Category Archives: Commentary

Shirley Corrects the Record With ‘Citizen Newt’ || Newsmax

Shirley Corrects the Record With ‘Citizen Newt’

By David A. Patten   |   Friday, 29 Sep 2017 07:45 PM

Historian, author, and Newsmax contributor Craig Shirley is best known for his groundbreaking works on President Ronald Reagan, including “Rendezvous With Destiny” and “Reagan’s Revolution.”

But Shirley’s latest tome, “Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative,” may complicate his own legacy. The reason: Citizen Newt, which has been praised by Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, Ed Rollins and Joe Scarborough to name only a few, may well be remembered as his most meticulously documented, finely-crafted volume to date.

It should be. It took him seven years of research, including unfettered access to Gingrich. The former Speaker apparently realized the several volumes already written about him, mostly by authors firmly rooted in the elite progressive tradition, had distorted rather than clarified his impact on American political history.

 “Most books about Gingrich have been deeply flawed, biased, and downright hostile,” Shirley writes.

As viewed from the perspective of the daily news cycle, fixated as it is on yesterday’s news and President Trump’s latest tweet, it’s not immediately clear why Gingrich — who lost his 2012 bid to wrest his party’s presidential nomination out of the “severely conservative” hands of Mitt Romney — would be such an inviting subject for a historian of Shirley’s stature.

But a much different picture emerges from the grand sweep of history. As a young member of Congress, the insurgent Gingrich played a key role in thwarting establishment forces to enact the Reagan agenda. And during the Clinton years, he engineered the GOP takeover of the House that made him Speaker, marking the first time since 1954 that Republicans controlled the House.

“He made a liberal president go before the American people and say, ‘The era of big government is over,'” Shirley tells Newsmax. “Now, if that’s not winning the war, I don’t know what is.”

If Gingrich’s career ended there, it would have been enough. But through his writing, DVDs, media career, and campaigning, Gingrich has kept his fingers on the pulse of GOP politics for decades. His 2012 tactic of making the media his preferred foil was arguably the proving ground for the even more strategic attacks that helped Trump seize the presidency.

Putting it simply, Gingrich was a populist when populism wasn’t cool. And his extraordinary longevity on the American political scene, makes Gingrich “very, very unusual and worthy of study,” Shirley says.

Shirley sees Reagan and Gingrich as sort of first cousins of conservatism. Both were happy warriors who refused to concede the moral high ground to politicians who spoke the rhetoric of identity politics and social justice. And both relied on persuasive intellectual arguments to defend their conservatism in the political arena.

“What Reagan and Gingrich did,” Shirley says, “was to shift the arguments to the right side of the spectrum: Yes, we need these taxes, but how much? Yes, we need this government, but how much government? Yes, we need to destroy the Soviet Union, but how soon?”

Fashioned with encyclopedic, fly-on-the-wall details, Shirley’s book opens with Gingrich as a nearly anonymous professor at a small college in Georgia. It follows his rise to becoming a newcomer in Congress, and closes shortly after Gingrich overthrows the old political order in Washington and rises to the speakership.

One disclaimer: A reader seeking a lurid tell-all on the less wholesome episodes in Gingrich’s life might want to look elsewhere.

“This is a political biography,” Shirley says unapologetically. “I acknowledge Gingrich’s divorces, I acknowledge his faults and foibles, but that does not define the man.

“This is what drives liberals crazy, because they’re all wrapped up in personality politics, the personality of Barack Obama, the personality of Donald Trump. Because policy is secondary to them.

“They’re about the personality of political correctness,” he adds. “So, Gingrich is beyond their understanding, Reagan is beyond their understanding. Because they just can’t comprehend the intellectual underpinnings of American conservatives.”

Shirley lists Gingrich as one of the four most important conservative leaders in the 20th and 21st centuries, the other three being Barry Goldwater, Bill Buckley and Ronald Reagan.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he says, adding that without the constant gravitational pull of Gingrich over the years, “Reaganism in the face of Bushism might have been dismissed as a detour in history.”

Whether you love Gingrich or hate him — and Bush acolytes are generally assumed to be in the former camp — it’s probably not a stretch to say that Citizen Newt is a book without which one simply cannot grasp the entirety of modern political conservatism. That alone makes Shirley’s take on Gingrich an enduring accomplishment.

“Gingrich and Reagan never had any doubts about their own ideology, their own philosophy,” says Shirley. “They knew that the noun was the enemy of the adjective: You didn’t have to modify ‘conservative’ with ‘compassionate’ conservatism, because conservatism was already compassionate. They never fell into the trap of arguing issues on the left side of the spectrum.”

And as Citizen Newt makes manifest, neither does Craig Shirley.


A Reader’s History || TownHall

A Reader’s History

This column was co-authored by Scott Mauer.

Carl Cannon’s new book, On This Date, should be on the desk of every school child in America. It is that good and that original and that interesting. History comes alive under Cannon’s tender ministries.  Though a great resource for children, it is just as edifying and engaging for adults.

A distinguished journalist and author, Cannon always has had the knack for clear, concise, and intelligent reporting. His daily Morning Note on RealClearPolitics always can help catch the reader up on breaking news. It takes no more than a few minutes to read, and is a nice substitute for other outlets whose once fact based morning reports have been subsumed by intrigue and opinion bias.

Take Cannon’s Morning Note, and expand it to a book for historians, and you have the spectacularly well-done On This Date. Those who want a quick and fun lesson in history should look no further than this. On This Date is exactly what any history lover may want. Each date has one or two pages of an anniversary that happened in US history, from the Mayflower landing all the way to the 2016 election.

It totals 414 pages, which is remarkably succinct for summarizing 365-days worth of American history.

Cannon chose each of these dates importantly. The September 11, 2001 attacks were not glossed over; quite the opposite, as the entry for that day is titled “This Changes Everything.”  The Pearl Harbor attacks by the Empire of Japan on December 7, 1941 are also covered. Those are almost obligatory to cover.  You can’t talk about the sweeping history of America without mentioning those events. But yet, even within disasters like Pearl Harbor, Cannon tells us of more obscure figures or events, such as the tale of Lieutenant Kazuo Sakamaki, the first prisoner of war in the U.S. who was captured after failing to kill himself in his minisubmarine in Hawaii.  It is a fascinating minute detail in the grand picture of the day.

Besides the obligatory events of American history – 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Gettysburg and Pickett’s Charge –On This Date tells us of the relatively unknown. Turn to a random page, and you’ll see that on July 24, 1984, a nine-year old girl in Rosedale, Maryland was found murdered, which eventually lead to the false arrest of Kirk Bloodsworth, who, despite being innocent of charges, was convicted and sentenced to death (he was released in 1993 after DNA proved he was not the killer).

Whether it’s the big or the little, each event on each page narrates America’s identity. It does not shy away from shameful history (Bloodsworth’s conviction is but one example), nor does it portray the United States as the Big Bad Guy that many want. It’s neither a glorifying hagiography of our country nor is it a damning hit-job, but factual retelling with both the good and the bad.

Cannon’s book is as consumable as the the little tear-off calendars that you may find on someone’s work desk, yet never lacking in depth of substance. Except instead of spiritual or inspirational quotes, you’ll find true historical facts. It’s a great conversation starter or even a small break from the soundbites in the news. For example, the day of writing this review, we can quickly turn to the corresponding page and learn that in 1963, a bomb went off in Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four black schoolgirls. The entry – only a page long – paints the graphic picture and includes details that bring you to that time and place. “They are killing our children!” yelled a mother. Cannon doesn’t sacrifice details for the sake of brevity, a rare gift when writing history.

Pick it up when you have a moment. Read it at your leisure. You’ll inevitably learn something new about what makes the United States the most distinguished country on earth.  We may have a short history compared to France or England, but it’s more rich, exciting, and dramatic that any other.


Review: Katy Tur’s ‘Unbelievable’ an Exercise in Self-Aggrandizement || Lifezette

Review: Katy Tur’s ‘Unbelievable’ an Exercise in Self-Aggrandizement

NBC reporter’s new book documenting the Trump campaign heavy on Gen X tangents, light on substance

by Craig Shirley and Scott Mauer 

There is no question — ever since the Watergate scandal — that the media and journalists have come to think of themselves as the royalty of the Fourth Estate. To its opponents, the media are less the Fourth Estate and more the Fifth Column, though the two share similarities that make them almost indistinguishable at times. In more recent years, this cultural phenomenon has extended to cable television, as many of the newsreaders are held up as paragons of knowledge despite their frequent fatuity. I once saw a pretty young blonde reading a Teleprompter make reference to “World War Eleven.”

Katy Tur’s book on the 2016 presidential campaign does not dispel any of these truths. And Teddy White’s and others’ legacies as chroniclers of American political campaigns are in no danger from the slim Tur book.

“Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History” reads less like a political book and more like a puerile autobiography. Coming from a journalist, what would otherwise have been seen as forgivable becomes unbearable. Her first sentence refers to throwing up. This phrase is usually associated with high school co-eds. As if. Like, you know?

NBC’s Tur is only 33 years old, so she falls into the Gen X age group. Yet it’s curious how she has gained so much wisdom about everything. And that’s precisely what the problem is here. Those who should have been the main characters of the book — Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, campaign aides — are but mere secondary characters. The primary character, of course, has to be, as she describes herself, “Katy Tur, Fearless Foreign Correspondence and Lady Who Drinks Wine at Lunch.” Cheeky. The 2016 election revolves around her, not the other way around.

Do we, the readers, really need to know how she met her French boyfriend (through romantic Tinder, by the way), or the smell and sounds of Paris, or the commute on the Eurostar from London? It’s about her here. She talks of her (paid) vacation in Sicily (again with her boyfriend) as if this were her diary. “Our first real vacation — two full weeks together. We’ll swim in the Mediterranean, climb Mt. Etna, and see opera in the ruins of an ancient Greek theater. And eat pasta. A lot of pasta.” And so on and so forth. At some points we just have to put the book down and ask, “Why is this important?”

The answer, in Tur’s mind, can only be that it’s important because she is important. Her favorite word is always a First Person Pronoun. (That’s I, me and my, for Ms. Tur’s edification.)

We have no doubt where she falls politically, either. Surprise: She’s a liberal, and she makes it clear as day when she reports, in the first pages of the prologue, “I’m about to throw up” after Trump wins on election night. And it’s not from excitement. Tur makes little snide remarks about Trump, referring to Melania as “his third wife.” That is factual, of course, but the need to point that out when they’ve been married for 12 years seems less “reporting the facts” and more “taking a swing.” She devotes half a page to describing Trump as “orange.” She makes it clear she did not want to even start reporting on Trump’s campaign — again, because she’s supposed to go on vacation!

Let’s be clear. She’s allowed to have her biases; she’s allowed to have her beliefs. But let’s not pretend that her constant belittling is professional journalism. The reporting of every obscenity, she says, is not professional journalism but more for the grocery-store tabloids. That’s what “Unbelievable” boils down to: unprofessional. “As a journalist, my job is to listen and probe, listen and probe,” she says while conducting her first interview. That’s not what this book is.

If she wanted to write an autobiography (at 33 years old, sure, the sky’s the limit), then she should’ve written an autobiography. We’re curious as to the relevance of it all. At only a mere 286 pages (tiny pages, giant print), perhaps all the egotistical fluff and filler was necessary to fit the minimum required number of pages. But everything about Katy is relevant to herself, since she has to put focus on herself through the entire two years.

When it comes to election night and Trump’s win, she puts the focus on how she “called it.” Sure, the pundits and many experts said that Hillary was going to blow him out of the water, but she is hardly the first or only person to say that he wasn’t guaranteed to lose. Laura Ingraham was one who did not give up. Ann Coulter was another. But perhaps because of their conservative beliefs, they do not count to Tur.

After all, it’s only about herself. The cover has a picture of her and the subhead has it as “My Front-Row Seat.” Not “the,” but “my.” The prologue, a mere five pages in an already small book, contained over 65 instances of “I,” “me,” or “my.” The book proper gets worse.

It says something that what is seen as unusual to many is acceptable to The Washington Post. In its review by Carlos Lozada, The Post slobbers over the book (because of course they would). “What elevates ‘Unbelievable’ beyond one more pedestrian campaign memoir,” the review states, “is Tur’s skill at capturing the constant indignities of campaign reporting while female, including the worst indignity of all: enduring the fixation of Trump himself.” Pulling the identity politics card isn’t beneath either The Post or the author. (Interestingly, the review also brings up a number of shortfalls of “Unbelievable,” so credit goes where it should.)

Those who wanted an in-depth, insider’s look at the “craziest campaign” shouldn’t look here. It’s a shame, because a journalist who has been with the Trump campaign since literally Day One should know who the main focus should be: not her, but the future president of the United States and the history of the campaign. Journalists should know when something is irrelevant and irreverent to their profession.

“Unbelievable” is unbelievably confusing and unbelievably disappointing. Perhaps that makes it the perfect book for self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing millennials.

Craig Shirley is a presidential historian and author of four bestsellers on Ronald Reagan, most recently “Reagan Rising.” His latest political biography on Newt Gingrich, “Citizen Newt,” is now available on Amazon. Scott Mauer is Craig Shirley’s researcher.


Hillary Forever: Book Tour Reaffirms ‘Not Going Anywhere’ Pledge || Lifezette

Hillary Forever: Book Tour Reaffirms ‘Not Going Anywhere’ Pledge

To Democrats, Clinton’s vow to stay in politics sounds like a threat — for Republicans, a love letter

by Craig Shirley and Scott Mauer 

“I’m not going anywhere,” Hillary Clinton said recently. Some saw it as a threat. But high-fives and toasts could be heard from the Republican Party across the country, while Democratic politicians could almost be felt quaking.

Hillary Clinton, failed presidential nominee, road kill, recruiting poster for the GOP, is not going to leave public life. “I have the experience, I have the insight, I have the scars that I think give me not only the right, but the responsibility to speak out,” she self-confessed to NPR during her promotion of her new book, “What Happened.”

To Democrats, it sounds like a threat. For Republicans, a love letter.

It’s almost an unprecedented move, at least in modern history. But we can’t expect anything less from Hillary Clinton, with the number of glass ceilings she wanted to shatter. It fits perfectly into her personality.

Her recent book tour — which has agitated Democrats and amused Republicans — has been failure after failure. On the very first day of it she revealed she is entitled and cocky. What should have been a very serious Launch Day turned into much frustration as Clinton appeared an hour late to the book signing, forcing thousands of the little people to wait at the crowded Barnes & Noble in Union Square, in New York City. When Lady Hillary finally did arrive, she did not apologize or even speak to the fawning crowd, but just sat down and started to sign her books. Her Royal Highness doth honor the mere peasants with Her presence. But they had to avert their eyes.

Much digital ink has been spilt about the actual book, its contents, and its tone. Many sites have pointed out the glaring factual errors, the condescending and sanctimonious tone, the bitter victimhood, and the — surprise, surprise — utter lack of accepting blame for her loss.

Perhaps, in a rare instance, she is right here. What other losing presidential candidate has placed himself in the public eye so much, with so much blame and vigor that even other politicians in her own party roll their eyes? Truth is, not many, if any.

If we list losing presidential candidates, we get a smattering of names we recognize — John McCain, Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton — but we also get a list of names that are nearly fading from immediate memory: Michael Dukakis, Adlai Stevenson, Wendell Willkie, or Al Smith. Some names may be more recognizable and have a more solid legacy than others, but all have been overshadowed by the winner on Election Day. Stevenson lost to Dwight Eisenhower (twice), Willkie lost to Franklin Roosevelt, McCain and Romney lost to Barack Obama, and Smith lost to Herbert Hoover.

Those who did stay relevant were themselves former presidents. Jimmy Carter, who lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980, went on to fund charities and do humanitarian work, sometimes personally building houses for Homes for Humanity. For all his faults, the long post-presidency of Carter has been nothing but dignified.

But what of failed candidates who weren’t presidents? Mitt Romney all but disappeared, though recent rumors suggest he may run for Senate. John McCain is only making the news because he is currently a senator and a bitter critic of Donald Trump. Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, who once ran for the Democratic Party against then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, became a professor of political science at Northeastern University in Boston, as well as visiting professor at both Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Los Angeles. He has stayed out of the public eye, relatively. He once spoke of Bill Clinton’s run for president to Charlie Rose in 1992, offering advice and predictions for the upcoming election, but that was pretty much it.

The closest historical figure that matches Clinton’s level of arrogance is former president Herbert Hoover. Losing against Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, Hoover continued to criticize the newly-elected president. He may have lost the election but he’d be damned if he lost the national debate. He criticized FDR severely, dismissing the New Deal in his 1934 work, “The Challenge of Liberty.” He was a strict isolationist (saying that if the United States entered the war in Europe, “then we have won for Stalin the grip of communism on Russia … War alongside Stalin to impose freedom is more than a travesty”) and opposed Lend-Lease.

To boot, Hoover ran for the presidential primary of the Republican Party twice more, in 1936 and 1940, failing to secure the necessary delegates. One Gallup Poll, in 1940, had his support at a pathetic 2 percent. It was clear he would stay a one-term president, yet he continued on. Sounds like someone else we know.

All that said, it can almost be forgiven that Hoover stayed in public discourse, as, one-term or not, he was indeed once president. That doesn’t necessarily give him a pass, but it gives him an excuse to criticize what may become of his legacy or his country he once served.

Yes, Hoover criticized the president after his loss. Yes, he wrote a book soon after the election about the current president. And his support dwindled away. Hillary Clinton, however, has never been president, may never be president — and though she may be following in the footsteps of Hoover, it’s fair to say she will never have, again, the amount of support from either within or out of her party.

Perhaps it’s time Clinton listens to her Democratic betters, and, as much as it’d pain her, just go away.

Craig Shirley is a presidential historian and author of four bestsellers on Ronald Reagan, most recently “Reagan Rising.” His latest political biography on Newt Gingrich, “Citizen Newt,” is now available on Amazon. Scott Mauer is Craig Shirley’s researcher.


Trump’s Move to the Left Ensures a Primary Opponent || RealClearPolitics

Trump’s Move to the Left Ensures a Primary Opponent

Ronald Reagan wasn’t Ronald Reagan before Ronald Reagan was Ronald Reagan.

In other words, while he is now revered by many as the first-among-equals Republican president, perhaps even more than Abraham Lincoln is, it wasn’t always so. From the time he burst onto the political scene in 1964 until his passing, Reagan was often derided by the political establishment and no more so than in 1976, when he audaciously took on Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination.

It was a bold move to go head-to-head against an incumbent president from his own party. Not since 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt challenged William Howard Taft, had it been attempted. But it nearly worked. On August 18, 1976, the penultimate day of the Republican convention, Ronald Reagan lost the primary to Ford by a mere 117 delegates, out of more than 2,000 votes cast.  It was the narrowest of margins, though some thought Ford’s win was tainted.

Reagan may have lost the nomination, but he certainly did not lose the hearts of Americans. While Ford went on to lose against Jimmy Carter, Reagan wasted no time in engineering his next run for president, just weeks after the 1976 election, eventually winning by landslides twice in 1980 and 1984. Unlike other primary losers, Reagan was not forgotten after 1976. Quite the contrary.

Ronald Reagan’s and Gerald Ford’s primary fight was rife with accusations, backhanded remarks, and down-right nastiness. The two despised each other by the end, and Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford couldn’t be in the same room with each other.

In the primaries, Reagan went straight after Ford’s inability to lead and inability to govern as chief executive. “I have become increasingly concerned about the course of events in the United States and the world,” he had said in announcing his candidacy in November of 1975. “The free world is crying out for strong American leadership.” He also went after Ford on ideological grounds, most notably U.S.-Soviet relations.

Ford’s short and ultimately forgettable presidency was marked by odd choices that made most conservatives angry and confused. From amnesty for draft dodgers and support for the Equal Rights Amendment to signing the Helsinki Accords, which ceded Eastern Europe to the Soviets, as well as his continued support for the failed policy of détente, Ford’s loyalty to the GOP wasn’t always clear. He was far more moderate than many thought he would or should be as president. As if all this weren’t  bad enough, it came at a time when the Republican Party needed a principled reformer after Richard Nixon’s humiliating and sad exit.

Ford’s association with Nixon’s policies and D.C.-insider resume didn’t sit well in the primaries or the general election. It’s no wonder that Americans later looked to an outsider to clean things up. Enter Reagan, who went on to make history.

The candidate many viewed as the outsider in 2016 was Donald Trump, who proclaimed his intention to drain the political swamp. Things have turned out differently. Unfortunately for conservatives, Trump doesn’t seem to want to follow through, and is more interested in the approval of the liberal media and the art of the deal, good or bad. Trump’s conservatism has always been suspect and now is even more so. It’s been openly thought that he’s always wanted the approval of Manhattan society. Moreover, as Ford’s hold on the American people was ephemeral because he’d never received their votes, Trump’s hold is also weak, as he did not receive a majority of the popular vote in November.

President Trump seems to be heading in the direction of Gerald Ford. He is going leftward by negotiating with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi instead of his own party’s leadership. It was met with great fanfare by the liberal media when he agreed to increase the debt limit. Several days later, he reassured DACA recipients that everything will work out to their favor – at the behest of Nancy Pelosi.

He reversed his position on Afghanistan, in the tradition of “invade the world” neocons. During the campaign, his promise  was to pull all American troops out, the sooner the better. As president, it’s been to send more troops in. Trump has met several times with the Nixon-Ford foreign policy guru, Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was the burr under Reagan’s and conservatives’ saddle. Trump also just announced that taxes on the rich – aka the successful – may go even higher. And more recently, he met again with Schumer and Pelosi to work with them to legalize Dreamers, promising to put off building the border wall until later. That’s two campaign promises reversed in one meeting.

If Donald Trump is destined to becoming the next Gerald Ford, who will be the conservative primary opponent running to his right? What will this mean for 2020? Will someone emerge to go after an unclear, messy, moderate incumbent in the primaries? It would seem so. Conservatives will surely want a hard-hitting and principled candidate who understands classic conservative economics, politics, and the tenets of Federalism.

Conservatives will want an outsider who is unable to be wooed by the insiders, from the left or right.

Is it realistic for someone to challenge the president  in 2020? Trump’s loyal apprentices who will vote for him no matter what – he said as much during the 2016 primaries – but that means little. Ford was an incumbent and nearly lost the nomination in ’76, even though Reagan received more votes in the primaries. Being president does not make you immune. Just ask Harry Truman in 1952. Or LBJ in 1968. A recent poll from early August revealed that over half of Republicans in New Hampshire would, if faced with a John Kasich vs. Trump primary, vote for the Ohio governor. Not even a year into the Trump administration, this is sorely disappointing, especially given that Kasich can come across as an old sourpuss.

Let’s see how 2020 shapes up. One thing seems certain, however: It will shape up quickly.

Craig Shirley is the author of four books about Ronald Reagan, including “Reagan Rising” and “Last Act.” He is also the author of the authorized biography of Newt Gingrich, “Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative,” and is the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. He has lectured at the Reagan Library, is the Visiting Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Reagan Ranch.

Scott Mauer is a research assistant to Reagan biographer Craig Shirley.