Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on June 17, 1943, Newt Gingrich spent 2011 and 2012 as a candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. His broad policy agenda focused on energy development, national security, scientific advancement, and immigration reform.
Speaker Gingrich served the Sixth Congressional District of Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1978 to 1999. He is well-known as the architect of the “Contract with America,” a popular set of proposals that led the Republican Party to victory in 1994 when it captured a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.
Gingrich was elected and served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Under his leadership, Congress passed welfare reform, the first balanced budget in a generation, and the first tax cut in 16 years. In 1995, he was named TIME Magazine’s “Man of the Year.”
A former college professor of history, environmental studies, and geography, Gingrich is the author of more than two dozen best-selling historical novels and public policy books including, To Renew America, A Nation Like No Other, Gettysburg, and Victory at Yorktown: A Novel. His next book, Breakout, will be released in November 2013.
Gingrich and his wife, Callista, also host and produce historical and public policy documentaries at Gingrich Productions. Their recent films include Nine Days that Changed the World, Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny, and Rediscovering God in America.
Gingrich received his B.A. in history from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here, he talks about his new duties as co-host of CNN’s Crossfire, a political talk show airing weekdays at 6:30 pm ET (check local listings).
Kam Williams: Hello, Mr. Speaker, I’m honored to have this opportunity. Thank you.
Newt Gingrich: Well, thank you, Kam. I’m delighted to have a chance to chat with you.
KW: What interested you in hosting Crossfire?
NG: I used to appear on Crossfire back when it was a brand new show and I was a junior member of Congress. The early Crossfire episodes were very factual, idea oriented, and people felt like they learned a lot from them. You’d get a couple of smart guests on there with a couple of smart hosts, which really made for an entertaining program. So, the opportunity to go back and try to create a space in America where you know that at 6:30 every evening you’re going to hear interesting people have an intelligent discussion about a very important issue and stay on that issue for the whole half-hour is just a very exciting challenge.
CNN Crossfire hosts
Van Jones and Newt Gingrich agree on the fact that the United States is an exceptional nation.
KW: Filmmaker Kevin Williams says: I thought you were very good in the presidential primaries and intellectually honest on the issues involving race, politics and the GOP. Do you have any plans to run again?
NG: Oh, I have no idea. At the present time, I’m simply focused, in a sense, on trying to be a teacher to the country, and to learn about and talk about a lot of stuff.
KW: The show was launched a week early because of the conflict in Syria. How do you feel about that?
NG: I had deliberately set aside two full weeks to prepare prior to the premiere but, when I got off the plane, they said, “Congratulations! You’ve just lost a week of preparations.” [Laughs] So, we’re running really hard right now, getting used to being a host. I’ve always been a guest, but never a host of a show before. And for a guy like me, there’s a lot to learn. Nonetheless, I think it was a very smart decision, because Syria is a perfect example of the kind of debate we want to have on Crossfire. It’s very serious… there are honorable and intelligent people on both sides… and it creates a real opportunity to lay out a series of proposals, so that people can have a better insight as to what’s at stake.
KW: What makes Syria so interesting is that you have some Republicans, like Rand Paul, opposing intervention, and others siding with President Obama?
NG: And it’s the same way with the Democrats. This is one of those unusual issues where you really have people on both sides wrestling with their conscience and trying to do the right thing.
KW: How has the transition been going from being guest to being a host?
NG: It’s quite a challenge. I’ll give you one example. In reading a teleprompter, you have to time it to exit at exactly the right moment. You can’t start too soon or too late, and you’re watching the floor director, so you don’t make a fool of yourself. I never appreciated what the Wolf Blitzer’s, the Sean Hannity’s and the Greta Van Susteren’s of the world went through. So, I now have much more respect for how they do their jobs.
KW: In his documentary, Fear of a Black Republican, Kevin called you the Conservative Elvis and asked you: “How should we go about recruiting more African-Americans into the Party?” Your response to Kevin was: “Knock on their doors, go to their clubs and their churches and talk to ‘em!” You also said that activists shouldn't worry about getting money from Party bigwigs and that they should just to go out and find average citizens to help recruit African-Americans. With so much focusing coming up on minorities and the black vote post-President Obama, why isn’t the Republican Party listening to the advice you offered in the film?
NG: Oh, I think they are. If you look at what Reince [Priebus] has been doing as Republican National Committee Chairman, he has clearly been going out and meeting with the NAACP, and attending local listening sessions around the country. We also have an African-American Speaker of the House in Oklahoma [T.W. Shannon] who is only in his thirties. He’s a very attractive, young Republican leader who Reince took to the summer meetings in Boston to introduce to people and say, “Look, here’s an example of what we’re going to be working on. This is the type of guy who represents our future.” So, I think he’s really trying to maximize our reach out not only to African-Americans, but to Latino-Americans and Asian-Americans as well.
KW: I’d like to ask you a few personal questions in order to color you in for my readers?
NG: Like green and orange? [Chuckles]
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
NG: I’m actually going back and re-reading Daniel Silva’s novels, beginning with the first. He’s written 16 now. And my grandson and I are starting to work our way through C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series, because he took sailing course this summer, and I thought I’d introduce him to the Royal Navy in the Age of Napoleon. He’s 12, so we’re working on that together. I’m also nibbling on a lot of different books in parallel. I’m also currently reading Winston Churchill’s “The Story of the Malakand Field Force,” which he wrote in about 1898.
KW: I had no idea Churchill was already writing books back in the 19th Century.
NG: Listen, Kam, if you want to get a better understanding of part of the long conflict we’re in, read Churchill’s “The River War.” Churchill was an astonishing figure who really made the generals mad when he was serving in the army because, even when he praised them, they were upset that he felt that he had the right to judge them at all.
KW: I’m not much of a student of British history, but isn’t it true that Churchill ultimately went out in disgrace?
NG: No, no, he went out in 1915 because of the mistakes in the Gallipoli campaign, most of which were not his fault, but for which he was nonetheless held responsible as First Lord of the Admiralty. He later came back into public life around 1930, but became isolated in the Conservative Party. He reemerged only because of the rise of Hitler. If Hitler had not been such a real danger, Churchill would’ve ended his career as a complete failure. What really happened at the end of World War II was people were very grateful to Churchill, personally, for having won the war. But they did not think the Conservative Party was reliable to solve the peace, so they voted for the Labor Party because they wanted subsidized housing, subsidized food, and all the things we call the modern welfare state, including the national health system. So, Churchill lost power, even though he’d been a great war hero. He then came back again in 1951 in his mid-seventies, and served until about 1955. He’s one of those people you can study endlessly. For instance, he invented the tank while he was serving as First Lord of the Admiralty. Here’s a guy who was extraordinarily wide-ranging. He learned how to fly a plane in 1913. His pilot was killed in a plane crash later that summer. He was the impressive type of individual we’d love to have on Crossfire.
KW: Who are some of the guests you’re hoping to get?
NG: Over time, we’re going to have an amazing range. You obviously want cabinet officers, because they can defend the president’s positions. You also want senior leaders in the House and Senate, as well as really smart, really knowledgeable people who are making a name for themselves in very specific areas. And you also want people who might have served in the past, such as an ambassador who’s an expert on a hot topic. Or someone who may not be a political figure, but is in the field and really knows what they’re talking about, like a medical doctor on Obamacare. If I had to coin a slogan for the show it would be, “When facts matter, you should turn to Crossfire.”
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
NG: That’s a really good question! Wandering around and finding things on a little farm of one of my relatives located about a half-dozen miles outside of Harrisburg.
KW: The Gabby Douglas question: If you had to choose another profession, what would that be?
NG: If I were to stop and do other things, my two favorite hobbies are paleontology and wild animals. A couple of years ago, [my wife] Callista and I climbed 9,500 feet in Rwanda to watch mountain gorillas and take pictures of them. That was one of the most thrilling days of my life. We both love to travel so we might end up doing a travel series introducing you to places we’ve been and things we’ve done.
KW: The Michael Ealy question: If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be?
NG: Obviously, from my perspective, I would have to say Christ. But if you eliminated religion, probably Julius Caesar.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
NG: Cheerful persistence. You’re gonna make mistakes. You’re gonna fall down. You’re gonna fail sometimes. But you have to get back up.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What is your favorite charity?
NG: The one that I’m personally involved with is creating a scholarship program at the Museum of Natural History.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
NG: As a good father, a good grandfather, a good husband and a good citizen.
KW: Well, thanks again for the time, Speaker Gingrich, and best of luck with the show. I’ll be tuning in.
NG: Great! Thanks, Kam.
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