Book excerpt: Newt Gingrich's 'Understanding Trump'

PHOTO: "Understanding Trump" by Newt Gingrich.PlayCenter Street Books
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Excerpted from UNDERSTANDING TRUMP by Newt Gingrich by arrangement with Center Street Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © Newt Gingrich 2017.



It is astonishing to me, as a historian, how the elite media and much of the political establishment refuse to try to understand Donald Trump. They have been so rabidly opposed to him, so ideologically committed to left-wing values, and so terrified of the future that they haven’t stopped and considered how extraordinary his success has been.

President Trump is one of the most remarkable individuals to ever occupy the White House. His set of practical business experiences—and his lack of traditional political-governmental experiences—make him a unique president.

President Trump is the first person to be elected president without first having served in public office or as a general in the military. He defeated more than a dozen other Republicans in the primary, many of whom were first-class candidates—governors, senators, business leaders, physicians, and so forth. He defeated a multibillion-dollar campaign machine for Hillary Clinton. He defeated the mainstream media, which opposed him at every turn. And he did this without an army of political consultants or spending hundreds of millions of dollars on TV ads.

The first few months of his presidency have been a whirlwind of activity, and he has already enacted enormous change. He has experienced victories as well as defeats. One thing I have learned about Donald Trump is that he learns very fast—and that the speed at which he operates optimizes his learning. So, one of the most fascinating aspects of his presidency will be how he overcomes the gaps in his knowledge of institutional government.

Trump’s background could not be more different from my own. He is a very successful businessman with a knack for branding, marketing, and management. His abilities have made him both a billionaire and a household name.

I am an army brat who earned a PhD in history to learn how to help America solve its problems. I have a fair amount of political, legislative, and governmental experience that the president does not have.

President Trump and I met a few times casually before we really got to know one another—once in 1997 at a speech in New York, and in 2008 when he hosted the West Palm Beach Zoo Gala at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach resort.

But we really became acquainted in 2009, after Callista and I joined Trump National Golf Club in Potomac Falls, Virginia. The club is a classic Trump success story. The bank had taken over the old Lowes Island course after it went broke. As usual, the bank was a bad manager, and the course had decayed and lost value. When the time was right, Trump stepped in and bought it at a fraction of what it was really worth. This smart business move earned Trump the only golf course on the Potomac River. It had a magnificent view from the clubhouse and enormous potential. It has been a great place for Callista and me to decompress and golf ever since.

In 2011, I was preparing to run for president, so I made a trip to Trump Tower. Donald was generous with his time, happy to discuss the campaign, and gave me several Trump ties—which he pointed out were longer than standard ties and had become the best-selling ties in America. We took a picture together and he encouraged a number of his friends to help my campaign. In the end, as a pretty good calculator of the odds, Trump endorsed Mitt Romney, but we remained friends and even campaigned together for Mitt.

By 2014, it was clear Trump was getting interested in running for president himself. We were together at a day-long conservative conference in New Hampshire sponsored by my good friend Dave Bossie of Citizens United. Trump had come up from New York in his helicopter. He made a speech, and before he left, he took Dave’s kids up for a short flight. It occurred to me then that offering a helicopter ride was a method of building support that few candidates have.

Finally, in January 2015, Callista and I were in Des Moines, Iowa, for the Freedom Summit hosted by Dave Bossie and Representative Steve King of Iowa. Trump was staying at the downtown Marriott, and so were we. The night before the conference, Trump called Callista and me to ask if we could have breakfast the next day. Of course, we agreed.

It was classic Trump. He led the conversation with a couple of great real estate war stories in which he was successful. Then he got down to business. For forty-five minutes, he asked Callista and me questions about our experience running for president. Then, at the end, he asked me what I thought it would cost to run a campaign from start-up through the South Carolina primary.

I began to lay out what I thought. I told him he had to run a national campaign or the news media and voters would not take him seriously. I also told him he needed to plan to run in Iowa and New Hampshire, and I ran through various things we had learned in 2011 and 2012.

In a very Trump-the-businessman way, he said, “So, what’s the bottom line?”

I thought for a minute and said he could be competitive for about $70 to $80 million.

His response was priceless. After a moment of thought, he said, “$70 to 80 million: that would be a yacht. This would be a lot more fun than a yacht!”

That’s when Callista and I learned that a Trump candidacy was likely—and a Trump presidency was possible.

A few weeks after he won the South Carolina primary, I was talking to Trump on the phone. At the tail end of our conversation he jokingly said, “By the way, I know you said I needed to spend eighty million but I’ve only spent thirty million. I feel kind of bad.”

Thus, I learned about Trump’s frugality and his operating principle of “ahead of schedule and under budget.”

Understanding Trump developed from all the things I have experienced since that meeting at the Des Moines Marriott as I have watched and worked with the Trump candidacy, transition, and presidency.

I hope this book will help people better understand that we may be at a watershed moment for our country. Trump represents the third—and hopefully final—great effort to break away from a half century of big-government liberalism dating back to the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson. The first big push came in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan took office. The second was in 1994, when we signed the Contract with America.

The Left and much of the media are horrified, because the age-old power structures on which they rely are specifically the ones President Trump is seeking to demolish and rebuild. Some in the establishment are confused, because Trump’s campaign— and his first months in office—are totally opposite from business as usual in Washington.

His success calls into question their presumed expertise and collective worldview. But many Americans are happy. To them, President Trump represents a force of change in Washington— the likes of which we’ve rarely seen in American history.

Trump’s election is a tremendous opportunity to tear down the walls of big government, liberalism, and elitism and set the path for a bold new direction that is once again guided by the will of the people. His approach to politics and governing can be studied as a remarkable strategy for breaking out of the Left’s intransigent power structure.

At the center of this phenomenon is President Trump, and as he learns and continues to evolve, this phenomenon will change with him. This book is a step toward understanding President Trump and his vision for the country, so we can achieve real and substantive change to make America great again for all Americans.