclosures.
By 2018, Newt and Callista Gingrich – ambassador to the Vatican under Trump – had invested at least $100,000 and possibly as much as $250,000 in certificates of deposit issued by the Bank of China.
For what it’s worth, Trump maintained a bank account in China. Further, in such spirit of US-Sino amity, the late Sheldon Adelson funded Gingrich’s 2012 presidential run with $20m, courtesy of the blackjack tables and roulette wheels of his casino in Macau.
In other words, Gingrich was cool with China until he wasn’t. Government records also show a $368,334 advance for a book with a simple working title: Trump vs China.
Gingrich has long known that reality need not be a constraint. He has compared himself to William Pitt the Younger, the British prime minister who was in office for nearly 19 years, rather than Gingrich’s four as speaker. Gingrich has also suggested Brad Pitt should play him onscreen.
A little more substantively, Gingrich uses his new book to demand fiscal responsibility, hammering Joe Biden and the Democrats for budgetary profligacy. The first chapter is titled “Big Government Socialism Isn’t Working and Can’t”. Once again, Gingrich should have thought twice.
Gingrich’s presidential run to nowhere doubled as a poor man’s Trump University – the scheme by which Trump pulled in money for a product somewhere between shoddy and non-existent. According to the Federal Elections Commission, the Gingrich 2012 campaign remains more than $4.6m in debt. As Business Insider put it, “No presidential campaign from any election cycle owes creditors more money.”
As for extravagance, in 2011 Gingrich maintained a credit line of between $250,001 and $500,000 at Tiffany’s, the Fifth Avenue jeweler.
On the page, Gingrich also blames the left for America’s high Covid death rate – despite significantly lower post-vaccine mortality in Democratic states. So it goes: at a recent rally in Alaska, Trump declined to use the word “vaccine”, lest he anger the crowd.
In Congress, Gingrich wrapped himself in gun rights, opposing the assault weapons ban in Clinton’s 1994 anti-crime bill and subsequently sending a written promise to the National Rifle Association that no gun control legislation would be considered as long as he was speaker.
The assault weapons ban expired almost 20 years ago. As Gingrich’s latest book comes out, mass shootings fill the headlines. To the author, no matter: “The Founding Fathers insisted on the second amendment so that armed citizens would make a dictatorship impossible.”
Amid all this, Gingrich calls for civility. In case folks forgot, he was the speaker who shut down the government in a snit after he was seated in the back of Air Force One en route to the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin, and also called Hillary Clinton a bitch. How will his speakership be remembered? The late Robert Teeter, pollster to George HW Bush, accurately observed: “Gingrich makes a great backbencher.”
So to Tim Miller. Like Lot’s wife, he cannot resist looking back. At the same time, he is overly repentant. But his attempt to explain why he stuck with the Republican party for as long as he did is revealing.
Miller lets us know that he is gay, married and a dad. His rationales for rejecting his party are understandable but not necessarily satisfying. For him and other Republican operatives, the game was fun – until it wasn’t. The metamorphosis of the party of Lincoln into the party of Trump occurred in broad daylight, a train wreck a long time coming. The Never Trumpers could have spoken out sooner.
As long ago as 1968, clashes between demonstrators and Chicago police during the 1968 Democratic convention offered a glimpse of simmering cultural tensions. At the same time, the discontent and racism voiced by the Alabama governor George Wallace found a home with a Republican party following Richard Nixon’s southern strategy. Fast forward three decades and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and Pat Buchanan’s quests for the presidency revealed the darker impulses of the pre-Trump right.
Working-class resentment and pitchfork populism appeared long before the Iraq war and the great recession. The rise of Trumpism seems entirely predictable.
Miller does deliver a searing indictment of officials and appointees who became Trump’s enablers, listing no less than 11 categories. His portraits of Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s senior senator, and Sean Spicer, Trump’s first press secretary, are devastating.
“More than anything,” he writes, Graham “just wanted to be on the golf cart next to Trump. To be on the right hand of the father. Whether or not Trump did as Graham asked was merely icing on the cake.”
As reward for doubling as a human doormat, Graham now battles a subpoena from prosecutors in Fulton county, Georgia, concerning his part in Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election. The senator cloaks himself in congressional immunity and invokes the constitution. It turns out he was fine with attempting to subvert an election but doesn’t like the idea of appearing before a grand jury. Funny, that.
As Miller puts it, the same obsequious spirit made Spicer a peddler of lies for the ages, “happy to put up with Trump’s lunacy as long as he became a star. He didn’t see anything wrong with shining a poison apple … And you’d better believe he’d do it all over again.”
Both Gingrich and Spicer may get another chance to ride the Trump rodeo. The 45th president is gearing up for 2024. By then, Biden and Gingrich will be octogenarians, Trump 78. Who says America is no country for old men?
Defeating Big Government Socialism: Saving America’s Future is published in the US by Center Street
Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell is published in the US by Harper