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5 Things You Didn't Know About Newt Gingrich

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After more than 30 years in the spotlight, there's not much we don't know about presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich. Still, these five things about him might surprise you.

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Once named Time's Man of the Year for his leadership in ending 40 years of congressional majority rule by the Democrats, Newt Gingrich is surely one of the most high-profile and talked-about Republicans of the past few decades.

Whether it's his role as the architect of the GOP's Contract with America in the 1990s, his attempt to impeach President Bill Clinton, or his number of marriages, Gingrich, as CNN noted when Gingrich resigned as speaker of the House in 1998, "has been a lightning rod for controversy."

Having been written off in June after reports emerged that he had once owed as much as $500,000 to jewelry company Tiffany & Co. (TIF), Gingrich has revived his presidential campaign following a series of strong showings at Republican presidential debates. He's also gained momentum just by hanging in there as Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain have fallen by the wayside.

With the intense media scrutiny that comes with being one of the favorites of the GOP presidential nomination, there seems to be nothing about Gingrich that goes unnoticed. While we've all heard about how he thinks child labor laws are "truly stupid" and how he suggested that school children should work as janitors, here are five noteworthy things about the 68-year-old that might surprise you.

1. He is just as much of a flip-flopper as Mitt Romney.
While Romney gets slaughtered by the press for his flip-flopping, Gingrich has surprisingly escaped media criticism even though he's changed his views on numerous topics. As Gingrich steadily emerges as the main rival to Romney, however, it seems like news outlets are taking notice. Dan Amira of New York lists some of the former speaker's most egregious flip-flops.

Health Insurance Mandate:
  • Flip: "Personal responsibility extends to the purchase of health insurance. Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it." -- June 2007
  • Flop: "I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional." -- May 16, 2011
Cap-and-Trade:
  • Flip: "I think if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur, and if you have a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions, that there's a package there that's very, very good. And frankly, it's something I would strongly support." -- February 2, 2007
  • Flop: "A carbon cap and trade system ... would lead to corruption, political favoritism, and would have a huge impact on the economy." -- April 21, 2008

Gingrich's flip-flopping doesn't apply only to Democratic policies. He notably made a 180-degree turn on Paul Ryan's budget. After first calling it "right-wing social engineering" and "radical," he turned around two days later and said that "any ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood because I have said publicly, those words were inaccurate and unfortunate."

2. He is a prolific book reader, writer, and reviewer.
Many supporters of Gingrich cite the former speaker's intelligence and his ability to go toe-to-toe in a hypothetical debate with President Barack Obama as reasons why he should be the GOP presidential nominee. Indeed, among the GOP candidates, only Gingrich and Ron Paul can boast of holding doctoral degrees.



It comes as no surprise, then, that Gingrich is a prolific book reader and writer (he's authored more than 20 books, including To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine and A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters). What's perhaps less well-known is the history graduate's love for writing amateur book reviews on Amazon.com (AMZN). According to his reviews page on the site, Gingrich has written 156 book reviews starting from April 2000, with the most recent one coming in February 2008. Ever the shrewd politician, Gingrich does not leave bad reviews, with the worst ones getting at least three out of five stars. Here's a sample review he left for Senator Chuck Schumer's book, Positively: American: Winning Back the Middle Class Majority One Family at a Time.

I am surprised to be recommending Senator Chuck Schumer's Positively American and yet it is a very powerful and effective book.

Schumer is a liberal and very positive Democrat but he is also very smart and has some profound insights into contemporary American thinking.

This is a smart book by an intelligent, liberal Democrat who is determined to turn his party into a governing majority again. It is worth study by every Republican who would like their party and their center-right philosophy to prevail.


3. Besides Clinton, Gingrich planned to impeach Al Gore as well.
That Gingrich was cheating on his second wife with his then-staffer and now wife, Callista Gingrich, while he spearheaded the House effort to impeach Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal is common knowledge. What most people might not know is that as Gingrich was directing Clinton's impeachment, he also had plans to impeach Vice President Al Gore. In an interview with Salon, New York Review of Books and veteran Washington journalist Elizabeth Drew said:

Speaker Gingrich is talking to, and has been talking to over a period of time, close associates about the idea of impeaching both Clinton and Gore. It goes as follows: Gingrich expects that the Starr report will be very tough and that the House will have no choice but to proceed with hearings looking toward an impeachment.

Gingrich believes that the report will be so tough that Clinton will be impeached. The thinking then goes that Gore, as his successor, will pardon Clinton. This, of course, leaves Gore in place as the incumbent president, which is not something the Republicans wish to have happen. So once Gore has pardoned Clinton, Gingrich's thinking goes, the Congress will impeach Gore for having pardoned Clinton. As one of these close associates of Gingrich said to me, "You can't have a Clinton strategy without a Gore strategy."


4. Democrats actually would like to see him win the Republican primary.
With low approval ratings thanks to a still-ailing economy, Obama's ability to win a second term looks tenuous at the moment, and many conservatives, such as four JPMorgan Chase (JPM) executives who will host a New York City fundraiser for Romney, believe that the former Massachusetts governor has the best shot at taking down Obama.

Congressional Democrats concur that Romney is the biggest threat to Obama's winning a second term, which is why many of them have welcomed the rise of Gingrich in nationwide polls and the idea of his winning the GOP nomination.

"I did not think I lived a good enough life to see Newt Gingrich as the Republican nominee," Barney Frank said last week when he announced his retirement.

Speaking to Talking Points Memo, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi borrowed Frank's words when asked to assess the candidacy of Gingrich, saying, "I like Barney Frank's quote the best, where he said 'I never thought I'd live such a good life that I would see Newt Gingrich be the nominee of the Republican party. That quote I think spoke for a lot of us."

It seems like Pelosi is ready to unload some potentially damaging information on Gingrich should he become Obama's challenger. "One of these days we'll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich," Pelosi said. "I know a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff."

5. In terms of social issues, he's perhaps not as anti-gay as he makes himself out to be.
Like the rest of the GOP nominees (barring libertarian Paul), Newt Gingrich has been running on a socially and religiously conservative, anti-gay platform. In September, he told the Des Moines Register that same-sex marriage "just fundamentally goes against everything we know" and that it "is a temporary aberration that will dissipate."

However, his half-sister, Candace Gingrich-Jones, has argued that his position on gay issues has softened. Gingrich-Jones famously slammed her brother in a Huffington Post column in 2008, saying, "What really worries me is that you are always willing to use LGBT Americans as political weapons to further your ambitions."

Three years later, Gingrich-Jones now has a more nuanced view of her brother. Speaking again to the Huffington Post, she said:
When he was speaker, he had no qualms about talking about why workplace protection is a bad idea and how gays aren't families. It is possible that Callista has had a moderating effect ... she's possibly gotten LGBT issues to no longer be a red meat issue for him politically.

The 45-year-old also asserted that she had not "seen him be proactively anti-gay" recently.
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