With the Republican nomination locked up, Donald Trump’s search for a running mate who can help unite the party has begun in earnest. And one prominent ex-Georgian’s name is among the handful swirling as a potential candidate.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich emerged as one of Trump’s most forceful advocates long before he became the presumptive GOP nominee, defending the billionaire as a fellow political revolutionary willing to upend the status quo while other elder statesmen flocked to other candidates.
And as Trump locked up the GOP nomination this week, Gingrich has repeatedly said he’d be honored to be considered for the veep spot. With Trump saying he’s likely to tap a sidekick with political experience for the job, the ex-Georgian has landed on a string of lists from pundits and pollsters as a potential candidate for the gig.
“I have no idea what his thinking is right now. I don’t have any interest in the sense that I’m going to go out and try to become his vice president,” Gingrich told Channel 2 Action News. “I would obviously have to listen carefully if he called. He’s an old friend, and I think any time a potential president calls a citizen, a citizen owes them an obligation.”
Benefits and baggage
Gingrich’s allies contend he can help Trump bridge the divide with a distrustful Washington establishment still smarting over his insurgent throw-the-bums-out campaign. Gingrich engineered the GOP takeover of the U.S. House in the 1990s — and was a reliable nemesis to Bill and Hillary Clinton during the impeachment hearings later that decade.
An aggressive campaigner and sharp debater, he won two states — Georgia and South Carolina — before his 2012 run for the White House collapsed. This campaign, he’s served as an unofficial adviser to Trump as he transformed himself from long-shot candidate to eventual nominee.
“I’d be surprised if Gingrich wasn’t considered,” said Randy Evans, Gingrich’s longtime lawyer and a member of the Republican National Committee. “The real question is, will Trump’s choice be based on electoral math, demographics, having a working relationship with Congress. Certainly, Newt would be a great partner. And he brings the party’s right home, and he brings the South to Trump pretty safely.”
Gingrich carries baggage, too, and high negatives among Democrats and moderates. He would bring little balance to a ticket against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, likely to be the first woman to top her party’s ticket. And, as much as Peach State Democrats hope to change the dynamic this year, Georgia is not yet a battleground state.
Just as important, it may be difficult for the headstrong politician to be relegated to the No. 2 spot. One longtime Georgia operative who worked with Gingrich shot back a quick response when asked whether the former speaker would be comfortable playing second fiddle to Trump: “Are there two desks in the Oval Office?”
Brian Robinson, a veteran Georgia Republican strategist, offered a similar analysis.
“Newt could complement Trump’s cult of personality with some policy heft. He loves big ideas, research, facts and figures, but it’s hard to drive those ideas from the second fiddle position,” he said. “It’s hard to see Gingrich being happy in Trump’s shadow, but that partly depends on how badly he wants back in the game.”
‘He’s straight up’
Trump has said he’s leaning toward someone with “great political experience” for the job, and he hinted that he could announce his pick before the July convention in Ohio. He’s said he’d consider Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and he tapped retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to head the search.
His advisers, though, have not been shy about floating Gingrich’s name. Roger Stone, a Trump confidante, told The National Review this week that Gingrich “should be on Trump’s short list” and praised him for defending Trump against attacks from the Washington establishment.
On the campaign trail in Georgia, some Republicans are more than happy at the prospect of a Gingrich candidacy. Although Gingrich moved to Virginia after leaving Congress, he still handily won Georgia’s primary in 2012 and remains popular in Republican circles.
“I would love that. I like Newt. I liked it when he was speaker,” said Tim Swofford of Newnan, who said Gingrich would look out for Georgia’s interests. “I like him ‘cause he’s straight-up. Like Trump, he’s straightforward.”
Gingrich’s allies caution not to count him out. Evans said there’s no question he can take a back seat to a brighter political star, pointing to his time as a deputy in the House before the Republican takeover. And former U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, a close friend of Gingrich’s, said he has no problems getting “behind a good vision and a good platform.”
“Trump is a deal maker — he knows how to put the pieces together to make a deal,” Kingston said. “And with Gingrich, he’d be obtaining the skill set he needs to get the deal done.”