On Politics On PoliticsOn Politics
Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

Why Gingrich Is Right for Trump

ARCHIVES
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (left) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, at a campaign rally in Cincinnati. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (left) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, at a campaign rally in Cincinnati. John Minchillo/AP

Now that Don­ald Trump is be­com­ing more de­pend­ent on out­side coun­sel for ad­vice, he ap­pears to be slowly morph­ing in­to a more con­ven­tion­al pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate. And as he mulls over his op­tions for a run­ning mate, he’s be­ing urged to pick In­di­ana Gov. Mike Pence, the most bor­ing, check-the-box fi­nal­ist. Pence would in­deed be the safe choice for Trump, of­fer­ing an olive branch to shunned con­ser­vat­ives and rais­ing the like­li­hood of a re­spect­able loss.

But if Trump ac­tu­ally wants to win the elec­tion, he’d be best-served think­ing out­side of the box. In that re­spect, former House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich would be the go-for-the-fences polit­ic­al choice—even though many es­tab­lish­ment-minded Re­pub­lic­ans view him as a man­ic, un­pre­dict­able talk­ing head with an ego the size of Clev­e­land’s cav­ernous and now-de­mol­ished Mu­ni­cip­al Sta­di­um. What Trump needs, however, is a run­ning mate who can trans­late his bluster in­to high-minded rhet­or­ic. Just as Bill Clin­ton did for Pres­id­ent Obama at the 2012 con­ven­tion, Gin­grich would be mas­ter­ful as Trump’s sec­ret­ary of “ex­plain­ing stuff.” And his his­tory fight­ing the Clin­tons gives him the cred­ib­il­ity and polit­ic­al stand­ing that oth­ers lack.

Pence, by con­trast, doesn’t ex­cel in any in­di­vidu­al area. He’s in his first term as In­di­ana’s gov­ernor, but suf­fers from me­diocre ap­prov­al rat­ings and is at risk of los­ing his reelec­tion bid. He boasts close re­la­tion­ships with evan­gel­ic­als, but lost some stand­ing with them after fail­ing to pass re­li­gious-free­dom le­gis­la­tion. He offered a luke­warm en­dorse­ment to Ted Cruz be­fore the In­di­ana primary, a sign that he wouldn’t be the most ef­fect­ive or stead­fast sur­rog­ate for Trump. At best, Pence is a re­spec­ted, well-liked ex­ec­ut­ive with ties to Wash­ing­ton who could unite all fac­tions of the Re­pub­lic­an Party. At worst, Pence will be a cipher be­cause anti-Trump diehards aren’t about to change their minds.

The best choice for Trump would a non­white fe­male of­fice­hold­er from a swing state. But Trump’s cam­paign man­ager has shunned such ad­vice as iden­tity polit­ics, and the most prom­ising con­tenders already took them­selves out of the run­ning. So pro­spects such as South Car­o­lina Gov. Nikki Haley and New Mex­ico Gov. Susana Mar­tinez star­ted out as per­sonae non grata.

Since Trump is only look­ing at a nar­row range of con­tenders, Gin­grich of­fers a great deal of up­side. He brings the Wash­ing­ton ex­per­i­ence that Trump says he val­ues, with the un­pre­dict­ab­il­ity that matches Trump’s per­son­al­ity. His pen­chant for con­trari­an­ism might be a head­ache for a more tra­di­tion­al can­did­ate, but for Trump his pres­ence on the tick­et could add grav­itas. In many ways, he is ex­actly what Trump needs right now. The mood of the coun­try should fa­vor the party out of power, but Trump is widely con­sidered un­suit­able for the pres­id­ency and he needs someone to shore up his weak­nesses.

Gin­grich’s de­tract­ors point to his low fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings after he ex­ited the Re­pub­lic­an primary in 2012. But that was right after he was sub­jec­ted to non­stop at­tack ads from the Rom­ney camp without hav­ing the re­sources to fight back. Four years later, he’ll be in great­er con­trol of his own im­age. If he makes in­clus­ive com­ments as he did about Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans’ per­spect­ive of poli­cing, he’ll have a chance to turn around his own im­age and soften Trump’s rough edges. But if he rambles on about fu­tur­ism in­stead of stay­ing on mes­sage, he would risk be­ing dis­missed as a flake.

It’s not as if Gin­grich’s rivals for the tick­et are more pop­u­lar. Pence’s job ap­prov­al was a me­diocre 42 per­cent in the NBC/Mar­ist poll con­duc­ted be­fore the state’s May primary, with 41 per­cent dis­ap­prov­ing. (One rumored reas­on for his in­terest in the Trump tick­et is the fear that he’d lose his reelec­tion bid.) New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie is in worse shape. A re­cent Fair­leigh Dickin­son poll showed his job ap­prov­al at 26 per­cent, with dis­ap­prov­al at 62 per­cent—even worse than Trump’s dis­mal num­bers. Gin­grich, be­ing out of polit­ics for sev­er­al years, has a much more mal­le­able pub­lic im­age.

The oth­er un­con­ven­tion­al op­tion for Trump is pick­ing a total polit­ic­al out­sider, likely from the mil­it­ary. Former De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency Dir­ect­or Mi­chael Flynn would give Trump some of the for­eign policy cred­ib­il­ity that his cam­paign badly lacks. But as a re­gistered Demo­crat, Flynn’s po­s­i­tions on most do­mest­ic is­sues are un­known. In a bum­bling in­ter­view on ABC’s This Week, he soun­ded sup­port­ive of abor­tion rights and gay mar­riage—non­starters for much of the GOP base. Un­like elec­ted of­fi­cials, he’s barely been vet­ted, mak­ing his se­lec­tion highly risky. It would be the equi­val­ent of John Mc­Cain’s se­lec­tion of Sarah Pal­in in 2008.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, Gin­grich wouldn’t be a go-to guy. At 73, he doesn’t fit the tra­di­tion­al pro­file of an up-and-com­ing polit­ic­al pro­spect. But this isn’t a nor­mal elec­tion. Giv­en Trump’s need for a Wash­ing­ton vet­er­an and a cre­at­ive com­mu­nic­at­or to off­set his weak­nesses, Gin­grich would be the smartest se­lec­tion for a highly un­con­ven­tion­al can­did­ate.

Josh Kraushaar

Josh Kraushaar is the political editor for National Journal, and pens the weekly "Against the Grain" column.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec