Gingrich May Run in 2008 If No Front-Runner Emerges

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich continues to flirt with a presidential bid, telling a Brookings audience that he’ll run if no clear frontrunner emerges.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) expects to run for president in 2008 if the contest for the Republican nomination still seems wide open late next year, he said yesterday. In remarks that were critical of both parties’ recent performance, Gingrich told a luncheon group of scholars and reporters at the Brookings Institution that he will make a decision in the fall of 2007 about running. “If at that point there’s still a vacuum . . . then we’ll probably do something,” Gingrich said, adding that his policy pronouncements have more weight if he is seen as a potential presidential candidate. “If you’re interested in defining the idea context and the political context for the next generation of Americans, which I am, the most effective way to do that is to be seen as potentially available.”

Gingrich’s entry would shake up a Republican presidential field that now includes Sens. George Allen (Va.), Bill Frist (Tenn.) and John McCain (Ariz.). Many Republicans still revere Gingrich for engineering the GOP’s takeover of Congress in 1994, though members of his own party pushed him to resign in 1998 after his drive to impeach President Bill Clinton cost them seats in that year’s election.


When Americans look at the current roster of Republican and Democratic leaders, Gingrich said, they face an unappealing dilemma. “We have a choice between those who are failing to deliver and those who are unthinkable,” he said, adding that he would put “even money” on the Democrats taking back the House this fall. “Neither party currently is where the country is.”

Gingrich also took a parting shot at Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who retired from Congress this week after two of his top aides and a close associate, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Although DeLay embraced the nickname “The Hammer” while serving as both majority whip and majority leader, Gingrich said he favors a more tolerant form of leadership. “The Gingrich model of an idea-led, contentious majority . . . is a lot better than a model of ‘The Hammer.’ A hammer is a relatively dumb symbol,” he said, adding that now that DeLay is gone, “the House will become healthier with every passing week. You’ll see an emergence of an idea-led Republican majority. The question is whether they’ll do it fast enough to save the majority.”

Ever since federal authorities raided Rep. William J. Jefferson’s (D-La.) congressional office last month, Gingrich has criticized the Justice Department for overreaching, and he delivered another sharp rebuke yesterday. “It is an example of the arrogance of this administration toward the legislative branch, and it’s intolerable,” he said. “If I was speaker, there would be no appropriations to the Justice Department until this is resolved.”

This excerpt represents Gingrich at his best and worst. Aside from the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he’s probably the most intellectual major elected political figure in recent American history. He is excellent at seeing the big picture and looking ahead. He also takes some incredibly dumb stances, though, as illustrated by his insistence–even after having time to reflect–that he would make a major incident over a perfectly legal and Constitutional action taken against a demonstrably corrupt congressman.

I would welcome a Gingrich candidacy because it would force a discussion of some interesting ideas. A Gingrich nomination, however, would likely insure a Democratic president come 20 January 2009. He is both too undisciplined for a long campaign and possessed of some horrible personal baggage that would cause even large segments of his base to cringe.

UPDATE: As to the “personal baggage,” it occurs to me that younger readers may have no idea what I’m referring to. From Wikipedia:

While in high school, Gingrich started to date his geometry teacher, Jackie Battley. On June 19, 1962, they were married. Their first child was born the following year.

In 1980, Gingrich separated from his first wife. Battley developed cancer: while she was in the hospital recovering from surgery, Gingrich tried to discuss the terms of a divorce. It has been reported that Gingrich served Battley divorce papers in the hospital. In February 1981, the divorce was finalized, and in August 1981, Gingrich married his second wife, Marianne Ginther.

In December 1999, Gingrich divorced his second wife, Marianne, after she discovered that he had been carrying on an affair for the past five years with a House aide twenty-three years his junior, Callista Bisek. Critics such as David Corn blasted him for hypocrisy, noting that this activity was concurrent with his leadership role in the impeachment of Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and his ascension to speaker on a family values platform. On August 19, 2000, Gingrich married Bisek as his third wife.

That sort of thing might not matter in Europe but it does in the United States, especially for a Republican candidate relying on a strong Family Values vote.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. rossi says:

    i loved pat moynihan
    he was the best straight talker in all of politics
    too bad he wasn’t president
    he would have made an amazing one

  2. McGehee says:

    If Gingrich runs, whoever else is running will automatically become the front-runner.

  3. Yep, Newt running would be a disaster and would make it rather easy for Hillary to win, if that’s how it shakes out.

  4. floyd says:

    the republicans have for too many years simply had to be better than the democrats to win. that won’t do any more. america needs leadership. gingrich might provide it,at least he’s not mccain.if hillary wins,she will vie for the second most hated president in history.

  5. A big problem with a Newt candidacy is that he would energize the left like Hillary, Gore or Kerry would energize the right. But Newt wouldn’t provide any specific energy for the right (as opposed to any other candidate who proposed the same sort of ‘contract with America’ things and had a track record to support it.

    As far as scandal goes, I think you are a bit one dimensional on your view of the right, especially the Christian right. W did some serious drugs and alcohol. Reagan was divorced and an actor from ‘sinful Hollywood’. The issue is less did they do something in their past that the social conservatives would disapprove of (here is a hint, just about everyone including the social conservatives have). The issue is how repentant are they. W’s past was balanced by his turning his life around, showing an honest Christian faith and moving forward. There was no concern that he would be doing drugs or drinking to excess in the White House. Reagan’s divorce had been followed by a long marriage.

    That being said, I’m not sure Newt has shown that he is repentant of what he has done. On the other hand, it would be fun to watch the left trying to pillory him without also taking some skin off of saint Bubba.