Newt Gingrich’s New Book Reveals Behind the Scenes of 1994’s ‘Republican Revolution’

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The Republican “Contract With America” is arguably one of the most influential political documents in recent history. 

In 1994, then-Reps. Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Dick Armey of Texas drafted the Contract With America, rallying Republicans around key policy priorities ahead of that year’s midterm elections. Gingrich credits the document with leading to Republicans’ historic House takeover. 

“To show you how historic it was, there’s a 40-year period when there [was] no Republican majority,” says Gingrich, who became speaker of the House. 

The momentum continued, and Republicans “held the House for 12 years, but what was important was, when we lost it in 2006, Republicans knew they could be a majority,” the former Georgia lawmaker says.

In his new book, “March to the Majority: The Real Story of the Republican Revolution,” Gingrich explains how the Contract With America fundamentally changed the Republican Party. He also shares stories about President Ronald Reagan and weighs in on the current political climate. 

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Virginia Allen: It is my pleasure today to be joined by New York Times bestselling author and the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. Thank you so much, sir, for being here with us today.

Newt Gingrich: Listen, it’s great to be with you, and I’m very excited. As you know, I’m a big fan of [The Heritage Foundation]. I think I have been for virtually the whole history of the institution, so I’m thrilled to be with you. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

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Allen: Well, this is exciting, because you have a brand new book out. It’s called “March to the Majority: The Real Story of the Republican Revolution.”  And you wrote this book along with the former National Republican Congressional Committee director, Joe Gaylord. And you all have done a really neat job in this book of just detailing so much of the history, going back years and years and years, of this shaping and molding, and what you’ve termed a “revolution” of the Republican Party. And so much of that starts with something called the Contract With America. That’s arguably one of the most influential political documents in recent history.

The Republican Party released the Contract With America before the midterm elections in 1994, and the document explains what the party would do if Republicans won the majority, which of course they did. And you authored that document, the Contract With America, and you tell the story of that whole process in “March to the Majority.

Talk a little bit, if you would: Take us back to the early 1990s. What was the political scene like in Washington, D.C., at that time?

Newt Gingrich: Well, the big thing about 1994 was that no Republican House majority had been elected since 1952, so it was over 40 years. And I think the day we won, there weren’t probably six members of the House who thought we’d be a majority, because it seemed inconceivable. We picked up 54 seats that day, and by having a contract, we really had a guide to ourselves that “Once we won, this is what we’re going to do. We promise to do it.” We went and did it, and got all of it done in about, I think, 93 days, in terms of passing it in the House.

Now, getting it done ultimately with the Senate and with the president was a longer process. We got welfare reform in August of 1996. We got a balanced budget starting in 1997. But all those things took time.

But we really stood on Ronald Reagan’s shoulders. In 1980, I had participated as a freshman congressman, and we developed a Capitol Steps event, and we developed a contract, five items, and Reagan stood there with every House and Senate candidate. Really, the first time in modern times that a presidential Republican candidate had stood with his entire party. Because historically, our presidential candidates were much stronger than our legislative, our congressional candidates. And it was an act of considerable courage, as David Broder [of The Washington Post] said at the time.

From that, we came back 14 years later, and stood on the Capitol Steps, and had a contract, and promised things, again, because we’d learned from Reagan and from Lincoln, that as Lincoln once said, “With popular sentiment, anything is possible. Without popular sentiment, nothing is possible.”

And so we had deliberately picked topics that we knew would in fact lead to the vast majority of Americans supporting us. Welfare reform was very positive. People wanted work. They agreed with Reagan that work was the best social program. People wanted a balanced budget. I felt it was almost a moral duty to get to a balanced budget. They wanted tax cuts so the economy would grow. So, all that stuff was in there. And when we got a big enough party, with enough people saying the same thing, we ended up with a genuinely historic victory.

To show you how historic it was, there’s a 40-year period when there is no Republican majority. From 1994, we held the House for 12 years, but what was important was, when we lost it in 2006, Republicans knew they could be a majority. And so within four years, we got it back, in 2010. We kept it until 2018. [Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.,] knew we could become a majority, and within four years, we got it back again.

So, the difference between the relative importance of House Republicans for that 40-year period, and the relative importance of House Republicans now for what will be 30 years by the end of this cycle, is extraordinary. And that shifted the whole balance of Washington towards a more conservative policymaking.

And frankly, it made The Heritage Foundation, and the great research and the great analysis that your folks do, even more important. And on welfare reform, for example, we relied very heavily on Heritage. And I’ve been big fan of Heritage, because I believe that having institutions of knowledge that are on our side, that are thinking about things from a conservative principle, are vital if we’re going to win the political fight.

Allen: As you began to craft the Contract with America, and you thought about the policies that should be included, and you thought about the commitments that you were making to the American people, who were the folks that you were calling on the phone, that you were meeting with, that you were pulling on for their advice and wisdom as to what should be included in this contract?

Gingrich: Well, I mean, one of the people we went to was Ed Feulner, who had been the founder of Heritage and the head of Heritage, and he played a very significant role in our thinking it through. We had a team in the House. Dick Armey, who became majority leader, was a professor of economics. A very smart guy. Bob Walker, who became chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, had been my close ally for the whole time, and played a key role. We had Bill Paxton, from Buffalo, New York, was the head of the [Republican] Congressional Campaign Committee and played a role. Tom DeLay, who became the whip, and was from Houston. So, you had a very good team.

And part of the key to all this was that I knew you had to have a team to win on this scale. Presidents run, and it’s one race. You focus on that one person. In the Senate, there are probably, only a third of them run at any given time, so it’s 33 twice, and then 34 once. And of those 33 races, no more than five or 10 really matter. And so they’re really focused on.

We have 435 House members. And so, if you’re going to manage the House, you have to have a team. And we were able to pick up 54 seats, in part because we broke with the Republican tradition. We ran people everywhere. We were pretty confident, Joe Gaylord and I were pretty confident that we would pick up 53 seats.

We did not count on beating [Rep. Dan] Rostenkowski, the chairman of Ways and Means, in downtown Chicago. That’s the one race we missed. But we beat the speaker of the House for the first time, I think, in the century. We beat the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in Houston, Texas. I mean, there were a lot of places where normally traditional Republicans wouldn’t even have competed, and instead we were winning. And that made a big difference.

Allen: How did the Contract With America change the Republican Party, not just in 1994, but long term?

Gingrich: Well, I think it made us a more conservative party. It built on what Reagan had done. I mean, I tell people that there’s sort of a [Barry] Goldwater, to Reagan, to Gingrich, to [Donald] Trump party that thinks its job is to change Washington. And then there’s an older Republican Party that thinks its job is to manage Washington. And they’re really fundamentally different views of how the world works.

And we are, by definition, more populist. As I said earlier, one of the key things was my deep belief, as Lincoln put it, in government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And that meant that we focused really, as Reagan had, and as Goldwater did, and as Trump would. We focused on understanding, “What is it the American people want?”

I mean, a good current example, 84% of the American people believe in parental rights. Well, 11% oppose it. So, in the Reagan tradition, if I can find an 84-to-11 split, that’s an issue I want to talk about a lot, because either my opponent has to agree with me, or they’re going to be down there with 11%. And that’s frankly how Reagan won such a huge victory in 1984. He ended up with issues where he and [Democratic presidential nominee Walter] Mondale defined clearly the future, and Mondale defined it for about 40% of the country, and Reagan defined it for 60%.

Allen: One of my favorite things that you do in the book “March to the Majority” is that you take time to tell some stories—some actually never-before-told stories about a number of people, including Reagan. Do you have a favorite in the book?

Gingrich: Well, I think my favorite story is one that Reagan told, and that one of his former speechwriters said to me the other day was one of Reagan’s favorite stories. When he got elected, about 90 of us were invited among the House Republicans, were invited down to have coffee, and to stand around and get to know him better. And he came in and he said, “I want to share with you how I think.”

He said there was this couple that had twins. And the one twin was a permanent pessimist, and the other twin was a permanent optimist. And the parents thought that to be permanently either one was wrong. It was unbalanced. So, they designed a Christmas to teach the two of them. So, the pessimist got a room that had every great present and toy you could want. The optimist got a room that only had horse manure. And the pessimist went in, and the optimist went in, and the parents waited for about an hour.

They went into the pessimist’s room. He was sitting in the middle of all of these toys, and he was crying. And they said, “How can you cry? Look at all your great toys.” And he said, “Oh,” he said, “I have to tell you that this one’s going to break. This one’s going to get stolen.” And he went around and explained what bad thing would happen to every single toy. And they looked at each other, and they shrugged their shoulders, and they went to the next room. And the optimist, who had been given horse manure, is running around the room, throwing the horse manure up in the air, and going, “Whee! Whee!” And they said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m looking for the pony.”

And Reagan looked at us, and he said, “Guys, you need to understand, I’m always looking for the pony.”

Gingrich: Can I tell you one more Reagan story?

Allen: Please do.

Newt Gingrich: So, every once in a while, on rare occasion, because I was a pretty junior member, I’d get to fly on Air Force One with him, and he’d come back; one of my favorite pictures is the two of us in shirt sleeves that are rolled up, standing and laughing at some story.

One of the stories he told, which I’ve always treasured, in the middle of glasnost, and [then-Russian leader Mikhail] Gorbachev, and opening up of the Soviet Union, Reagan says, “Man goes out to buy some food, gets to the sausage line, stands in line for about 45 minutes. Finally gets to the front of it. They say, ‘Oh, comrade, we just sold the last sausage, but we think there’s still chicken down the street.’ He goes down the street, stands in line for an hour and a half, gets to the front. They say, ‘Oh, comrade, we just sold out of chicken. But we think there’s fish down the street.’ Goes down, gets in line, and he’s grumbling, and says, ‘I can’t believe this. They’re out of everything.’ Man behind him taps him on his shoulder, says, ‘I am KGB. If [Leonid] Brezhnev were still in charge, you would be shot for anti-Soviet behavior. But because Chairman Gorbachev believes in glasnost, we are going to let you alone.’ Guy goes home, his wife says, ‘So, how was it?’ He said, ‘It’s worse than ever. They’re out of bullets.’”

And that was Reagan. Of course, he had been a movie actor and a television star, but he had this knack of delivering these stories, and he kept these stories. He must have had 300 stories.

Allen: That is so fun to hear. Thank you for sharing those. And for those that want more of those stories, you just have to read the book.

Well, you started with the story about optimism. And I think in general, conservatives are decently optimistic people. In 1994, I would say conservatives were very cautiously optimistic going into the midterm elections. Now, in 2022, conservatives were very optimistic. Everyone talked about a red wave. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Why not?

Gingrich: Well, first of all, I was one of the optimists, and I overstated what we would win. And I misjudged something. I think that David Winston and Myra Miller at the Winston Group produced a report called “The Year of the Independent,” which is probably the most helpful analysis I’ve seen of what went wrong. They pointed out that in 19 off-year elections, 17 of them, the party in the White House lost seats, and only twice … Or rather, lost the independent vote. And only twice did they win the independent vote. And this was one of the two.

The Democrats carried independents by about 2%. And the analysis that Winston and Miller came up with is that Republicans were so busy with their consultants running negative ads the people already agreed with. I mean, people said, “Yeah. It’s not working. Yeah. I’m really mad about the price of gasoline. Yeah. I’m concerned about inflation. Yes. Crime worries me.” But then they wanted to say, “So, what will you do about it?” And the Republicans didn’t hammer home, and didn’t offer very many positives.

Compare that with the Contract campaign, where we had a four-page ad in TV Guide outlining the Contract With America. And we had a campaign where we trained all of our candidates how to talk about these key positive issues. And I think that we misunderstood the sophistication and the hunger of the American people for a party that was prepared to solve problems, not just blame the other guy. And I think that may have cost us 20 or 25 seats. It was a very frustrating election night. [inaudible 00:15:59] and I went down with Kevin McCarthy to his operation, and it wasn’t working the way we thought it would.

Allen: The Republican revolution that you talk about in the book, is it over?

Gingrich: No. I think in fact, if you think of a line that runs from Goldwater to Reagan to Gingrich to Trump, the part of the polarization you’re seeing right now, and I just saw a poll a few minutes ago that 53% of the country thinks the indictment [of former President Donald Trump] is destructive, not positive. Thirty-five percent thinks the indictment’s acceptable. But it gives you the split in the country.

The American people really want leadership that is in favor of big ideas, and in favor of changing things. And one of the reasons that Trump has had such staying power is that they intuitively believe that he will take on the Left, and he’ll take on the bureaucracy, and they think that he proves every day, by just the fact that he doesn’t collapse, how tough he is.

And I think that the American people want a better future. I think that they’re frankly fed up with people on the Left trying to coerce them into behaving differently, when they see the FBI have a report that Catholics may be terrorists … or Moms for Liberty … might be terrorists, or that parents who go to a school board might be terrorists. They think their government’s lost its mind, and they want change. And that means in the end, they can’t get that change from the Democrats, because the Democrats are the people doing that.

Allen: Well, we are, of course, over a year out from the 2024 election. A lot can change. Are you making any predictions yet?

Gingrich: No. I mean, I think that the objective reality is that unless something very dramatic happens, Trump will probably be the nominee. If you looked at the most recent surveys that have come out since the indictment, his support’s very solid, and it puts him ahead of the No. 2 person, [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis, who by the way I think is a very good governor, done a great job in Florida, but DeSantis is not a national figure at the scale of Trump, and the latest survey showed Trump 30 points ahead, 53 to 23, and then everybody else is at [35 or 4%].

And of course, every time … the mayor of Miami just announced he’s going to run for president, that tells you how big the vacuum is. And every time somebody announces, the people at Mar-a-Lago pop another champagne cork, because what they would like to have is about 30 people splitting up the anti-Trump vote, and then have Trump be the one guy who’s at 50% or 60% while the others are at 3%, 4%, and 5%.

Allen: The book is “March to the Majority: The Real Story of the Republican Revolution.” It is out now. You can get it wherever books are sold. Speaker Gingrich, let me give you the last word here. Any closing thoughts you’d like to leave us with?

Gingrich: I want to go back to your point about optimism. Look, this is America. We’ve been endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Every American should get up every morning, dream big, work hard, learn, and do everything they can to create for themselves, their family, and their country, a better future.

Allen: Speaker, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Gingrich: Thank you. I enjoyed it very much.

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The post Newt Gingrich’s New Book Reveals Behind the Scenes of 1994’s ‘Republican Revolution’ appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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