Newt Gingrich, Rockefeller Republican

Politico’s Maggie Haberman uncovers some interesting quotes from a 1989 interview of Newt Gingrich by the conservative Ripon Society:

Ripon Forum: But beyond personnel selections, on what issues will you involve moderates?

Gingrich: To really understand my hopes, let me give you an outline of my way of thinking.  Activities occur at four levels. The top level is vision, the next level is strategy, and after that follow projects and tactics.

Our larger vision is to develop a caring, humanitarian reform party.  That’s an interesting term, by the way, because [former White House chief of staff] Ken Duberstein said it ought to be caring; my wife said it ought to be humanitarian; and Steve Gunderson said it ought to be reform.

We have to become a party which cares about the nine year-old saying the Pledge of Allegiance, but then also cares about how that child spends the rest of the day. Even in the most conservative Orange County audiences I’ve received spontaneous applause about our duty to all our children.


Ripon Forum: But what happens on such issues as urban development, where conservatives historically have opposed government spending?  Will the center-right coalition hold?  Or will it splinter when more activist, government-oriented solutions are needed?

Gingrich: There’s going to be a lot of arguing, but I don’t think it will splinter.  In Teddy White’s “The Making of The President” from 1960, you will find a description of Theodore Roosevelt and an active conservatism.  That is the model I’ve had in my mind for 28 years.  For example, we now have a great concept in tenant management and ownership of low-income housing.  That empowers citizens, and says “You’re not just a client, you’re a citizen.  You have real responsibility and real authority.”  If you’re truly going to be a citizen, you have to have both opportunity and responsibility.

On these issues we have a common bonding around a couple of premises. The first is that the concept, liberal welfare state has failed.  Read “City for Sale” by Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrnett, or “Honest Graft” by Brooks Jackson.  You can see that there is a systemically corrupt, liberal welfare state.  The process of giving some people enormous power and calling them bureaucrats, while depriving other people of power and making them clients, rather than citizens, is in the long run corrupting.  That is best expressed by Mario Varga Llosa in his introduction to “The Other Path” by Hernando DeSoto.

There is almost a new synthesis evolving with the classic moderate wing of the party, where, as a former Rockefeller state chairman, I’ve spent most of my life, and the conservative/activist right wing.  You have work being done by the Heritage Foundation as well as by such moderates as Tom Petri.  Petri has extraordinarily broad support for his living wage concept, which represents an empowerment/citizen choice replacement for the bureaucratic/corrupt, liberal welfare state.

Just five years before the 1994 “revolution” Gingrich was identifying himself with the most moderate wing of the Republican Party. Interesting, to say the least.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. This could only mean… OH MY GOD! Newt Gingrich is a political opportunist who will change his opinions to suit what is necessary to advance!

    Kinda sounds like another front-runner I know, eh?