Gingrich’s record belies his conservative image
For months, many Republicans have cast about for an alternative to Mitt Romney, decrying him as insufficiently conservative. Now they appear to have settled on a new front-runner — Newt Gingrich — who is no more conservative than Romney.
Both men have parted company with the party’s most active voters on many of the same issues. Both backed requiring individuals to purchase healthcare insurance. Both supported the Wall Street bailout known as TARP and government subsidies for ethanol production.
Both agreed that human activity is contributing to climate change (though each has backtracked in recent months). In the past, both supported trading systems designed to cap carbon emissions. Gingrich has favored research using stem cells from fertility clinics, putting him to the left of Romney on that issue.
This year, Gingrich undercut his own candidacy by criticizing a House GOP plan to restructure Medicare as “right-wing social engineering” — though he pushed for a similar plan when he was House speaker in the mid-1990s. But unlike Romney, who supports moving to Medicare vouchers, Gingrich now favors letting seniors remain in the current system, a stance that puts him more in line with Democrats.
For some GOP voters it may come down to image: Gingrich, who boasts that he is more conservative than Romney, forged his by leading a partisan revolt in 1994 that brought Republicans to power in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. And some Republicans have chosen to forgive his ideological straying because they appreciate his lacerating tone, far more brittle than Romney’s.
Like other longtime politicians, Gingrich, 68, has evolved considerably over the years, shifting rightward with his party. He started out as a liberal Republican, working for Nelson Rockefeller’s 1968 presidential campaign against Richard Nixon (there were few Republicans of any stripe in the South at the time, and Gingrich, who had recently moved to Louisiana, filled a void in the Rockefeller campaign there). His shift has caused some awkwardness: Just this week, Gingrich said in a CNN interview that he regretted his 1979 vote to create the federal Department of Education, a target for elimination by many conservatives.