- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Courting conservatives in a closed-door meeting Wednesday, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said he would ask former U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton to be his secretary of state should he win the White House.

Hours later he repeated that vow publicly to the Republican Jewish Coalition, winning a round of applause.

“If he accepts it, I will ask John Bolton to be secretary of state,” said the former House speaker, who national polls show has vaulted to the top of the Republican presidential field.

Promising to seek out Mr. Bolton’s help is one way Mr. Gingrich tried to convince conservatives that he would be trustworthy on their issues, and it comes as most of the Republican presidential field looks to take a harder line on the possibility of Iran getting nuclear weapons.

“John Bolton is certainly extremely well thought of by those in the conservative movement who care about national security, and I would certainly love to see him as secretary of state,” said Gary L. Bauer, president of American Values. Mr. Bauer attended the closed-door meeting Wednesday with Mr. Gingrich in Arlington.

Attending the meeting, arranged by Richard A. Viguerie, president of ConservativeHQ.com, won points for Mr. Gingrich with the about 70 conservatives who attended, some of whom said they were impressed he spoke and took questions for two hours.

“The fact that he asked for that meeting and asked Richard to put that meeting together — he understands the value of that movement,” said Amy Kremer, head of the Tea Party Express, who took part in the meeting.

One questioner asked Mr. Gingrich how he could assure conservatives he would be trustworthy, which is when he replied that he would tap Mr. Bolton. Mr. Bolton became a hero to many conservatives after President George W. Bush in 2005 made him a recess appointment to the U.N. ambassadorship. The Senate had refused to confirm him.

Mr. Bolton, who had weighed his own run for the GOP nomination earlier this year, has not endorsed anyone in the race and his office said it was unlikely he would comment on Mr. Gingrich’s invitation to serve.

Mr. Gingrich, in the Wednesday meeting, repeated his pledge to go after federal judges he believes are overstepping their roles, and also said he would require people who serve in his administration to accept his platform, according to attendees.

When a questioner asked Mr. Gingrich if he is prepared to face tough personal attacks if he becomes the nominee, he replied that he was going to run a campaign focused on ideas and said he was counting on Americans to forgive him for past troubles such as his two failed marriages.

Penny Young Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, who attended the meeting, said she agreed Americans love redemption and are forgiving. But she cautioned the attacks will be rough.

“I don’t underestimate, and I hope he doesn’t underestimate just the viciousness of the Obama campaign machine and how they are willing to dredge up anything, truth or lie, and he does need to be completely prepared,” she said.

Last month, a prominent evangelical leader said Mr. Gingrich must personally confront his marital failings if he wants to win over religious conservative voters, and Ms. Nance said Mr. Gingrich does have more work to do in that area.

“I think it has to continue to be addressed, honestly. I don’t think we’re done talking about it,” she said.

One attendee said Mr. Gingrich told them his plan to defeat Mr. Obama will rely on forcing the president to agree to debate head-to-head, Lincoln-Douglas style. To get Mr. Obama into the debating ring, Mr. Gingrich said he’ll even mimic Abraham Lincoln’s tactic of following Stephen A. Douglas around and delivering speeches hours after him at the same location.

The prospect of Gingrich-Obama debates was intriguing to the conservatives.

“I think a lot of people are looking for a nominee that could acquit themselves well in that situation,” Mr. Bauer said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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