Blaming himself for some of the Republicans’ darker days, House Speaker Newt Gingrich says in a new book that he underestimated President Clinton during a budget showdown and wasn’t paying attention when party colleagues were plotting against him.
And he got heavy.
In “Lessons Learned the Hard Way: A Personal History,” Gingrich describes mistakes and miscalculations that have hampered his leadership since the heady days of the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994.
He also says, “I am astonished at how badly I underestimated the size and intensity of the problems that would confront me as speaker.”
Liberals and the news media have waged a concerted campaign to undermine his leadership, he says, but more important were his own failures.
He recalls the public relations disaster of his complaining about having to exit from the rear of Air Force One on a presidential trip, his failure to read public sentiments in the government shutdown of 1995, the pain of facing ethics charges in 1996, his mishandling of disaster relief funds in 1997 and his shock last summer at finding his colleagues were trying to unseat him.
“Sometimes even very experienced people can be utterly naive,” he writes.
The problems can be physical as well as political.
One of his low points, he said, was before the president’s State of the Union address in February 1997, when Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott came by his office and advised him on how to sit on the podium “so as to minimize for the camera how overweight I had let myself become. I was bathed in embarrassment; things had obviously gone pretty far downhill.”
Gingrich ends the book on a high note, saying he has learned his lessons and sees a bright future for a GOP-led government dedicated to a balanced budget, lower taxes and a prosperous and well-educated nation.
He suggests that Republicans might emulate Sen. Edward Kennedy, the liberal Democrat from Massachusetts. “We on our side are as yet not nearly as tenacious, as firm, as clear about our ends, nor as clever in our tactics as the good senator.”
The Georgia conservative with a reputation for confrontational politics said he wanted to achieve too much too quickly in his early days as speaker. He said it was “inexcusable” that he, as a former Republican whip, failed to factor in the different agenda of the Senate and the power of the presidential veto pen.
He said he mistakenly viewed Clinton as a weak president when Republicans forced a showdown over the budget in 1995. The ensuing struggle and government shutdown, blamed by many on the Republicans, hurt Bob Dole’s chances in the 1996 election, he said.
Gingrich talks of the “agony” of late 1996, when Democrats had made advances at the polls, his father was dying and he was faced with ethics charges that had Republicans questioning his right to keep his job. He was eventually reprimanded and told to reimburse the House $300,000 for making false statements about tax-exempt donations he used to finance a college course.