On the third night of the Republican National Convention, vice presidential nominee Mike Pence will be preceded by the man he reportedly beat out for the post: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who will speak alongside his wife, Callista.
Gingrich remains an important figure in Trump world. He has been a close confidant throughout the campaign, defending Trump at times few other Republicans would.
At the same time, though, his brand of Republicanism contrasts sharply with Trump's. Gingrich is generally sympathetic to immigration and vociferously pro-trade, particularly trade with China. That was the normal position for GOPers in the mid-1990s. But Trump has altered the party's positions on immigration and trade enough to make Gingrich's record on the issues seem anachronistic and out of touch with the nominee.
The bond between Gingrich and Trump
Gingrich is, by all accounts, one of the very few politicians who is genuinely buddies with Trump.
"I regard Donald as an old friend," Gingrich told Bill O’Reilly earlier this year, adding that he and Callista "have regularly talked with [Trump] for the last five or six years."
That relationship reportedly amped up as the general election began in earnest. National Review's Eliana Johnson quoted a Trump campaign source in May reporting that Trump and Gingrich "talk every day," with Gingrich shooting off "countless emails" daily to Trump, campaign chair Paul Manafort, and now-deposed campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Another aide told Johnson, "Right from the minute I joined we were told that Newt will have his hand in every major policy effort."
Gingrich has also shown a mastery of Trumpian talking points. In an interview with Slate’s Isaac Chotiner, he rebutted criticisms of Trump’s weak foreign policy team by insisting Chotiner read The Art of the Deal and Art of the Comeback:
Here was a guy on the cover of Time magazine in 1989, who had the No. 1 best-selling business book in the 1980s, had the No. 1 television show. There is a rumor that I cannot verify that NBC was offering him $12 million per episode … You are talking about a guy who was smart enough to build Trump Towers, build lots of hotels, build lots of casinos, and own the Miss Universe contest.
The former speaker has also demonstrated a Trumpian willingness to buck the entitlement-cutting tendencies of current congressional Republicans. Gingrich famously denounced the Paul Ryan budget as"right-wing social engineering," saying its conversion of Medicare from a single-payer system to a voucherized one was too drastic a shift.
Trump, meanwhile, has capitalized throughout the campaign on the fact that defending Social Security and Medicare from cuts is extremely popular by base Republican voters, even if elites are enthusiastic about entitlement reform.
The two also share similar views on terrorism, with Gingrich getting in on the "Obama is a coward for not saying ‘radical Islam’" game years before Trump did. "One of our biggest mistakes in the aftermath of 9/11 was naming our response to the attacks 'the war on terror' instead of accurately identifying radical Islamists (and the underlying ideology of radical Islamism) as the target of our campaign," Gingrich wrote all the way back in 2010, in the course of arguing against the establishment of a mosque in lower Manhattan.
Gingrich's politics are ultimately way more conventional than Trump's
Still, while Gingrich has been more loyal to Trump than most Republicans, he has criticized the candidate on occasion. In his conversation with Chotiner in March, he conceded that Trump is "too strong in talking about illegal immigrants in general."
More consequentially, Gingrich refused to have Trump’s back when Trump was arguing that Judge Gonzalo Curiel's Mexican heritage should disqualify him from judging a case involving Trump. "I don't know what Trump's reasoning was, and I don't care. His description of the judge in terms of his parentage is completely unacceptable," Gingrich told the Washington Post. On Fox News Sunday, Gingrich elaborated and said attacking Curiel was "one of the worst mistakes Trump has made," adding, "I think it's inexcusable."
Trump did not take this display of disloyalty well. He told Fox & Friends that he was "surprised at Newt. I thought it was inappropriate what he said."
Gingrich’s past policy record is also an imperfect fit with Trump’s platform. In particular, Gingrich has always been an enthusiastic supporter of free trade. In 2011, the free market group Club for Growth released a white paper reviewing Gingrich’s record, and concluded, "Evidence of any pro-protectionism support is scant."
Notably, Gingrich backed permanent normal trade relations for China, paving the way for its entry into the World Trade Organization. If Congress members voted against PNTR, he warned, it could "turn out to be the most destructive single vote of a member’s congressional career."
By contrast, Donald Trump recently declared that Chinese membership in the WTO "enabled the greatest jobs theft in history." He also argued that the North American Free Trade Agreement was the "worst trade deal in history," but Gingrich voted for it in 1993.
Gingrich is also notably softer on immigration than Trump. In 2011 he caught flak from other Republican candidates for advocating a "humane" policy of limited deportations and a path to legal status, but not citizenship, for undocumented immigrants. In the House, he voted for the 1986 immigration reform bill that legalized about 3 million undocumented immigrants.
In 2013, he argued that Republicans had to become more pro-immigration, writing, "Are we really going to deport all 12 million people, many of whom have deep ties here? … It is difficult to understand how someone running for President of the United States, a country with more than 50 million Hispanic citizens, could fail to acknowledge that the American people should not take grandmothers who have been here 25 years, have deep family and community ties —and forcibly expel them."
Mass deportation, he elaborated, "would constitute a level of inhumanity the American people would never accept."
Of course, that "level of inhumanity" is exactly what Trump is promising should he be elected — and what Gingrich is himself endorsing by appearing onstage and touting Trump's candidacy.