Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took his battle for the Republican presidential nomination directly to 63 of the nation’s most influential conservative leaders during a two-and-a-half hour meeting of uncommitted conservatives hosted by ConservativeHQ.com Chairman Richard Viguerie and Diana Banister of Shirley and Banister Public Affairs. This meeting was one of the few opportunities conservative leaders will have to gather before the early primaries.
ConservativeHQ.com Chairman Richard Viguerie introduced Speaker Gingrich with reminiscences of how, as a young backbench Congressman, Gingrich used to meet with leaders of the conservative movement to plan strategy to advance the conservative agenda in Congress and that through that long association Gingrich had many, many friends and acquaintances in the room.
Speaker Gingrich’s formal remarks began with a brief commentary on the state of the country, a reminder of how critical this election is to the future of the United States and the posterity of those in the room and to note that “if Obama is re-elected America will be a very, very different country from the one we grew-up in.”
Gingrich then went on to briefly outline his plan for winning the Republican nomination and the Presidency through a positive campaign focused on selling conservative ideas – such as radically reducing the size of the federal establishment by governing according to the precepts of the Tenth Amendment and balancing the budget and paying down the debt to encourage job creation.
The Speaker then went on to outline the four parts of his 21st Century Contract with America: A set of legislative proposals to shift America back to job creation, prosperity, freedom, and safety; A "Day One Plan" of Executive Orders to be signed on inauguration day to immediately transform the way the executive branch works; A training program for the transition teams and the appointees who will lead the shift back to Constitutional, limited government; and, a system of citizen involvement to help us sustain grassroots support for change and help implement the change through 2021.
Interrupted numerous times by applause, Gingrich concluded his remarks by asking the audience “to be with me, not merely for me – because if you are merely for me that implies you can vote and go home and expect me to fix things, but for this level of change to occur I need you working with me every step of the way to make it happen.”
ConservativeHQ.com Chairman Richard Viguerie led the questioning by noting that “personnel are policy” and that when Ronald Reagan ran for President he never went anyplace, without being surrounded by the leaders and activists of the conservative movement – which gave conservatives confidence that when Reagan was elected conservatives would follow him into the White House and Cabinet.
Viguerie then asked Speaker Gingrich for a similar commitment, to which Gingrich replied, “Mine is going to be a conservative administration… This is very tough work that I will be asking people to undertake. I’m only going to appoint people who are willing to come in to implement our agenda – cutting government, judicial reform – these are tough jobs that require a commitment and I’m only going to appoint people who have that commitment.”
One of the earliest and toughest questions came from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who noted many of the ideas Speaker Gingrich had championed seemed like they might end-up growing government. “How can we be sure, what’s the restraint on you that these ideas won’t end up being more big government?” asked Cuccinelli.
Speaker Gingrich replied to laughter that “there’s nothing to restrain a President from doing something dumb, but I trust the people in this room to tell me if that is the case.” But then he noted more seriously that, “I’m a Federalist. I look to the Federalist Papers and the Constitution to guide me and restrain government.”
The Speaker was asked several times to confirm his commitment to the right-to-life agenda, which he did by first re-stating the revolutionary idea contained in the Declaration of Independence that certain fundamental human rights, including the right to life, are gifts from God and cannot be given nor taken away by government.
Gingrich also noted for the record that he had a 98.5% pro-life record when in Congress, short of 100% only because of how the welfare reform vote was scored. The Speaker further stated that if elected he planned to reinstitute the Mexico City policy prohibiting funding of abortion, and that he was taking a look at the Constitutional concept of personhood and how that might be used to advance the pro-life agenda.
When asked about how he intended to win the general election Gingrich said he expected Obama to have $1 billion to spend, but that he would counter that by challenging Obama to a series of seven Lincoln – Douglas-style un-moderated debates, “…and he'll say yes. There are two reasons: The first is his ego. Can you imagine him looking in the mirror? Graduate from Columbia, Harvard Law, and editor of the Law Review. How is he going to say that he's afraid to be on the same podium as a West Georgia College teacher? Plus, if he says ‘no’ I’m going to say ‘the White House is now my scheduler’ and wherever he goes I will show-up within four hours to take apart whatever he said, that’s how Lincoln got Douglas to debate.”
Speaker Gingrich concluded his remarks to a sustained standing ovation by saying that he expected his opponents in both the primary and the general election to go negative, but that he intended to stay positive and to run a campaign of conservative ideas and that faced with the choice between food stamps and paychecks he trusted in the American people to choose ideas over slander and character assassination every time.