The year is 1978 and Newt Gingrich is on his third try for a Republican congressional seat in Georgia.
“I probably have the biggest incentive to win. I need the job,” Gingrich said to a crowd in Georgia.
Gingrich once told the Wall Street Journal, “The Republican Party is a Fred Astaire movie in the age of ‘Flashdance.’ Either we change or we remain doomed to spend our lives as a minority.”
In a new authorized book out next Spring titled, “Citizen Newt,” author Craig Shirley takes a deep look inside Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s political past. The same quick-witted, abrasive Gingrich we see today is followed from the start of his political career in 1973, when he first ran for congress and ends the night of the Republican take over of congress in 1994. It is also full of flash-forwards to his current campaign.
In an exclusive first interview about the book, Gingrich told ABC News he believes his metaphor in 70's for the Republican party no longer applies.
“Well Flashdance wouldn’t apply today and nobody would know who Fred Astaire was, so I’d probably use a different set. But I think the Republican party has always had a challenge getting to be current with culture and partly with the conservative party, you’re supposed to be a little bit slower,” Gingrich said.
After authoring two books on Ronald Reagan, Shirley decided to write about Gingrich, who he calls one of the most influential political people in recent history. Shirley has spent hours interviewing Gingrich.
“He remains one of the most fascinating and durable political figures of our time,” Shirley said. “Like Nixon, Reagan and Clinton, all of them were told their careers were over, they were written off. All of them had a force of will that couldn’t be denied.”
After spending so much time looking into his past, Gingrich said he was surprised by how much he accomplished after finally winning after a seat.
“I’ll tell you what surprised me is the sheer volume of what we did–the number of things Jack Kemp and Bob Walker and Mitt Webber. You’re at a career first of all in Georgia, running for office, losing, running for office, losing, finally winning and you look at that next 10 or 12 years, it is an astonishing number of things,” Gingrich said.
Before his political career, Gingrich was a professor at West Georgia College. Shirley was able to dig up 300 student evaluations about their professor.
“Every one of them was glowing about professor Gingrich, ‘He’s a great teacher, great subject matter, interesting class,’ There was not one negative review,” Shirley said. “Some people think he’s hard and he’s tough, but these debates are allowing people to see Gingrich the way his college students saw him: very smart and very interesting to listen to.”
As for Gingrich’s current ride to the top of the polls and facing ever-increasing scrutiny, Shirley said it all depends on how Gingrich handles it. In the book, Shirley writes of a news story in North Carolina during the 1994 campaign in which a mother said her three children were missing, when in fact, she had driven them off a reservoir. Gingrich commented on the story and it was not well received.
“He said it was reflective of the culture and definitely got a ahead of himself,” Shirley said. “People weren’t happy by his comments, but it’s an example of where he’s exuberant and on a wave and does something to undermine the message.”
Shirley said there have been several instances in his career Gingrich said or did something that set him back.
“There’s been times in his career where he says or does something that undercuts himself, the question is, can he learn from the past,” Shirley said.
Shirley writes about Gingrich’s notoriously strong will and provides stories of how Gingrich challenged the thought process in Washington.
“If you look at the arc of his career, to immediately challenging the Republican establishment, to taking on the Democrats, he’s always challenged the status quo,” Shirley said.
One example he points to is this summer when Gingrich’s advisers left his campaign and went to work for Rick Perry.
“The consultants walk on Gingrich and they go to Perry and Perry goes down in the polls.” Shirley said. “He didn’t want to attack the other candidates, he wanted to talk about ideas. They were trying to run that kind of campaign. The proof so far is he was correct and they were wrong.”
As for the book’s title, Gingrich says it’s perfect.
“It captures why I do this,” Gingrich said. “I’m a citizen who is a leader, but I’m a citizen first. I was a citizen even when I wasn’t a leader.”
“Citizen Newt” does not have a release date yet, but is sure to be full of stories that provide an in-depth look into this now Republican presidential candidate’s long political life.