Gingrich’s authorized biographer talks about forthcoming book

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer

“He is a very interesting political figure of our times,” author Craig Shirley said of presidential contender Newt Gingrich.

“You’re hard pressed to think of somebody who has been so much a part of the national debate for over 30 years without being elected president of the United States. … He is singularly unique. He is sui generis.”

Shirley’s decision to write a book about the former House Speaker — “Citizen Newt,” which is set to be released in the Spring — seems like a brilliant one considering Gingrich’s precipitous rise in the polls, though Shirley couldn’t have known just how superb the timing for release would be when he decided to take on the project while he was penning a book on Reagan.

Shirley’s book, which is billed as the “authorized biography” of Gingrich and for which Gingrich sat for interviews, will focus on Gingrich’s career from when he first ran for Congress in 1973 up through the night of the 1994 midterm elections when the Republicans, under his stewardship, took back the House of Representatives. Shirley talked to The Daily Caller about some the qualities Gingrich exhibited back then, and what he thinks of his subject’s current run for the White House.

“He was part of the national debate, you know, even before he was elected to Congress,” Shirley explained. “There were profile stories being done of him by Dave Broder of the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal. You know, he was attracting national attention even in his losing campaigns.”

While some accuse Gingrich of being part of the establishment these days, Shirley, who knew Gingrich in the 1980s but only more recently became friends with him, explained he was a trailblazer against the establishment during the period he focused on in the book.

“As soon as he got to Congress, he started taking on the establishment,” Shirley said.

“He took on Charles Diggs, who was a corrupt congressman from Detroit. He was taking kickbacks from his staff and Gingrich went after him. You know, the House Democrats basically wanted to sweep it under the rug and the House Republicans were just too timid to do anything about it. He went after Diggs and ended up getting him censured by the House. “

As for how well Gingrich got along with his colleagues in the House, Shirley said it depended on which colleagues.

“To those who agreed with him in taking on the establishment, he was their hero,” he said. “To the people who were in charge of the establishment, you know, he was a thorn in their side. “

According to Shirley, Gingrich’s biggest flaws are that he is “brash” and that he sometimes tries to do too much at once.

“But that never deterred him from another political fight,” Shirley added. “Of course the centerpiece fight was taking on George H.W. Bush in the fall of 1991 over the tax increase. He led the Republicans against it and did so at least successfully at the first vote because it went down in defeat.”

Shirley said that he believes that Gingrich is genuinely inspired by ideas and lives for political combat.

“I think he’s inspired by ideas. I think he is definitely inspired by action. The grass doesn’t grow on his feet very long — if at all,” Shirley said. “He relishes political combat.”

His biography of Gingrich will not shy away from Gingrich’s failures and embarrassments since it is “a factual account of his political career.” But overall, Gingrich comes out looking quite well, Shirley said.

“The balance of the history is, you know, there are far more favorable things accomplished and deeds accomplished by Newt Gingrich than there were bad things,” he said.

Asked how conservative he believes Gingrich truly is, Shirley said that back during the period he is mainly writing about he was a pure Reaganite.

“The time that I am writing about and I’ve explored he was called a ‘Reagan Robot’ because he was a Reaganite, “ Shirley said. “He and Reagan saw eye to eye. Reagan wrote favorably about Gingrich in his diary. They agreed on the great issues of the day. “

Shirley said that Gingrich was already on the presidential radar even in the 1980s, appearing on some early polls for the 1988 presidential election.

“There was a coterie of people who then who thought he should run, but he was 100 percent for Jack Kemp,” he said.

For the book, Shirley got his hands on student reviews of Gingrich from the time he was a professor at West Georgia College teaching American and environmental history.

“I got about 300 student reviews and I actually got bored after going through the first 100 or 150 because every review was superlative of professor Gingrich,” he said.  “You know, ‘great professor’, ‘great lectures’, ‘great reading material’ … The only one that had negative comments said he didn’t assign enough reading material.”

Asked to project what type of president Gingrich would be if he were to be elected, Shirley said he couldn’t say.

“Somebody just asked me that and I said ‘I’m not good with hypotheticals,'” he said. “I think he would be the type of president — it is utterly up to him. None of us have the newspapers of the day after the election, or two years from now or five years from now.”

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