In a wide-ranging interview with the Journal's editorial board on Thursday, presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich spoke of why his campaign had trouble launching, how he intends to overcome a negative perception about his personal life and what may be done about radical Islam, among other topics.
Austell Mayor Joe Jerkins recently said while he likes Gingrich, the former speaker had so many personal problems he was unelectable. The Journal asked Gingrich how he intends to overcome this view.
"I think you tell them the truth," Gingrich said. "And you say, 'I've done things in my life that I've had to reconcile with God and seek forgiveness for, and that's a fact. And I have a very strong marriage. I'm very close to both my daughters. I'm very close to both my grandchildren, close to my two son-in-laws.'"
Gingrich, who represented Georgia's Sixth District from 1979 to 1999 as a Republican U.S. congressman and served as House Speaker from 1995 to 1999, recalled a campaign he went through in Georgia.
"We had a candidate who was attacking me about family and my younger daughter did a commercial and just said, 'it's not true and it's not accurate.' I mean, the worst things said about me are simply not true, and I think both of my daughters are quite prepared to say those things are not true. Now, that means people attacking me aren't going to have a fight with me, they're now going to have to have a fight with Jackie and Kathy, and I think that becomes pretty convincing for people."
Gingrich blamed the "elite media" for why his campaign had trouble getting traction.
"If you look at the news media coverage, the elite media went out of their way for seven or eight weeks to attack me," Gingrich said. "You had day after day people saying, 'well, his campaign's dead. He's gone. It's over.'"
He recalled a week where he campaigned at various town hall meetings in Iowa, each with a bigger crowd than expected.
"So I'm having a great time," Gingrich said. "Meanwhile, every night on every talk show various analysts, none of whom have been in Iowa, are all going, 'well, Gingrich is gone.' What that really did was is it affected our fundraising very dramatically, didn't affect voters, but it affected our fundraising very dramatically."
Gingrich referred to a news article that did an analysis of Twitter followers.
"And it says, 'now it's true that Gingrich has 1.3 million followers and (Michele) Bachmann only has 59,000, but she's getting more new people every week.' It turned out I have six times as many Twitter followers as all the other candidates combined, but it didn't count because if it counted I'd still be a candidate; since I can't be a candidate that can't count. So we've been a little bit like a sailing ship in the middle of a hurricane in which we are sailing straight into the teeth of the media, and that slowed us down."
Using political consultants, he said, was a mistake.
"And it was a serious mistake. Reagan did the same thing, and in 1980 in New Hampshire 13 senior staff resigned on the morning of the New Hampshire primary, including the manager and the top people. He brought in Bill Casey who was not a consultant; he was a top lawyer. Two weeks later Casey laid off 100 people. And I look back and in retrospect this was just a mistake on my part," he said.
In both the Reagan campaign and Gingrich's Contract with America, ideas were central but slow to mature. Reagan, for instance, didn't dramatically pull away from Jimmy Carter until the October debate, he said.
"What I say to conservatives is very simple. The first is it's October of 2012. Obama has a billion dollars to spend on lies designed to destroy the Republican candidate. The key is going to be the debates. Because the whole country will watch. And they'll either conclude as they did in 1980, remember, 'there you go again,' and they said, 'yep, got it,' and Ronald Reagan carried more states than FDR did in 1932. So who do you want to have on the platform with Obama? Who do you think can look him in the eye and have both the skill and the nerve for example to say, 'Mr. Obama, you have been terrific with food stamps, but that's not good enough for America.' Because if you don't have the nerve to say that you're not going to cut through the billion dollars of advertising."
Gingrich cited a Gallup poll that placed him fourth.
"And nobody is first by any big margin," he said. "The front runner who has the most money after five years of campaigning is at I think 19 percent and the 19 percent's not hard. When they did a poll recently in New Hampshire, and they said, 'Are you certain who you're going to vote for?' ten percent of the people said 'yes.' I mean, 90 percent of the people said, 'well, I'm not really sure,' so I start with the idea that this is a much more open race than people think it is, and it's a long way until the first delegates are picked in January. ... I believe if this was not a serious time I would have no hope. I believe this is such a serious time and Americans know it's such a serious time that they're going to look for a serious leader, so I think the talking points and the clever ads and the gimmicks are all going to disappear in the next five months."
The former speaker predicted he could win the nomination for under $20 million. The other day someone reminded him that former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue won the primary for under $250,000.
"People overvalue money and undervalue ideas. That's part of the core gamble of this campaign. I actually think ideas matter. I also think the Internet is such a collapser of cost. I mean, it's actually pretty ironic; one of the complaints the consultant said was that we were spending too much money. The day they left our budget collapsed dramatically, and we've actually raised more than we've spent every single week since they left ..."
Gingrich said he's running for president because the country is faced with three catastrophes coming down the road, one involving China, one involving the loss of American identity and one involving the Middle East.
If the U.S. doesn't fix its manufacturing, science and technological pattern the Chinese will be the leading country in the world, he said.
"And if they both own trillions of dollars of our debt, and they have a superior manufacturing system and a superior military, then our range of independence will be within the framework the Chinese tolerate," Gingrich said. "Now, I don't find that to be a very acceptable future. So I think you've got to rebuild our science, technology and manufacturing base in order to be able to rebuild our military with the recapitalization, and I think if you don't do that we will cease to be the most significant country on the planet, and it will literally dramatically limit our freedom."
Regarding the Middle East, Gingrich referenced a conference Iran held on terrorism.
"Now this is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world holding a conference on terrorism," Gingrich said. "Sixty countries went to the conference. The Secretary General sent a special envoy. Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan were at the conference. Now this means that after thousands of dead Americans, billions of American dollars, the two countries we've tried to help both thought it was better to irritate us than to irritate the Iranians. Now I don't think anybody in the Obama White House has a clue what that meant or how dangerous that is."
The first step is to recognize that radical Islam is real, large and sincere, he said. Moreover, a large part of the Pakistani government was protecting Osama bin Laden.
"If you had asked me - and I have a fair amount of knowledge about intelligence. I have fairly good ties to the Agency and the NSA - if you had asked me up until the week before we went in, I would have said to you, 'he's in a cave in Waziristan.' And if you had said to me, 'oh no, he is in a military city one mile from the national defense university, I would have said to you, 'that means a big chunk of the Pakistani government is protecting him. And that's a problem on a grand scale."
The problem is made all the more complicated with Pakistan harboring perhaps a hundred nuclear weapons, a few of which could be leaked to terrorists, he said.
What is needed is a fundamental overhaul of the U.S. intelligence laws to allow U.S. intelligence agencies to go back to spy work, he said.
"Because we today are so crippled by these various so-called reforms that we don't do spying. We rely on the Pakistanis to give us intelligence. Well, you just learned that the Pakistani intelligence system is on the other team."
The U.S. has the same problem with rebels in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
"We don't know who the Benghazi rebels are," Gingrich said. "Benghazi was the leading city producing Libyans to go fight in Iraq against us. Libya was the No. 2 producer of anti-Americans in Iraq. Saudi Arabia was No. 1. Just remember that the next time a president bows or walks hand-in-hand with a Saudi king."
On the home front, Gingrich called on the repeal of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which "is to financial services what Obamacare is to health."
He called on reforming the Food and Drug Administration to move new knowledge from the laboratory to the patient as rapidly as possible.
"Today you have an adversarial FDA which is killing the American health industry and driving jobs offshore, while killing patients by slowing down moving new things," he said.
He wants to replace the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with an agency that values economics and cooperates with rather than dictates to local communities.
"You got to replace it because the current bureaucrats at EPA hate business, hate local communities and are destructive of the American future," he said.
Gingrich ripped Obama's energy policy.
"We're the third largest oil producing country in the world," he said. "We have more hydro-carbon than any country in the world. Do you know how bad your government has to be to artificially create these shortages? It's maniacal. So one of the ads we're going to use next year is Obama in Brazil saying, 'I'm glad you're drilling offshore. We'd like to be your best customer.' And I'm going to say, 'there's a simple choice: everybody who thinks the American president should be a purchasing agent for foreigners, you want Obama. Everybody who thinks we ought to be salesmen for Americans, you're for me.'"
The Journal asked Gingrich if there was anything Obama had done that he agrees with.
"That's such a hard question," Gingrich said. "Let me think about it for a while. It's an interesting concept."