After the 1994 mid-term elections, Newt Gingrich became the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years. Most of the legislative items in his well-publicized "Contract with America" were passed by the House and many became law. His term as Speaker was marked by his opposition to many of President Bill Clinton's policies, which led to a budget showdown, government shutdowns and acrimonious impeachment proceedings. Yet, after having become known for his own ethics scandals, Gingrich resigned from Congress in 1999. He has authored several books, and stayed involved in politics, serving as a political commentator and consultant for various think tanks. In May 2011 Gingrich announced he would seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012, which eventually went to Mitt Romney. Since then, Gingrich has kept his presence in politics alive with his active support of businessman Donald Trump, who won the presidential election via electoral college victory in 2016.
Newton Leroy McPherson was born on June 17, 1943, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His mother Kathleen Daugherty and father Newton McPherson divorced soon after Newt was born. Kathleen remarried to an Army officer named Robert Gingrich, who adopted Newt. Newt took his Gingrich as his last name and has three younger half-sisters, Candace, Susan and Roberta, as well as a younger half-brother, Randy.
Growing up, Gingrich's family moved around frequently, like many military families. He graduated from Baker High School in Columbus, Georgia, and received a B.A. from Emory University in 1965.
Elected to Congress
Gingrich pursued graduate course work at Tulane University, receiving an M.A. in 1968 and a Ph.D. in modern European history in 1971. While in New Orleans, Gingrich developed an interest in religion and became a Southern Baptist, though decades later he would switch to Catholicism. Starting in 1970, Gingrich worked in academia as an assistant professor of history and geography at West Georgia College.
Always interested in history and politics, Gingrich was appointed the Southern regional director for the presidential campaign of liberal Republican and New York governor Nelson Rockefeller. Gingrich later launched his first campaign for Congress in 1974. He lost in 1974, and again in 1976, to the Democratic incumbent. In 1978, Gingrich finally won a seat in the House. He would then be reelected to Congress 10 times.
From his first days in Congress, Gingrich was an influential conservative member of the Republican party. He formed the Conservative Opportunity Society in 1983, a group of delegates whose ideas influenced President Ronald Reagan's policies.
In 1988, Gingrich led the charge against Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Wright, who was alleged to have violated campaign finance rules. Wright was forced out, giving Gingrich a boost among his party. Gingrich's star continued to rise, and when House minority whip Dick Cheney was appointed secretary of defense, Gingrich was narrowly elected to take his place.
During this period, Gingrich became known for his aggressive, often combative style and used his influence over his party to draft the "Contract with America," a platform of 10 policies Republicans would push for if they took the majority in the congressional elections. The contract included welfare reform, tougher crime laws, a balanced budget and other conservative policies.
The 1994 congressional elections brought about what would be called the "Republican Revolution." After around four decades of Democratic control, the GOP won the majority in the House and Gingrich was soon elected speaker. Fiercely opposed to many policies of President Bill Clinton, Gingrich was instrumental in getting Clinton to reluctantly sign the GOP's welfare reform act after two initial vetoes. Gingrich also had other major pieces of legislation passed, including a balanced budget and a capital gains tax cut.
Gingrich's accomplishments were not without controversy. His popularity began to decline amidst partial government shutdowns in 1995. Gingrich was widely blamed for the shutdowns after he had refused to compromise with President Clinton on budget cuts.
Ethical considerations were also at the heart of much criticism of the speaker. At the end of 1994, he announced he would return a $4.5 million book advance that the House Ethics Committee had questioned. Another ethics investigation arose concerning whether Gingrich had used tax-exempt donations to fund a college course he taught while serving in Congress. In 1997, after Gingrich was narrowly reelected as speaker, he was ordered to pay a fine of $300,000 and given an official reprimand for his inappropriate use of tax-exempt funds. The House favored the action by a vote of 395 to 28.
In 1998, a scandal broke that would have a big impact on Gingrich's career. Clinton was alleged to have lied before a federal grand jury about his extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Gingrich pushed for impeachment and Clinton's removal from office. Congressional hearings and a media frenzy created a backlash against Republicans, as many voters felt they had gone too far.
In the 1998 midterm elections, Republicans lost five seats to Democrats. The tides had turned against Gingrich, and even members of his own party were critical of the speaker's tactics and the image he projected. In November 1998, Gingrich stepped down as speaker. In January 1999, he resigned from his seat in Congress though winning reelection.
Gingrich remained involved in politics, serving as a consultant and television commentator on the Fox News channel. In 2007, he founded American Solutions for Winning the Future, a public policy organization that closed a few years later. In May 2011, Gingrich announced he would seek the Republican nomination for president.
During his campaign, Gingrich tried to position himself as the ideal conservative candidate. He attempted to achieve victory with his calls for a balanced budget, advancements in domestic energy production and religious liberty. But he may be best remembered for his intense attacks on the Republican front-runner Mitt Romney. Gingrich painted a portrait of Romney as an unethical businessman who "looted" business companies.
Gingrich made some missteps along the way, receiving bad press for his troubled finances and his disorganized campaign. He also had some offbeat proposals, including the creation of an American colony on the moon. In January 2012, Gingrich won the state primary of South Carolina. He then won his home state of Georgia in March. These proved to be his only two victories. That May, Gingrich finally decided to pull out of the race.
Over the years, Gingrich has written several books, including Lessons Learned the Hard Way (1998), To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine (2010) and A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters (2011). He's also co-penned various historical fiction books.
In 2016, Gingrich was back in political headlines when he threw his support behind future President-Elect Donald Trump and encouraged other Republicans to do the same. As the convention in July drew near, it was reported that he was on Trump’s short list as a potential running mate, although Mike Pence was eventually chosen for the role. Nonetheless Trump had promised that Gingrich would have a place in his administration, though Gingrich stated post-election that he wouldn't have a cabinet role and instead work as a strategist. With Trump rolling out announcements reality TV style over his future administration, Gingrich has publicly opposed the idea of Romney becoming secretary of state and has criticized some of Trump's more controversial tweets about voter fraud, saying, “Presidents of the United States can’t randomly tweet without having somebody check it out. . .It makes you wonder about whatever else he’s doing. It undermines much more than just a single tweet."
Newt Gingrich married his high school math teacher Jackie Battley in 1962, when he was 19 years old. The couple had two daughters, Jackie and Kathy, before their divorce in 1980. While married to his first wife, Gingrich had an extramarital affair with Marianne Ginther, whom he had met at a political fundraiser. Ginther and Gingrich married in 1981 and divorced in 2000.
While still married to his second wife, Gingrich had another affair with Hill staffer Callista Bisek. They were married in 2000 shortly after his second divorce. Together the couple creates public policy documentaries through their production company, Gingrich Productions.
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