The former House speaker won’t serve in the cabinet — and says the president elect shouldn’t tap other Washington insiders, either. (Too late.)
- By Molly O’TooleMolly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian.
Newt Gingrich has taken himself out of the running for President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet. But the former House speaker, who became one of the businessman’s closest campaign advisors, has carved out an unprecedented and potentially powerful place under the next administration, Foreign Policy has learned.
In a telephone interview, Gingrich described his upcoming role as an informal advisory position for the “Republican coalition,” between the broader GOP and White House. He described the job — which he said he’d do for free — alternately as “chief planner,” or some combination of “chief,” “senior,” “advisor” and “planner.” It will examine how to “modernize and reform” the federal government.
“I made it clear I wanted to have this unique role, and I had no interest in a cabinet job,” Gingrich told FP, speaking from an airport lounge Thursday night.
“There’s a very small number of people who look at the entire system,” said Gingrich, the architect of the 1994 Contract With America that served as the GOP agenda for years and was largely echoed in Trump’s domestic campaign platform. Gingrich said the new role “involves thinking, which is not very expensive,” and he eschewed full-time cabinet posts that have a much narrower scope that what he is proposing.
“I just want a letter from the president that says I can look at any office and any program and offer advice directly to the president,” he said, first describing the position in an interview last month. Asked what authority he’d operate under, he said, “The letter from the president. You don’t need much more than that.”
However, Gingrich maintained Trump should find new blood, from beyond the Beltway, to staff up the new administration. So far, the president-elect has not heeded Gingrich’s advice: On Friday, Trump announced he would nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be his attorney general and Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas as his CIA director.
Trump also tapped retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as White House national security advisor, putting the onetime Obama administration military spy chief at the center of most of the government’s most sensitive policy.
All three have decades of Washington experience among them. But Gingrich has said throughout the 2016 election that Trump should surround himself with people who, like him, disagreed with establishment policies and were prepared to buck 15 years worth of conventional wisdom about warfare.
“At least Trump has the guts to say: ‘You know, that didn’t work,’” Gingrich said. “Which is a big improvement over pretending it did. …All he has to say is: ‘I’m assembling a very fine team of generals, admirals and others who have disagreed with the current policy. And they are prepared to develop a policy that we believe will work.”
Gingrich also termed as “bizarre” reports that Trump was to meet this weekend with 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to discuss whether the former Massachusetts governor would be a good fit for as secretary of state. Romney and Trump frequently clashed during the 2016 campaign.
However, Gingrich sounded warmer toward other possible State picks, from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, whom he called “clearly outside Washington” and “not establishment figures.”
Although Trump’s team announced its first tranche of cabinet and transition officials Friday, its work already has has been slowed by a belated purge of lobbyists necessary to maintain the president-elect’s campaign pledge to “Drain the Swamp” in Washington. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is overseeing the transition, has reportedly required its team members to forgo lobbying for at least five years after serving Trump, and to give up lobbying on behalf of foreign governments forever.
As speaker, he helped then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, get the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress, calling it, “a vote for history, larger than politics.” Later, Gingrich backed the invasion of Iraq. As a presidential candidate himself in 2011, he backed the U.S.-led military intervention in Libya. Trump falsely claims he opposed both interventions.
If Gingrich sees the irony of one of Washington’s best-known political creatures endearing himself to Trump by urging the obliteration of the Beltway GOP establishment, he did not let on.
“I think he should find as many new people as he can — there’s lots of talent in America. It doesn’t just live in Washington,” Gingrich said, then allowed, “Maybe a few. It’s sort of like having a little saffron in your Bouillabaisse.”