In front of a more than 600-person audience, former speaker of the house and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich sat down for a 90-minute conversation with former White House senior adviser, President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, and new MSNBC correspondent David Axelrod at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics last night. Progress Illinois was there for the candid discussion.
In front of a more than 600-person audience, former speaker of the house and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich sat down for a 90-minute conversation with former White House senior adviser, President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, and new MSNBC correspondent David Axelrod at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics last night.
In an interview that started off candidly but eventually evolved into a debate, Gingrich and Axelrod largely discussed the 2012 election, where the Republican Party may have gone wrong, and the future of the GOP going forward.
“When you look at the presidential race, I’m like a pilot whose plane has hit a mountain and I’m beginning to think we need to reroute,” said Gingrich of the 2012 presidential election in which incumbent President Obama was elected over the GOP nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“There are large chunks of the Republican Party that are totally out of sync with the 21st century, and confronting that and thinking it through is very sobering,” he said. “Trying to figure out how to start changing it is a big challenge for us.”
Large portions of the audience seemed to lean toward the Democratic side of the political spectrum, as there was no shortage of laughter or applause when Axelrod’s interview took outright stabs at the GOP 's or Gingrich's admitted follies, such as Romney’s infamous “self-deportation” policy. Majority of attendees appeared to be part of the University of Chicago’s student body.
“Our nominee was really clumsy,” said Gingrich to a reception of chuckles. “I don’t mean this to sound as tough on Romney as it’s going to, but an honest, objective reality is, you don’t have to pick a fight with Rick Perry over paying for illegal immigrants’ kids to go to college, and then pivot and pick a fight with me about grandmothers self-deporting.”
“It is anti-human to suggest that you can go into a community and say, ‘I’m going to deport your grandmother, but I’ve got a great jobs program.’”
Referring to Romney’s “incompetence”, Gingrich pointed out Romney’s poor turnout from the Latino and Asian-American vote.
“Throwing away the Asian-American vote is an art-form that people will study in future years as a case-study on how to be self-destructive,” he said.
When asked about the issue of contraception and women’s health, an issue that resulted in a severe gender gap in voter turnout for Romney, Gingrich implied Republicans were caught off guard and the situation snowballed.
Following Sandra Fluke’s testimony and her “radically ideological opinion”, and Romney making a commitment to defund Planned Parenthood, Gingrich said, “In the end you ended up with, ‘why don’t Republicans care that women are dying?’ And we’re standing there going, ‘how did we get to this?’ And then of course you guys [to Axelrod] cheerfully celebrate the “War On Women,’” he said.
Axelrod then went on to a moment during the GOP debates “when all of you were asked if you would accept $1 of new taxes for $10 of cuts, and everybody raised their hands.”
“When you review the exit polls from November 6, a pretty healthy majority of people said they thought we needed to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americas as part of a budget resolution and economic plan, was that wise? Would you put that in the category of these other issues with the Republican Party?” Axelrod asked.
“Well you’ve got to look at the base of the Republican Party,” responded Gingrich. “If Romney, or not just Romney, if candidate X had walked in…”
“Candidate X, former governor of Massachusetts,” interjected Axelrod.
“Let’s assume they parachute in a perfect candidate, and that perfect candidate walked in with an enormous amount of money, let’s say Bloomberg, and he said, ‘the way to get to a general election is to be pro-gay marriage, pro-choice and I’m going to raise taxes.’ That person couldn’t spend enough money and get through the primaries,” he said.
“If any one person said, ‘oh sure, I’ll raise taxes,’ they would have gotten killed in the primaries, everyone else would have pounded on him,” said Gingrich.
When talking about the future of the Republican Party, and whether outreach, technology and the party’s ability to deliver its message are up to snuff, Gingrich said, “anybody who thinks we are dealing with a cosmetic problem is fundamentally out of touch with the real world.”
“The Republican Party has been presented with a really serious challenge, and we have to really profoundly rethink how we operate and the country we are operating in, because the models we have in our heads and our consultants have models that just don’t work,” he said.
“The greatest need we have in America today is not better marketing of liberalism or conservatism, it is a decade or more of inventing fundamentally big new solutions,” said Gingrich. “And whichever party can break out and become once again a party of ideas — in the 60s and early 70s the Democrats were the party of ideas and the Republicans were the party of ‘no.’ By the late 70s and 80s, the Republicans were the party of ideas and the Democrats were the party of ‘no.’ Today neither party is deeply committed to bold solutions.”
University of Chicago students had the opportunity to ask Gingrich questions near the end of the evening.
Jumping off a student question about Republican outreach, Axelrod asked, “The question was that, you thought perhaps going into election day you thought the Republicans were going to win, and a lot of that was based off assumptions about the turnout. In 1992, 87 percent of the electorate was white and in 2012, 72 percent. And so, we are becoming a much more diverse country, isn’t that a big challenge for the Republican Party, finding a way to relate to this broader electorate?”
“We have 30 Republican governors with 315 electoral votes, we have 24 states in which we have both the governor and the legislature, we have 59 percent of the country’s white vote,” Gingrich responded.
“We have to campaign on the American that actually exists, not the America that existed in 1980,” he said.
“Or 1950,” chimed in Axelrod.
“That’s the central challenge for the Republican Party,” Gingrich said.