The Newt factor: Gingrich as Trump's VP would be a scary, power-hungry monster

Just Like Dick Cheney: Newt would abuse his power when dealing with national security and military affairs

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 24, 2016 12:00PM (EDT)

Newt Gingrich   (Reuters/Benjamin Myers)
Newt Gingrich (Reuters/Benjamin Myers)

It looks as though we've reached that point of the presidential election where the tedious "who will he choose for VP" stories begin. They've really kicked into high gear for the Trump campaign as every meeting between Trump and an elected official is greeted with paparazzi and hours of speculation on cable news. Yesterday the story was all about the highly respected former used car salesman and current Senator from Tennessee, Bob Corker, who was filmed hurrying in and out of Trump Tower as if he were Kim Kardashian debuting a new haircut. Corker played down the VP rumors assuring the assembled press pack that he and Trump were just getting to know each other and chewed the fat over Russia and China.

But Corker isn't the possible VP choice that really got the Villagers tongues wagging. That would be none other than former Speaker of the  House, Newt Gingrich.  As my colleague Simon Maloy wrote earlier, the idea of Gingrich being a member of the most "outsider" ticket in American history is ridiculous considering the fact that he's spent his entire adult life either in politics or political media. But then Trump has been saying for months, as he did in a Q & A with Pat Robertson back in February, that he wanted someone "political" because he wants to "get lots of great legislation we all want passed.” As usual, he also elaborated on his own terrific gifts in that department:

I would want somebody who can help me with government. So most likely that would be a political person, because I’m business, and I’m very good at what I do and all of that – and I’m also very, very political – you’ve see me. When you can get zoning on the West Side of Manhattan to build almost 6,000 units of housing and you have to go through New York City politics, believe me, that’s tough. That’s as tough – I don’t say Israel-Palestine but it’s about as tough a deal – the single toughest deal.”

Now why Trump would think Gingrich, who hasn't been in congress for over 16 years, is the mover and shaker who can move his agenda through congress today is a mystery, but he certainly has a working knowledge of how the government functions which is something Trump is completely lacking.  It's unclear if he even knows that there are three branches and what they do. (But then, George W. Bush was famously confused on that as well, saying it is the executive branch's responsibility to "interpret the laws", so it isn't unprecedented.)

And Trump already likes the cut of Newt's jib. According to this article by Eliana Johnson in National Review, he's already one of the campaign's most important advisers:

Gingrich’s influence within Trump World is widespread. Inside Trump’s newly established campaign offices in Washington, D.C., his fingerprints are everywhere. “Right from the minute I joined we were told that Newt will have his hand in every major policy effort,” says one Trump aide. “So one of the things I do when I’m researching or writing anything, in addition to looking at what Trump has said about anything, I look at what Newt has said.”

Back in the '90s after he helped usher in the first GOP House majority in 50 years he was known to muse publicly about the presidency asking no one in particular, "do I have to get into this thing?" as if only he could save the Republic. Unfortunately, for him he was run out of the speakership and had to resign his House seat, a casualty of the botched impeachment gambit and his own overwhelming hubris. But he never really went away.

Unlike most politicians whose careers ended so ignominiously, Gingrich didn't go home to Georgia. He landed a nice Fox gig for a while and wrote books and Amazon reviews and ran for president for real in 2012, performing pretty well all things considered. And he's still a member in good standing of the Republican Party with deep contacts throughout the permanent establishment. And that brings us to why Gingrich might be a particularly scary choice for a Trump presidency.

One of the common refrains among those writing about this Gingrich boomlet is the idea that he could be Trump's Dick Cheney, by which they are saying that he could help the inexperienced Trump in the same way Cheney "guided"  George W. Bush. Of course, those who remember the years of Cheney and David Addington and Scooter Libby secretly running half the government with no accountability are appalled at the suggestion. And people should be just as leery of Gingrich as they should have been about Cheney. He's someone you definitely don't want in that role, particularly when it comes to national security.

Gingrich grew up as an Army brat but never served himself.  Nonetheless, he has seen himself as a military expert for many years even having 5 active military officers assigned to his congressional staff at one time, which was highly unusual. He has developed elaborate ideas about American power and global strategy based upon theories by "Future Shock" authors Alvin and Heidi Toffler, the futurists Newt considered his mentors.  These ideas have been highly influential in certain Pentagon circles. After he left the congress he served on the secretive "Defense Policy Board", the advisory group that included some of the more aggressive neoconservatives who pushed for the invasion of Iraq.

The conservative columnist Robert Novak reported at the time that there was some resistance in the Pentagon to Gingrich's involvement:

What most bothers the generals is Rumsfeld's preference for outside advice.For example, Pentagon sources say a frequent consultant with the secretary is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an amateur military expert and member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. There is no distribution through the Pentagon of such advice.

It's unknown what Gingrich has been doing along these lines in  the intervening years other than running for president and writing children's books with his wife, who seems to be strangely attached at his hip since they are together 24 hours a day. But he seems to have provoked the ire of GOP regulars for criticizing the Iraq war. Considering his role in it, it's a typical act of Gingrichian chutzpah.  There's only one politician on the scene who can out-do him in that department and that would be Trump.

But it is safe to assume that even if he now claims to be an isolationist, he has not lost his interest in military affairs and will be in a perfect position as a Cheney-esque Vice President to exercise power in national security and military policy in a crazy Trump administration using the concept of the "fourth branch":

In the past, when he has been asked to comply with various congressional requests and orders, Cheney has claimed executive privilege because he's the Vice President. But last week, he claimed he wasn't a member the executive branch of the government, but was a member of the legislative branch. That was because he's the president of the Senate, and therefore he felt he wasn't subject to the presidential order giving the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office the right to make sure that Cheney and his office have demonstrated proper security safeguards. By the end of the week, he was back claiming that he was actually the vice president, and therefore could claim executive privilege once again as he rejected demands from Congress about information regarding the firing of U.S. attorneys. How does he keep track of which job he's going to claim he has each day? Does he put on a different tie?

As opposed to the millions of Americans who have more than one job, the vice president didn't do this so he could make an extra buck. He went back and forth with these claims just so he could avoid complying with Congress and the law.

Since Trump has a shaky concept of the constitution in the first place it wouldn't be too hard for Gingrich to seize power in this way. Trump will be so busy "negotiating" trade deals he probably wouldn't even notice.

And Gingrich has a score to settle. The pinnacle of his political career was the pitched battle with Bill Clinton between 1992 and 1998.  And he lost. Bill Clinton became a respected elder statesman doing global charitable work and Newt Gingrich became an occasional Fox News commentator and failed presidential candidate. Beating Hillary Clinton is his last chance for revenge.

But Trump might want to think twice. If Newt's luck holds up the way it always has in the past Hillary Clinton will be in the White House next January.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Bill Clinton Donald Trump Elections 2016 Hillary Clinton Newt Gingrich