- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose signature manifesto swept Republicans to power in the mid-1990s, called Wednesday for conservatives to recruit Democrats who oppose tax increases and big government and form a coalition to do battle with President Obama’s “fantasy wing of the American left.”

Mr. Gingrich in an interview pointedly left the door wide open for a 2012 run for the White House, proposing a specific prescription for the ailing conservative wing of the Republican Party. He offered stark alternatives to the Obama agenda on health care, spending, education and national security that could build a framework for what he called a “potential” run for the presidency.

“If you look at California on the recent vote against raising taxes or spending, when you get 64 percent of the state voting with you, it tells you that in the most Democratic districts of the state, there was a solid majority against raising taxes and spending,” Mr. Gingrich told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

“So I would urge, for example, conservatives in California to find a Democrat to run in every Assembly and Senate seat in California that can’t be contested by Republicans, and then to run a Republican in every seat they could possibly win, and then have an overt goal of creating a bipartisan conservative coalition,” he said. “I’d do the same thing nationally.”

He said Republicans need to broaden their base to all conservatives, especially in light of a Gallup Poll this month that found 40 percent of Americans describe their political views as conservative, 35 percent as moderate, and just 21 percent as liberal.

“You need to have a national movement that focuses not on the presidency. It focuses on 513,000 elected offices, because this is a very densely, freely elected society, and you can’t get the changes just from the top,” he said. Then, he added, build a “tri-partisan” coalition of conservatives, independents and even moderate liberals - “a red, white and blue majority.”

To the Republican National Committee chairman, Mr. Gingrich delivered the same directive.

“I would say to Michael Steele and others, ‘The first duty is, for the next eight months, don’t worry about the message, worry about recruitment.’ A rising tide only lifts the boats that are in the water. … Barring some extraordinary change in the economy, we’re going to have a relatively good election in 2010 because high taxes, big government [and] politically corrupt systems don’t lead to economic growth,” he said.

With President Obama expanding government at an unprecedented rate - and pushing the national deficits to unseen heights - Mr. Gingrich said the country won’t toe the line for long. “You have a very left-wing government trying to impose its will on essentially a center-right country,” he said.

Several polls in the past week have reported a decline in public support for Mr. Obama’s economic stimulus and other spending measures, reinforcing Mr. Gingrich’s claim that a bolder conservative agenda could have widespread appeal in next year’s midterm elections.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday found support for the stimulus program in states that were decided by fewer than 10 percentage points in the 2008 presidential election had fallen to 50 percent, down from 63 percent at the 100-day point in his presidency. That poll also found that a 54 percent majority of Americans - including 61 percent of independents - favored “smaller government with fewer services” over “larger government with more services.”

Notably, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll published last week found that 58 percent of its respondents said Congress and the president should focus more on reducing the deficit, “even if it takes longer for the economy to recover.”

The former House speaker, who authored the “Contract With America” that helped Republicans win control of Congress just two years after Democrat Bill Clinton won the White House, said rumors of the party’s death are premature.

“As a historian, I lived through this in 1965, ‘66; we gained 47 House seats and swept the governorships. And in 1968, we began 40 years in which no overt liberal could win the presidency,” the Georgia Republican said.

Watergate pushed Republicans back down, but by 1980, “the left had collapsed and we elected Ronald Reagan and began a quarter-century of economic growth and the Soviet Union disappeared.”

“In 1993, I was the Republican whip, we had lost the presidency, the Democrats were on offense, they were going to give us national health care and the ‘Hillarycare’ model. They had the largest tax increase in American history. They were going to be social liberals - nirvana had arrived - and for the first time in 40 years, we swept control of the House,” he said.

As to whether the Republican Party can attract moderates and even center-left members, Mr. Gingrich, as he did several times during the hourlong interview, quoted former President Reagan.

“As Reagan would have told them, ‘You can be a majority, in which case you’re going to have arguments set inside the room, or you can stay a minority. But what you can’t do is have a majority that’s only people you understand and agree with.’ ”

Mr. Gingrich made no excuses for a Republican Party that often appears to be in disarray, but said the massive agenda liberals are pushing through makes crafting a cohesive message difficult.

“The biggest characteristic of the left-wing machine that is currently running the city … is that they’re doing so many destructive things in parallel simultaneously that it disperses the opposition. Their goal, almost like Lyndon Johnson in ‘65, is to try to ram through as much bad stuff as they can as fast as they can before the natural conservatism of the country rebounds and rights the system,” he said.

Still, he said “conservatives in general and Republicans in particular” should focus on what he called “a massive tax on investments, a massive tax increase on energy, a massive tax increase to pay for government-run health care and a dramatic expansion of the power of politicians and bureaucrats.”

He urged Republicans to key in on issues like the energy bill, set to come to the House floor on Friday, which calls for the government to cap greenhouse-gas emissions, leading to increased prices Americans would pay on energy. Mr. Gingrich called it “the largest energy-tax increase in history.”

“Every person who votes for this energy tax ought to expect an opponent next year because this is such a clearly irrational bill to pass in the middle of this kind of unemployment,” he said.

Mr. Gingrich has been raising his profile of late, weighing in on issues such as the closing of the detention facility for terrorism suspects at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Mr. Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s assertion that the CIA lies to Congress “all the time.”

He has also become somewhat the de facto leader of the Republican Party - when Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin pulled out of an appearance at the Republican congressional fundraiser in Washington this month, Mr. Gingrich stepped in.

When asked who is emerging as a Republican leader able to step up onto the national stage, Mr. Gingrich cited not Mrs. Palin, but Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, “a brilliant young guy,” and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whom he called “an amazing leader.”

Mr. Jindal, he noted, will be around for a long time: “He will be John McCain’s age in 2044.”

The former speaker also defended former President George W. Bush, saying that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “He responded with an almost single-minded focus to try to design strategies and institutions that would defend this country.”

“And he left his successor a seven-year record of having stopped every terrorist effort. And his successor had better get very serious about all this civil libertarian stuff that is going to rapidly make this country more vulnerable.”

• Elise Anderson and Don Lambro contributed to this report.

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