Gingrich's Most Important Adviser: Himself

Dec 7, 2011
Originally published on December 7, 2011 8:29 pm

Back in June, the news out of the Newt Gingrich presidential campaign was dire.

Top staffers quit over differences about strategy, with some citing doubts about the candidate's seriousness — especially when he and his wife went on a cruise to the Greek Islands while his rivals stumped through New Hampshire and Iowa.

But now it's December, and Gingrich suddenly sits atop the polls. As a result, his organization is growing — as is the campaign brain trust. But Gingrich's most important adviser remains himself.

A Front-Runner's Staffing Needs

For months now, Gingrich has run a stripped-down campaign. That was fine when expectations were low, and when he was not considered a real contender. But a front-runner faces greater demands and has different needs. Gingrich, though, seemed unfazed by all of that in an interview with ABC News last month, just as his surge in the polls was beginning.

"The challenge is pretty simple," he said. "Sooner or later something will happen, and I'll be able to deal with it or I won't ... and if I do, then there's a pretty good chance I'll be the nominee."

But now Gingrich campaign aides do acknowledge a struggle to meet the demands they now face if they hope to win. Paid staffers have been added in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

As for unpaid advisers, one of his earliest supporters is former Pennsylvania Rep. Bob Walker, who says he and Gingrich have been friends for 40 years.

Gingrich, he says, "has never really required people to do thinking for him. He vets ideas, but he does not depend upon his outside network to provide him with ideas."

Former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller is also an adviser and a national campaign co-chair; there's a newly minted national security advisory team; and this week, something else new for the Gingrich campaign — a conference call for reporters with advisers on foreign policy, Herman Pirchner and Ilan Berman, both of the American Foreign Policy Council.

Also advising Gingrich on national security are Reagan-era National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and Clinton-era CIA chief James Woolsey.

The Iowa Caucuses

Of course, the first big test will be the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. Des Moines-based Republican strategist John Stineman, who is not working with any campaign this year, says despite Gingrich's early troubles, his stable of advisers there is strong. It includes the Iowa state House majority leader and the state House speaker pro tem.

"He has some really good-quality people that are working for him, folks that understand the nature of the Iowa caucuses, grass-roots organizations," Stineman says.

But where Gingrich still falls short is the broader organization, including volunteers statewide — enough to cover 1,774 precinct sites spread across 99 counties.

"Some of the things that I'm told are challenges are things that would have been solved within the first six months of an 18-month campaign that they're facing now," he says. "Like getting collateral materials, getting the signs and stickers and banners and leaflets and mailings."

Former Rep. Greg Ganske — a member of the freshman class back in 1995 when Gingrich became speaker of the U.S. House — is another key Iowa adviser. Ganske, who is a West Des Moines plastic surgeon, says he and Gingrich often talk Iowa politics. But he adds that the candidate is already very knowledgeable on the topic.

Asked for the most important piece of advice he has offered to Gingrich, Ganske offers up some medical advice: "to stay healthy, to get your rest, to get a little exercise, to be fresh."

"I think that's what I can offer him," he adds. "Just, you know, smile and stay happy."

And that part, at least, seems to be advice Gingrich is following.

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Transcript

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Lynn Neary.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Back in June, the news out of the Newt Gingrich the news out of the Newt Gingrich presidential campaign was dire. Top staffers quit, some over differences about strategy, some cited doubts about the candidate's seriousness, especially when he and his wife went on a cruise to the Greek Islands while his rivals stumped through New Hampshire and Iowa.

NEARY: But now it's December, and Gingrich suddenly sits atop the polls. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports that his organization is growing, as is the campaign brain trust, even if the candidate remains his own most important adviser.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: For months now, Newt Gingrich has run a stripped-down campaign. That was fine when expectations were low, and when he was not considered a real contender. But a front-runner faces greater demands and has different needs, though Gingrich seemed unfazed by all of that in an interview with ABC News last month, just as his surge in the polls was beginning.

NEWT GINGRICH: The challenge is going to be simple. Sooner or later something will happen, and either I'll be able to deal with it or I won't. If I do, then there's a pretty good chance I'll be the nominee.

GONYEA: But now, Gingrich campaign aides do acknowledge a struggle to meet the demands they face if they hope to win. Paid staffers have been added in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. As for unpaid advisers, one of Gingrich's earliest supporters is former Pennsylvania Congressman Bob Walker.

ROBERT WALKER: Newt and I have been friends for the better part of 40 years now. So I just am jack of all trades.

GONYEA: Who is Newt's brain trust?

WALKER: Newt. Yeah.

GONYEA: Does he need a brain trust?

WALKER: Well, you know, he's remarkable in that way. I mean, he has never really required people to do thinking for him. He vets ideas, but he does not depend upon his outside network to provide him with ideas.

GONYEA: There's a newly-minted national security advisory team. And last night, something else new for the campaign: a conference call for reporters with advisers on foreign policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thanks everyone for calling in tonight on such short notice. Before I introduce Herman Pirchner and Ilan Berman, of the American Foreign Policy Council...

GONYEA: Also advising Gingrich in this area are Reagan-era national security adviser Robert McFarlane and Clinton-era CIA chief James Woolsey. Of course, the first big test will be the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.

Des Moines-based Republican strategist John Stineman, who is not working with any campaign this year, says despite Gingrich's early troubles, his stable of advisers there is strong. It includes the Iowa state House majority leader and the state House speaker pro tempore.

JOHN STINEMAN: Folks that understand the nature of the Iowa caucuses, grassroots organization.

GONYEA: But where Gingrich still falls short is his broader organization that includes volunteers statewide, enough to cover 1,774 precinct sites spread across 99 counties.

STINEMAN: Some of the things that I'm told that are challenges even are things that would have been solved within the first six months of an 18-month campaign they're facing now, like getting new collateral materials, getting the signs and stickers and banners and the leaflets and mailings.

GONYEA: Former Congressman Greg Ganske, a member of the freshman class back in 1995 when Gingrich became speaker of the U.S. House, is another key Iowa adviser. Ganske, who is a West Des Moines plastic surgeon, says he and Gingrich often talk Iowa politics. But he adds that the candidate is already very knowledgeable on the topic. So I asked what's the most important piece of advice he's offered.

GREG GANSKE: Yeah. I'm speaking as a medical doctor here, to stay healthy, to get your rest, to get a little exercise, to be fresh.

GONYEA: So your political advice is medical advise.

GANSKE: Yeah. I think that's what I can offer him, and just, you know, smile and stay happy.

GONYEA: And that part, at least, seems to be advice Gingrich is following. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.