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Newt Gingrich’s Lessons on Government Shutdown

The former House Speaker says the lesson of his own shutdown is that brinkmanship works.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has the benefit of speaking from experience when it comes to government shutdowns, particularly ones which attempt to force a president to do something he doesn’t want to do. In the case of the 1995-1996 conflict, which many media observers point to as a political negative for Gingrich and the then-resurgent Republicans, the “Crossfire” co-host says the accepted story gets the outcome of the shutdown wrong, noting that the party picked up two Senate seats and only lost two House seats in 1996 with Bob Dole at the top of the ticket.

“We were able to extract a great deal from the shutdown and could’ve gotten even more had we pressed further,” Gingrich said. “The challenge was that [Senate Leader] Dole was going to run for president. He had been a good partner to us in the Senate, and the situation put him in a real bind.”

Gingrich frames the prospects of shutdown as something Republicans shouldn’t be afraid of, as long as they can make the case the policies they are advocating for are tied directly to the economy and job growth.

“What the American people are seeing in Washington today are three factions: the Democrats, who have no interest in negotiating; The accomodationist Republicans, who just want everything to stay the same and for people to get along and go along; And the conservative reformers who recognize the need for real, dramatic change,” Gingrich said. “The first two factions are only interested in avoiding blame. The third is willing to take a hit from the elite media if what comes out at the end is real cuts to government spending, real reforms, real help for the economy and job growth.”

For his part, Gingrich rejects the notion that Ted Cruz’s assault on Obamacare is an unwise tactic, instead viewing it as a stand which effectively focused the national conversation on Obamacare’s defects.

Time19941219FCvr“People who were upset at Ted Cruz do not understand what he has achieved or what he was trying to achieve. Yesterday I did interviews across the country, East Coast and West Coast, and every single one had a question about Ted Cruz and his challenge to Obamacare,” Gingrich said. “Just as Rand Paul achieved something profound with his filibuster on the drone issue, Ted Cruz hasn’t just elevated himself here, he’s elevated the argument about Obamacare and he’s demonstrated that yes, someone is willing to stand up and fight on this issue. The American people are responding to that and I think they will continue to respond to that.”

Gingrich sees this as part of a broader movement away from the accepted wisdom of elites.

“What we are witnessing here is a pan-ideological turn, a populist turn, against the establishment’s approach across a number of policy areas. We saw this with Syria, we’re seeing it with the rise of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, and it is something that represents a challenge to the establishments of both parties but is particularly threatening to the accomodationist Republicans,” Gingrich said. “It represents something that began with Barry Goldwater in the 1960s and is a true fulfillment of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s exhortation that our role properly understood is to ‘stand athwart history yelling stop.’ Whether you stop it or not, it’s the right place to be.”

When it comes to the pending shutdown itself, Gingrich warns that House Republicans should be prepared to be caricatured and excoriated for their tactic, as he was on the cover of magazines at the time (Time depicted him as Ebenezer Scrooge, Newsweek as the Grinch) despite the fact that historically, the government shut down several times under Presidents Carter and Reagan in the course of other negotiations.

“We are approaching, two years from now, the 900th anniversary of the Magna Carta. The idea that elected representatives of the people can use the power of the purse to negotiate. Barack Obama is not a monarch. Boehner should tell the president he has til Thanksgiving to golf, and then he needs to come negotiate,” said Gingrich.

His advice to Boehner?

“Be cheerful, be optimistic, be focused on growing the economy, and get some sleep. You’ll need it.”

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