Gingrich Pitches a Bigger Tent

The firebrand who led the GOP to control of both House and Senate is now preaching against the party's ultraconservative wing

By Lorraine Woellert

Republicans are striving mightily to put a moderate face on their convention this week in New York. Former Gotham Mayor Rudy Giuliani addressed the convention in prime time on Aug. 30, and on Aug. 31, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will take the spotlight.

But the party centrists' newest champion is none other than Newt Gingrich, the conservative firebrand who used a "Contract with America" in 1994 to sweep the Republicans into control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years. The glory didn't last long. Gingrich fell to a mutiny by his own party after a brief but divisive term as Speaker of the House.

Now he's back, preaching the gospel of party moderation. At an Aug. 30 forum held by the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership, Gingrich heralded the GOP's new, bigger big tent. "Everywhere I've been, I've argued in favor of electing the moderates," Gingrich said.


  He even chastised the fiscally conservative Club for Growth -- a group that finances primary challengers to Republican incumbents they deem too liberal -- for not getting with the program. "Their strategy is explicitly wrong," Gingrich said. "The key is to elect more Republicans and have a bigger majority and be more inclusive."

Gingrich hasn't changed his stripes -- he remains to the right of the political mainstream. But that's not the point of this convention. As they did four years ago, Republicans along the entire spectrum are striving to show their kinder, gentler side and issuing earnest calls for party inclusiveness.

Not all Republicans are convinced about this recasting. The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian group that endorsed President George W. Bush in his race for the White House four years ago, on Aug. 30 withheld their endorsement this time around and launched an ad campaign attacking the party's socially conservative platform.


  At the behest of the Republican right, the party included an anti-gay plank that calls for a Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and opposes same sex-domestic partnerships. "The well-being of children is best accomplished in the environment of the home nurtured by their mother and father anchored by the bonds of marriage," the platform reads.

That's just a difference of opinion -- and the incumbent President's prerogative, Gingrich says. For real divisiveness, he says, look no further than the Democratic Party: "Ask the Kerry campaign why it is that the only pro-life Democrat to speak at a national convention is [Senator] Zell Miller. And he wasn't in Boston." Miller was set to address the GOP's New York confab.

Perhaps. But Gingrich & Co. might want to take note of a recent Pew Research Center study that found only 57% of moderate and liberal Republicans are satisfied with their options for President, down from 70% in 2000, when Bush ran as a compassionate conservative. Yet, 83% of conservative Republicans are quite satisfied this time. It may take more than inclusive rhetoric to transform the party's face.

Woellert is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Washington bureau

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