My friend Hugh Hewitt interviewed Newt Gingrich on his nationally-syndicated radio program last night, and the exchange was worthwhile. Hugh asked a number of questions weighing on Republican primary voters' minds, and Newt's answers were characteristically thorough. Right off the bat, on the heels of the merry-go-round of allegations against Herman Cain, Hugh asked if there any heretofore undiscovered skeletons lurking in the former House Speaker's proverbial closet:
HH: ...Back in the days when I was in the White House Counsel’s Office, we always threw a question at the end of the applicant’s questionnaire that said "Isthere anything else we don’t know about you, that if we did, it would embarrass the president? And so Newt Gingrich, is there anything out there about Newt Gingrich that we don’t already know that would impact your candidacy?"
NG: Not to the best of my knowledge.
HH: All right.
NG: And I say it that way because you know, you’ve got bloggers and investigators and the Obama campaign, and you name it, all trying to dig up something and prove something. And I had 83 ethics charges filed against me in the 1990s, none of which were accurate, but just in an effort to throw enough mud. So I fully expect to see a fair amount of noise, but I don’t think there’s anything of substance. My life has been pretty public, and for a very long time.
HH: Now I read your comments about the fact you’ve given 7,000 speeches, and written 20 books, and dozens and hundreds of articles. And so you’re like an opposition research dream.
HH: ...I think it is very easy to use the opus of Newt to do that kind of…
NG: Of course it is.
HH: So how are you going to defend against that?
NG: Of course it is. I’m going to tell people to be clear about what’s happening. If you take all of the interviews I’ve done in my lifetime, I mean, if you just took the hours I’ve done with you in my lifetime…
NG: …and you go through, and you want to take nuggets here and nuggets there, you can clearly work out all sorts…that’s why I talk about gotcha questions. I mean, anybody who wants to can mine my entire public life, and try on lots of gotcha questions. The question I think you have to ask yourself as a serious voter is does it have any relevance to what a Gingrich presidency would be?
HH: Well, to me…
NG: And I think I can make the case that I’m actually pretty stable, had a pretty consistent passion for freedom, had pretty consistently defended the Constitution, had a 90% American Conservative Union voting record over a 20 year period. And I’m happy to say, and my overall consistency is fairly remarkable for a politician, not filled with contradictions or inconsistencies.
Up next, Newt discusses how he plans to counter the inevitable avalanche of Chicago-style negativity from Democrats:
HH: Are you tough enough, and can anyone survive that, with your great, vast treasure of speeches, et cetera?
NG: Well, let me use my personal history. In 1980, I was the only elected federal Republican from Georgia. And so therefore, I’m the only Republican in the House that knew Jimmy Carter from his earlier campaigns. And so I wrote a memo for Jim Baker and the Reagan campaign and said you have to understand that Carter will lie about you when he gets a chance to debate you. And he will try to lie on such a grand scale that he will trap you in repudiating the lies so you become tainted by the act of repudiating the lie. And I cited a particular brilliant book called Gothic Politics In The Deep South, which was a study of demagoguery among politicians like Jimmy Carter. Well, Reagan thought for a long time about it. He came up with a very simple phrase – There you go again. And during the debates between Reagan and Carter, every time Carter started lying, Reagan would just smile and say there you go again. And everybody in the country said got it. He’s lying. So I’m happy to say that I’ve already memorized there you go again.
NG: This is one of the reasons I’m challenging President Obama to seven three-hour debates in the Lincoln-Douglas tradition of a timekeeper and no moderator, because I want him to have to stand on a platform and defend a billion dollars of lies and smears, because this is a president who cannot get reelected with a positive campaign. If it’s two positive choices ending up in food stamps with Obama versus paychecks with Gingrich, everybody knows we’ll beat him very badly. So we have to expect that they’re going to run a miserable, negative, vicious attack campaign, that they’ll be proud of, that they’ll sit around in the evening telling each other how clever they are. And what we have to rely on is the good judgment of the American people who are looking at the wreckage of this economy, the wreckage of the deficits, the wreckage of our foreign policy, the wreckage of the assault on our values. And the American people have to decide you know, I think I can see through this baloney. There’s an old rule that nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising. And I think that Obama has a good product, and I think that with the help of the American people, we’re going to defeat him by a surprising margin.
Finally, Hugh probes Gingrich's immigration plan, which fellow Salem Radio Network host Michael Medved argues isn't the liability some conservatives are making it out to be:
HH: Can you get a wall built on the southern border? And if so, how long will it be, and will that precede any regularization of any illegal population?
NG: It’ll be the first step, and will precede everything else. The bill will stipulate completion by January 1, 2014. It will waive all federal regulations. It will go back to a World War II style management system. We fought the entire Second World War in three years and 8 months. It is absurd to think we can’t build a wall or fence along the border. I’m also prepared to take the 23,000 Department of Homeland Security officials in the Washington, D.C. area and move half of them to the Texas, New Mexico and Arizona borders if we need additional manpower. But I fully expect that we will, that this will become a very big issue next year, that virtually every member of Congress will sign up to pass the bill. We’ll actually draft the bill’s language next spring...And that will be a very aggressive goal of mine.
HH: How far, how long will the wall be, Mr. Speaker, because some estimates say 370, others say 700 miles, the most expansive say there’s 850 miles that have to have the double fencing with the road. What do you say?
NG: All I’ll say is I want 100% control of the border. And therefore, I want the amount of fencing you need to have 100% control of the border. If there are areas that are totally impassible, there’s no point in fencing them. But then you have to monitor those areas and make sure they remain totally impassible. What I don’t want to have, you know, if you tell me you have 96% control of the border, you have no control of the border, because your opponents just have to be smart enough to find the 4%.
HH: So when you made your comment about families who’ve been here 25 years, which by the way, I agree with, and I think most Americans agree with, that was not going to happen in your world until that fence is built?
NG: Well, I’ve always said it’s a sequence. I’m against any comprehensive reform, because it’s not doable. The sequence starts with building a fence, part two is English as the official language of government. Part three is requiring history of the United States, knowledge of American history before you can become a citizen. Part four is modifying and improving the legal visa program for visitors, for guests, for tourists, business visitors. Part five is a guest worker program that is run by American Express, Visa or MasterCard so it’s hard to counterfeit and it’s effective. Part six is a easier deportation program, so that if we find out you belong to MS-13, we kick you out in a couple of weeks. We don’t go through some long, elaborate American validation process. Part seven is that we have, we raise the penalties on employers so that, because you don’t get illegal workers without illegal employers. And so we want very stiff economic sanctions if you hire people illegally once there’s a guest worker program. And then the last part is now that you’ve set all those building blocks in place, what do you do with folks who’ve been here a long time? People who’ve been here a short time go home. Period. I have never seen…
HH: What’s, where’s the transition?
NG: I have never suggested amnesty.
HH: I don’t think it’s amnesty, either.
NG: No, look, I look at 25 years. Reasonable people can negotiate. We can have hearings in Congress. We will have time to work this out while we’re building the fence. This is not an overnight project. But I think most Americans would agree that what I’d like to have is a World War II Selective Service board model where local citizens form the board, local citizens do the certification. We may even have a requirement that you have to have a family that sponsors you as a part of this process. And in doing that, what we’re looking for is who are the people who have been here so long, who have family, who have roots, who have ties, who belong to the local church, that it would be genuinely inhumane, and the American people will not tolerate police going in and ripping them out and shipping them out of the country. Now there’s some practical level at which that occurs. It is clearly a relatively small minority of the people who are here. Most of them end up going home. Even the ones who are allowed to be certified are certified for residency. They’re not eligible for citizenship. They’re not eligible to vote. That is a totally different process, and that has nothing to do with they are getting a residency permit.