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Why Gingrich Is Right for Trump

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.

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