He's back. After months of backstage brooding over the fate of his GOP Revolution, House Speaker Newt Gingrich has come out swinging again. Armed with a new, less ambitious battle plan, Gingrich met on May 8 with BUSINESS WEEK Washington Bureau Chief Lee Walczak, Senior News Editor Owen Ullmann, and Congressional Correspondent Richard S. Dunham, and previewed his strategy for reviving the party's sagging fortunes.
Q: You've been ruminating about the future of the Republican Party. Reached any conclusions?
A: I spent a couple months trying to think through the strategic framework of the campaign, and it's not very complicated: You have a coalition of trial lawyers, labor leaders, and liberals, aided by the elite media. That's a power structure which shares remarkably few of the core values of Americans. Then you have this huge base of working Americans: 93% want welfare reform, 80% want a balanced budget, 78% want a $500-per-child tax credit, 80% want an effective death penalty. They want power moved out of Washington. The choice here is so blindingly open that I'm relatively confident that we will win the election.
Q: When you stepped off center stage in the House, your negative ratings improved. What does that tell you?
A: When the news media doesn't have the opportunity to mischaracterize me in short sound bites, there's a natural tendency for me to rebound. It's not a conspiracy, it's a culture. You cannot find a single major [Gingrich] idea that has been rejected by the public.
Q: Why are voters down on the GOP Congress?
A: Democrats spent $60 million on false advertising. The President is being consistently dishonest about what is going on. When the public learns of our achievements, we jump ahead.
Q: New York Senator Al D'Amato, a Dole adviser, says you misread the mandate of the voters in '94 and scared America. Is this the first sign of a Dole divorce from Gingrichism?
A: I just did a press conference with Bob Dole on the budget and am going to dinner tonight with Dole and some economists. I don't know why D'Amato did what he did, and I don't think it's very relevant.
Q: Some CEOs think you're wrong to talk about divisive social issues. They'd prefer a focus on consensus themes such as economics. Your response?
A: It's almost by definition that the chief executive officer of a corporation says, "Wow, tell me about economics." So we will. We'll balance the budget, creating lower interest rates. We're for product-liability reform, lower tax rates, capital-gains cuts, better ways of solving environmental problems. And we're for a more competitive U.S. role in the world marketplace. That seems to me to be a pretty big economic package.
Q: Why is Dole trailing Clinton so badly?
A: Liberals do better in the spring, conservatives do better in the fall. It's been historically true since 1968. The bias in the news media guarantees that liberals always look better until you give them a second look.
Q: How does Dole recover?
A: He has to communicate a simple vision: We're for lower taxes; they raised your taxes. We're for more power back home; they're for power in Washington. We're for the small-business person creating a new job; they're for the Washington union bosses. We're for fewer lawsuits; they're owned by the trial lawyers. We'll appoint conservative judges; they'll appoint liberal ones. You don't have to have some vast, complex, sophisticated capacity to communicate if the truth separates the teams so widely.
Q: Democrats and Republicans are getting into a panderthon, appealing to motorists, beef producers...
A: ...The difference is, Clinton is manipulating the cattle-futures market and the rest of us are lowering taxes. Show me a tax I can lower, and I'm willing to try. That's not pandering, that's a core philosophical belief.
Q: How does the Republican Party run against Clinton on pocketbook issues when statistics show a healthy economy?
A: Virtually every American has a sense of insecurity when they watch AT&T laying people off. Taxes have risen faster than income, so people believe they're squeezed more.
Q: What do you make of the budding "Republicrat" movement--Republican CEOs giving money to Democrats?
A: Some look at the polls, figure President Clinton will be in for four more years, and want access. It's very shortsighted and naive on their part.
Q: Does the coiled serpent of Presidential ambition still grip Newt Gingrich?
A: I'm essentially an idea person. I'm much more interested in knowing that the Republican nominee shares my ideas than I am in wondering who the nominee is. And that's true for 2000 and 2004.
I've got a couple of dinosaurs and some zoos that are calling me, plus a couple of books I want to write. I have more than enough to keep me busy.