Gingrich reaches out to conservative leaders
December 8th, 2011
07:28 PM ET
11 years ago

Gingrich reaches out to conservative leaders

Washington (CNN) – Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign is increasing its outreach to conservative leaders to try and quell their skepticism about the Gingrich candidacy.

The effort by the campaign to consolidate its conservative base ranges from phone conversations initiated by Gingrich, email exchanges with the candidate as well as a two-hour session between Gingrich and about 70 prominent conservative activists.

The meeting, which occurred Wednesday in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, included long-time social conservative leaders, such as Richard Viguerie, publisher Al Regnery, syndicated columnist Brent Bozell and Penny Nance, chairman of Concerned Women for America.

"I give him credit. He stood for two solid hours and answered any questions that someone wanted to pose," Nance told CNN.

Several of the participants said they were impressed with Gingrich's answers and his demeanor and they were won over.

"I think so. He certainly did with me," Bozell said in an interview, describing it as something very unique. "The questions were unlike any questions conservative leaders put to a conservative candidate. The toughest questions I ever heard presented to a candidate."

Bozell said that is because "Newt Gingrich is one of us. He came out of this movement. He was in this movement 40 years ago…in its earliest stages so he is a family."

Other conservative leaders said there is still a wariness among some of them regarding Gingrich given his past support for health care mandates, efforts to contain climate change and allowing some of the nation's longtime illegal immigrants who are in the country with a family to move towards legal status.

"There's a kind of ‘we-will-agree-to-disagree truce’ on certain issues," said one conservative activist who did not attend the meeting.

During the Wednesday meeting Gingrich was pressed on issues ranging from his environmental record to his support for the Medicare drug plan.

While some of the participants said the "old" Gingrich would have become upset with being pressed, the "new" Gingrich patiently answered the questions.

"To me it was very telling," Nance said. He "very calmly and concisely explained his thinking…in the end agreed to disagree."

Regarding a question about his personal past, which includes three marriages and an extramarital affair, Gingrich repeated, according to participants, what he has said in previous interviews regarding the issue: He was wrong, he had confessed his sins and believes in redemption, as do the American people. While Gingrich does much better than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and other candidates with conservatives and born-again Christians in Iowa, this is an issue that still causes him trouble in the movement.

Conservative leaders have also been reluctant to fully support him because of his past, including criticism he was too temperamental during his tenure as speaker.

"We are all trying to grapple which Newt Gingrich is running for president," said one participant who requested anonymity to speak freely. "The stalwart conservative, arbiter of family values or the prickly" politician.

A conservative leader who did not attend the session but who has spoken to Gingrich about his concerns told CNN he still has doubts about some of his views on the issues important to the movement but applauded the former speaker for his outreach. This leader did not want to speak on the record because the conversations were private.

Overall, several of the participants at the meeting told CNN they thought he helped his cause – especially as many on the right see the Republican nomination contest probably coming down to Gingrich v. Romney, who is seen very warily by these activists.

"I suspect that the vast majority would be supportive of him especially if he is the nominee," said Bozell. "What the meeting yesterday accomplished was energizing a lot of people behind him."

Conservatives find themselves this season without the perfect political horse: Texas Gov. Rick Perry was appealing, but seems stuck; Romney is suspect; Texas Rep. Ron Paul's tough stance on Israel is a no-go; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is stuck in the back of the pack, as is Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Gingrich understands his need to reach out-and the opportunity it presents-so he did it.

"He was hoping to move the ball down the field," said one participant. "My sense is that he did it."

Filed under: 2012 • Newt Gingrich
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. politics as usual

    Leopards don't change their spots. Gingrich is the loose cannon he has always been.

    December 8, 2011 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  2. MidwestMountainMan

    Romney is a Washington outsider who can bring a much-needed fresh perspective to the capital, part of the new guard. Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, has been a Washington insider since 1979, part of the old guard.

    December 8, 2011 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |