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.

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