In an essay this week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) urged his party to “quit underestimating President Biden” and to “look much more deeply at what worked and what did not work in 2020 and 2022.” His essay then proceeds to do neither.
Because of the theme, it’s tempting to see Gingrich’s essay as grudging admiration. Couple that with his call for Republican self-reflection, and Gingrich is getting seen in a moderate, conciliatory light. That’s not what’s going on here.
This isn’t, “Wow, Biden is a better politician than we think,” this is “Biden determined to strike in U.S.”
Hilariously, it’s also an attempt to keep the Republican Party on exactly the same downward trajectory it’s been charting since, well, since Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House.
Gingrich offers not a single tough-pill-to-swallow for the GOP. Instead, his entire thesis is that Biden somehow – he never quite explains how – notched some victories and led Democrats to surprisingly good results at the polls only because the GOP underestimated him.
Despite former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough calling the essay “fascinating,” Gingrich never even says how the alleged underestimating damaged Republicans. Let alone how proper-estimating Biden would have changed November’s election outcomes.
Gingrich appears to be talking to an audience of fewer than a dozen. That’s how many Republicans will conduct a Republican National Committee (RNC) review of the party’s 2022 performance.
Gingrich published his essay the day after news reports appeared about the review.
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said the review’s purpose was to identify “where the party excelled and where we need to improve… and offer ideas as to how we do better in the future.”
In his essay, Gingrich lays out multiple, incoherent arguments to head off any diversion from the GOP’s current ideological course.
How incoherent? Gingrich first establishes that Biden has “speaking difficulties, sometimes strange behavior, clear lapses of memory, and other personal flaws.” He “genially bumbled” his way into Senate power and Americans today “do not approve of the job he is doing.”
In other words, Biden is a clown who can’t communicate and Americans aren’t on his side. But somehow he outmaneuvered the Republicans everywhere on the board:
“Despite terrible problems with the economy, crime, and the border … Biden and his team executed a strategy of polarizing Americans against Donald Trump supporters.”
On the violent attempt to steal the presidency, “Biden and his team … turned Jan. 6 into a crisis which eclipsed the Left’s previous summer of fire, chaos, and destruction.”
On abortion, “Biden and his team…grossly exaggerated the threat to abortion rights. And it all worked.”
In other words, Gingrich is arguing that Biden is a disliked, clownish, poor communicator who also successfully gaslit most of the country on a broad array of issues despite the best efforts of the entire Republican Party and the previous president. That's incoherent.
But the bigger point is that Gingrich is explicitly reinscribing the exact same roadmap that got Republicans here. Keep telling Americans the economy is in crisis, the only epidemic is crime, and immigrants are stealing our jobs, babies, and virginity. A violent attempt by the president’s supporters to hang the Democratic speaker and Republican vice president and overturn the will of the people is less important than mostly peaceful demonstrations in the name of social justice. Roe v. Wade wasn’t that big a deal.
He claims Biden’s policies are “weakening America and strengthening our enemies.” But does Russia look stronger today than it did two years ago? Does NATO look weaker than it did two years ago?
Gingrich criticizes Biden for “poorly timed and slowly delivered” U.S. aid to Ukraine. But when you compare that to Republican reticence to aid Ukraine at all, it turns out Biden is actually closer to Gingrich on this issue than his own party is.
When he addresses same-sex marriage, Gingrich both gives away the game and throws a brushback pitch at moderate Republicans.
He complains that the Respect For Marriage Act (RFMA) “passed with Republican support.” That’s him admitting that Democratic policies aren’t radical, but can garner bipartisan backing, and putting Republicans on notice to stop it.
But even there, Gingrich gaslights again, referring to the bill as “overriding all other rights” when the RFMA explicitly enumerates what’s still permissible (including anti-LGBTQ discrimination) in the name of misbegotten “religious freedom.”
Arguing for a rethink without offering a single re-thunk thought, Gingrich’s essay is only “fascinating” in its utter incoherence. Nowhere is that more evident than in his conclusion.
In what Democratic strategists should greet with a sigh of relief if not a round of high-fives, Gingrich wraps his call for new thinking in the absolute hoariest GOP shibboleth of failures past. “We need to rethink from the ground up,” he says, “how we are going to Defeat Big Government Socialism.”
No one should read this as in any way a moderation of the same maximalist GOP demonization of Democrats that Gingrich himself injected into the GOP bloodstream in the 1990s. But when it comes to 2024 election strategy, today’s Democrats should hope the RNC takes his advice.
Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.