Found: The Gingrich Notes

When Newt Gingrich was first mentioned as a long shot to be considered as a presidential candidate, I had the following conversation with a salesman.

“Remember when Newt was our keynote speaker back in 2008? What if he makes a strong run for the Oval Office?”

“Well, then,” said the salesman. “You’d have a column for the magazine.”

Here is that column.

Unfortunately, no complete record exists of the keynote speech delivered by the former Speaker of the House at the 2008 ProDealer Industry Summit, hosted jointly by Home Channel News and the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA). But since Gingrich began playing with “front runner” status, Home Channel News editors have pieced together this recap, based on recently discovered notebooks and recordings.

Here’s the setting. It’s Oct. 1, 2008 in Chantilly, Va. A few miles to the east, Congress is debating the details of a massive bank bailout. Gingrich takes the podium and describes the 200 or so industry leaders in attendance as “an intense and serious-looking group.” He begins a presentation that may still impact the presidential race:

“The real underlying economic weight of the planet is enormous and growing,” he said. “And there’s no sign that that’s going to change.”

He moved on to “the sheer explosion of communications. More and more people are connected to more and more people in ways that leads to more and more creativity.”

Still, the economy was clogged. Housing was in free fall. And markets were spooked. But Gingrich pointed to the resilience of U.S. enterprise and offered a gastrointestinal metaphor. “Think of this as a bad case of indigestion,” he said. “Once we come through the current indigestion, the odds are fairly high we’re going to resume a historic growth rate, which in this country averages better than 3% per year.”

Gingrich, the self-described historian, as opposed to Gingrich, the presidential candidate, said: “A sudden surge of energy from the American people will wipe out the current two-party system.”

He criticized Washington legislators and members of the executive branch for ignoring warning signs at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, being indifferent to the declining educational standards of U.S. high schools (“holding pens with athletic opportunities,” he called them), and stunting the growth of small businesses by passing the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Those who saw the United States of late 2008 on a verge of a massive depression were guilty of “massive levels of stupidity.” And he added: “We’re still the best system in the world for attracting capital.”

Gingrich’s remarks were well received, and he was a kind and patient guest in the post-keynote reception. Sometime between then and now, he became a lot of people’s idea of a president. He’s still in the hunt.

— Ken Clark

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