For Newt Gingrich, a Future in Ideas

Rebecca Kaplan

It’s been just over 11 months since Newt Gingrich ended his presidential bid, but the former House speaker seems to be plenty content despite his absence from the White House. That allows time for him to stay up late with his wife, Callista, watching old episodes of the BBC Show Downton Abbey and delving into his favorite hobby: ideas.

“I’m the person who talks with reporters about ideas,” Gingrich told a small group of reporters who gathered to chat with him Thursday at National Review on Pennsylvania Avenue as he described his role in today’s Republican Party. “My goal is to find a way, largely through Gingrich Productions, through Newt University, through films, through books, from talking to you guys … to take these ideas and turn them into a new series of bills.”

That doesn’t mean another bid for the House or Senate is on the horizon, or even a stint as a lobbyist. Calling politics and government “lagging indicators,” Gingrich said he wants to connect the great idea pioneers of our time with interested lawmakers. And Gingrich has no shortage of interest in great ideas, be it the new Google glasses, cars that require no drivers, regenerative medicine, or further study of the brain. He heaped praise on President Obama earlier this week for launching a $100 million plan to map the human brain.

Championing new, life-changing technology is just one way he proposes to help modernize and broaden the appeal of the GOP. “I think we start by describing goals in life, not by focusing on philosophy,” he said. “This is something I frankly failed to do very well running for president.... I couldn’t figure out how to break through on this core notion.”

Even though he was part of the reason the GOP had to undergo an “autopsy” report after the current election, he supports most of the changes advocated by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. Need to boost minority outreach? Gingrich is working on a program to get Republicans and members of the Congressional Black Caucus to visit each others’ districts.

There’s one area where Gingrich and Priebus won’t see eye to eye anytime soon, and that’s on gay marriage. While the RNC chairman preaches tolerance and recently toldUSA Today that Republicans must not act like “Old Testament heretics” on the issue, Gingrich sees it as “one more fight in the long struggle between paganism and Christianity.”

“I'm actually intrigued as a historian for how long this cycle will last, because if you look at the long history of Christianity and the long history of traditional religions, you know, things come and go,” he said. “Overall, betting on the historic survival of the Bible has been a reasonably good bet now for several thousand years.”

Ever the fatalist, Gingrich warned that there would be a “real drive to outlaw and limit Christianity,” or to tell people that “it’s OK to be Christian as long as you’re not really Christian.”

“You're now seeing a secular tyranny begin to set in that is very dangerous, and we need to have a national debate about it," he said.

Perhaps, then, the cautious tactics of his successor, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, may not be enough for Gingrich. But he did praise Boehner’s handling of the House and his sometimes-fractious caucus.

“I think he’s actually gaining ground,” Gingrich said. “My sense is that he’s begun to figure out a pattern that enables him to minimize Obama’s effectiveness and to allow him to consolidate Republicans in the House.” That wasn’t the case from 2010 to 2012, he said, when Republicans merely assumed Obama would lose the next election.

Asked whether Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the wonky House Budget Committee chair, might be a good candidate for Boehner's job in the future, Gingrich praised his skill set, calling Ryan “one of the most talented people in politics.”

And as for whether Gingrich will run for president again in 2016? 

“I don’t rule it out,” he said, with the usual grin. “But we’re not spending any energy on it.”