As the Republican Party searches for a future leader, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich pops up on the short lists.
Gingrich has kept fairly quiet about his recent conversion to Catholicism, but today he spoke to Christianity Today about his faith, the future leaders and constituencies of the Republican Party, and where the fights on same-sex marriage and abortion currently stand.
As the Republican Party tries to redefine itself before the next presidential election, where will evangelicals fit? Are they seen as a prominent part of the party or just one constituency?
I think they are a very significant constituency of the party, and I think the kind of issues that an Obama administration is likely to create, and the kind of things we're seeing in places like Connecticut, where two legislators introduced legislation that would in effect abolish the Catholic Church, the attack on the conscience clause that permits Catholics and evangelicals and Orthodox Jewish doctors to not perform abortions ... on a number of fronts, I think you're likely to see a number of groups beyond just evangelicals who are very, very likely to play an important role.
Can you give a political assessment of where we are headed on abortion and same-sex marriage?
I think on traditional marriage, it's likely to be a long, complex struggle with the courts making it, I think, worse, because they are intervening without regard to popular opinion. On the case of right-to-life, I think the cause of the right-to-life community is gaining ground, because I think as people look at more and more advanced technology, all of the underlying assumptions that were at the heart of Roe v. Wade simply fall apart. Roe v. Wade is based on viability of life, and life, of course, is now viable at a very, very early age. Once you start getting into questions of Is it a baby or not?, people get much shakier about their belief that you ought to have the right to abort a baby than they were 30 years ago.
Who do you see as the emerging leaders in the Republican Party: Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin?
Bobby Jindal is certainly brilliant and has a great future. Tim Pawlenty has a great future. There are a lot of people who are terrific. The fact is, I think that you can look at [governer of South Carolina] Mark Sanford, Paul Ryan in the House, [California congressman] Kevin McCarthy, or Eric Cantor [in the House]. I just think we're likely to have a dramatic resurgence. We have two great candidates in Ohio, John Kasich for governor and Rob Portman for the Senate, who are likely to be very, very effective.
Do you see any women emerging in the GOP leadership?
I would start, frankly, with Linda Lingle in Hawaii, who was a terrific governor who got re-elected in very difficult circumstances. You have Kay Bailey Hutchinson running for the governorship of Texas. If she wins that, she will automatically be a national figure because she'll be the governor of the second largest state.
You didn't mention Sarah Palin.
Sarah Palin has an obvious role if she wants it. The question for her has to be, are she and her family willing to go through another couple of years of the kind of media coverage that they currently get? Is she willing to do the kind of development of national issues and development of a national profile that would be required? She is a celebrity in her own right. She is probably the most successful figure in the party right now, and she's a formidable figure. I think to go from there to becoming a national leader would take a significant amount of work.
Christian philanthropist Howard Ahmanson recently left the GOP to become a Democrat because he felt the Republican Party was too focused on reducing taxes.
I'm curious how he could possibly rationalize that as a values decision. If he decided he didn't care about his religious belief, that would make some sense. The Democratic Party has been the active instrument of breaking down traditional marriage, it's been the active instrument of a pro-abortion movement, it's been the active instrument for creating a more secular America. The current administration asked Georgetown University to cover up the symbol of Christ so that President Obama could speak without it in the background. I can understand being unhappy with Republicans. I can't understand comparatively then deciding to become a Democrat.
Is it a good idea for the Republican Party's main message, its uniting message at least, to be simply, "no more taxes"?
I don't think that is its only main message. It has a strong national security message. It's going to have some very strong messages on strong core issues. It's pretty hard for me to imagine if you look at the voting pattern and you look at the general speech pattern. You have Obama nominating Judge Hamilton, who said in his ruling that saying the words Jesus Christ in a prayer is a sign of inappropriate behavior, but saying Allah would be okay. You'll find most Republican Senators voting against a judge who is confused about whether you can say Jesus Christ in a prayer, particularly one who is pro-Muslim being able to say Allah.
You recently started an organization called Renewing American Leadership. What gave you this interest in religious liberty?
I think it's at the heart of America's system. If you start with the first great document that made us a country, it is the Declaration of Independence, which says that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The very founding of the country had in its initial belief that God grants us certain rights, they are unalienable, and that no one can take them from us.
How does your faith impact your policies?
I have always believed that faith is a matter, and in my case, does go through your whole being, and it's hard for me to imagine as a person of faith how it would not impact your policies. In the end, if you truly try to understand what God wants, and truly try to do what God wants, that has to impact how you behave.
It's undoubtedly made me much more pro-life. It's undoubtedly made me more concerned about young people learning about God, learning a sense of being part of an extended world. I think that it makes me much more concerned about helping the poor.
I know you recently converted to Catholicism.
All I can tell you is that for a decade I went to the basilica where my wife sings in the choir. I found myself growing more and more comfortable and more and more accepting. The head of the basilica began the conversation four years ago, and I found myself being a part of the Catholic community and being a part of the Catholic faith.
Where do you see your future headed? What issues do you want to champion in the coming years?
The central activity I'm engaged in is the proposition that my two grandchildren can live in the most prosperous and successful and productive country in the world when they're in their 40s. We have to have fundamental, deep reform of our institutions. That's why I created American solutions. My goal is to create a nationwide tri-partisan movement of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents that seeks to change America, and I think it's going to take that level of change for us to be successful over the next 30 years.
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