Newt Gingrich, You’re No Ronald Reagan

Like many Republicans before him, Newt Gingrich is trying to claim the mantle of Reagan. He is the one least entitled to it.

Michael van der Gailen points out the most important way in which Newt Gingrich is nothing like the 40th President of the United States:

The former Speaker of the House compared himself several times to President Ronald Reagan yesterday (as he has done throughout the campaign). He worked with the 40th president, he argued, and learned a lot from him. In many ways, he’d like voters to believe, he even resembles Reagan.

Well, like Reagan, Gingrich is indeed quite feisty. He’s willing to take the fight to his opponents and their (progressive) ideology. However, there are also a few major differences, the most important of which are:

1. Reagan clearly had a conservative record, Gingrich does not.
2. Reagan was a very likable guy, Gingrich is anything but.

The second point should not be underestimated. Gingrich is a great debater, but it’s incredibly difficult to actually like him. That will be a problem in the national elections, when he has to take on a president who is liked (although voters don’t think too highly of his policies). Independents who aren’t sure whom to vote for always end up voting for the candidate they sympathize with most, which means that the Independent vote will go to Obama, if Gingrich is his opponent.

Van der Gailen goes on to argue, correctly, I would submit, that it is because of Gingrich’s demonstrated inability to attract Independent voters that he would end up losing a General Election. However, I think his point about the differences between Reagan and Gingrich point to even further differences between the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party that, for some bizarre reason, seems to think that Newt Gingirch is a fit to be President of the United States.

The issue of Gingrich’s likeability cannot be dismissed by his supporters so easily. It was, for example, the fact that Gingrich ended up becoming less likable than Bill Clinton than the budget battles of 1995 and 1996 that Clinton ended up winning the public relations battle back then. Republican politicians who were active back then have mentioned often how it was Gingrich, not Bob Dole, who ended up becoming the face of the Republican Party during the 1996 elections (not that Dole had much of a chance to begin with). After the disappointing 1998 mid-terms, the ethics violations, and Gingrich’s own hypocrisy while pursuing impeaching proceedings against the President, Republicans forced Gingrich  out of  the Speakership. Today, there are very few Members of Congress who served with Gingrich who are willing to speak positively about him, and for Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough has described him as “not a nice human being.”

That’s a far cry from Ronald Reagan.

The Ronald Reagan of 1980, and even of 1976, 1968, and 1964  was an optimist who spoke of America as being the “shining city on the hill,” and who, even in the depths of  the Carter Malaise believed that the country’s best days were ahead of it, a sentiment that appeared throughout his major campaign speeches in 1980. One of the reasons Ronald Reagan was successful was because he brought that message of optimism at a time when the American public was becoming increasingly pessimistic. Near the end of his Presidency, Reagan said that he felt his greatest accomplishment was that he made Americans feel proud of their country again. Given the state of things in the late 70s that was no small accomplishment and, along with his actual political successes and the role he played in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion, it strikes me as being one of the gifts that he gave America, and something we should be thankful for. Most importantly, Ronald Reagan was a likeable guy. Even his opponents would admit in the end that it was hard not to like him even if you vehemently disagreed with him.

There is nothing about Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, that could be called the slightest bit optimistic. Where Reagan found ways to still find the best in his opponents even when he vehemently, and publicly, disagreed with them, Gingrich belongs to that brand of conservatism that chooses to tear down relationships, demonize the opposition, and stoke fear among the conservative base on even the most minor issues, even if that happens to be the fate of a former Burlington Coat Factory in Lower Manhattan. Could anyone really picture Ronald Reagan condemning an entire religion, or saying that the President has a “Kenyan anti-colonialist world view”? That doesn’t sound like anything the Reagan I grew up with would say.

Modern conservatism, especially as practiced by the Gingrich’s of the world, continues to claim the legacy of Ronald Reagan. However,  people like Gingrich have thrown Reagan’s optimism overboard in favor of a philosophy that seems to find enemies around every corner, and conspiracies behind every event. I don’t know what you call that, but it sure as heck isn’t Ronald Reagan, which just makes the efforts by such people to claim Reagan’s legacy as their own all the more pathetic.

Speaker Gingrich, I remember Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was one of the reasons I became as interested in politics and the future of this country as I am. You, Speaker Gingrich, are no Ronald Reagan.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Religion, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. michael reynolds says:

    I’m not part of the cult of Reagan, but Gingrich is to Reagan as Snooki is to Princess Grace.

    Gingrich is an assh-le. Not in a cute, curmudgeonly way, either. He’s a dishonest, corrupt, bloviating, hypocritical assh-le. And say what you will, Mr. eagan was none of those things.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    Ronald Reagan was no Ronald Reagan…the myth has almost completely obscured the reality…and it goes far beyond optimism. The pseudo-conservative rightists that love to claim his mantle are generally in such denial about many aspects of Reagan that I wonder if they know anything about the man or his legacy.

  3. Gringrich to me seems more the heir to Nixon than the heir to Reagan; Nixon and Gingrich share the same paranoia that everyone is out to get them and the same petty resentment toward anyone that disagrees with them.

  4. MBunge says:

    “1. Reagan clearly had a conservative record, Gingrich does not.”

    The conservative defenestration of Newt Gingrich is rapidly reaching the self-parody stage. Reagan signed multiple tax increases, never cut federal spending, made nice with the Soviets and turned tail and ran from Beruit. If he were judged by the same standard being applied to Newt, Reagan wouldn’t even qualify as a moderate. He’d be a big government, cheese-eating surrender monkey.

    If you want to argue against Newt because he’s an undisciplined a-hole who can’t win the general election, that’s one thing. But by any rational standard, Newt is more conservative than Mitt Romney.


  5. Davebo says:

    Largest tax increase in US History? Ronnie

    Amnesty for Illegal aliens? Ronnie

    Newt seriously wants to emulate that?

    Priceless! Gotta love the lemmings on the right.

    Did I mention illegally selling arms to Iran?

    Doug’s kinda leader!

  6. Liberty60 says:

    Although I disagree with his legacy, I do still believe that Reagan had honorable intentions, and honestly thought to himself that his beliefs would result in an America that was better for the vast majority of its citizens.

    Gingrich really doesn’t. Everything I have seen of him is that he really is everything he is accused of being.

    @Stormy Dragon: And like Nixon, everyone really IS out to get Newt. Which reflects well upon everyone, I think.

  7. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Newt could become like Reagan, however. All he’d need to do is to go back in time, re-birth himself with natural charisma and a positive attitude, become a two-term governor of a major state, win the presidency in a crushing landslide, win re-election in the most comprehensive electoral landslide in history, help to revive the economy, and then in his spare time take down al-Qaeda.

  8. anjin-san says:

    I don’t think the modern GOP would get anything from the genial and pragmatic Mr. Reagan except contempt…

  9. anjin-san says:

    Newt is more conservative

    LOL… Conservative? Newt is a big government lobbyist. The man is about nothing except money and ego.

    Well, maybe he is conservative. 21st century style.

  10. john personna says:

    My recommended counter-read:

    My view of contemporary US politics, which is that of an outsider and obviously incomplete (and possibly faulty, and subject to change) is as follows:

    1. The USA is already a functional oligarchy. (Or, more accurately, a plutarchy.) It has been functioning as such for some time — since 1992 at the latest, although the roots of this system go back to before the Declaration of Independence — it’s a recurrent failure mode. Historically such periods last for a few years then go into reverse. However, this time the trend has been running since 1980 or even earlier. What we’re now seeing are the effects of mismanagement by the second generation of oligarchs in power; the self-entitled who were born to it and assume it to be the natural order of things.

    More from Charlie Stross follows …

    Charlie is Scottish, but quite bright. I think his observation that there is a “second generation of oligarchs” failing, is a good one.

  11. Peter says:

    A this stage, “NEWT GINGRICH — a Bad Lip Reading Soundbite” is required.

  12. flataffect says:

    Given the present field, Reagan would endorse Romney. Yep, RR would be yet another RINO.
    I just watched Mitt on Fox News Sunday. He was Reaganesque, if anybody can be called that today.

    Gingrich is an imperious cockalorum, more like Napoleon than Reagan. He seems to enjoy making the case for untenable proposals.

    The GOP has gone insane, I fear.

  13. Fiona says:

    My grad school adviser once noted that the motto of the Reagan administration could be summed up in a single symbol: the smiley face. Reagan was emblematic of the mindless optimism that characterizes so much of American life. Obviously, I’ve never been a huge fan of his, but at least I could understand his appeal. Reagan was, indeed, likeable and, if the vision of American life he painted in his speeches and campaigns was one-sided and hopelessly nostalgic, it was nonetheless a vision that resonated with a large swath of the public.

    Newt has none of that vision. His America is a bitter, nasty place, where anyone who fails to share his opinion of the week is a traitor to the nation. The audacity of his comparing himself to Reagan (or Thatcher, FDR, or any other real leader for that matter) shows him to be a soulless narcissist and nothing more. He is a charlatan devoid of both character and humor.