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Revealed: Newt Gingrich’s Secret Campaign for Donald Trump

The former House speaker has not endorsed in 2016. But behind the scenes he has been lobbying GOP insiders hard to Make America Great Again.

03.24.16 12:05 AM ET

In public, Newt Gingrich won’t say he’s endorsing Donald Trump. Behind the scenes, however, the former speaker is leading a coy campaign to back Donald Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination.

For Trump, Gingrich has become an unpaid adviser—most importantly, Gingrich is playing the role of trying to get Washington’s Republican political class to come to terms with the billionaire’s candidacy—all while swooning over the man’s dubious business successes.

For some time now Gingrich has been stumping for Trump behind the scenes, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Last week in a closed-door meeting before more than 100 Republican chiefs of staff from the House and Senate in Baltimore, Gingrich raved about the Republican frontrunner, calling him a “blue-collar bar room brawler.”

Gingrich touted Trump’s business successes in New York City, such as the skating rink in Central Park and the Ferry Point Golf Course, as evidence that the businessman would know how to run a political campaign—and, quite possibly, the country.

“[The] guy who knows how to run Miss Universe, The Apprentice, Trump Towers, construction, golf courses, casinos, ties… hotels,” Gingrich bragged, according to a chief in the room and confirmed by The Daily Beast. “A guy who runs that every morning—you think he can’t run a presidential campaign?

“You should study Trump and apply it to your member,” Gingrich said. “There’s a lot to learn here which you can take back to your member’s office.”

Gingrich then extolled Trump’s handling of the press—“by 9 o’clock in the morning, he’s got $750,000 worth of free media. Meanwhile all the other candidates are out there doing fundraisers”—and praised his understanding of the working class.

“He has been in the mud with construction workers his entire career,” Gingrich said. “He knows the rhythm. So he goes to Bush, and he says, ‘low energy’… he probably spent six weeks thinking about that. And he knows it will work.”

The former speaker told the assembled Republicans that Trump was an idol for lawmakers to emulate. In essence, he was working to normalize the idea of a President Trump before a Washington, D.C., establishment that views him as utterly unacceptable.

“It was clear that Gingrich’s objective there was to persuade us to embrace Trump as the likely Republican nominee. For many of us, it was surprising to see the former speaker align himself with a figure like Trump who reflects few, if any, of our values,” said one of the chiefs that was in the room. “He seemed to suggest that because Trump had the support of what is still a minority portion of those voting in the Republican primaries and was a business success that we should fall in line.”

Gingrich also preemptively tried to assuage concerns among the exclusively Republican crowd that Trump has inspired political violence. The former speaker’s spin: The businessman’s rallies have led to violence not because Trump has repeatedly called for protesters to be assaulted, but because he wants “actual reform.”

“What you saw last Friday night in Chicago is a forerunner. It’s not about Trump. Trump had the gall to schedule [at] the University of Illinois in Chicago, which no Republican presidential candidate had ever gone to, because it’s essentially a minority school. That’s what enraged the left,” Gingrich said.

The former speaker said that there was a “fair chance” that Republicans would win in the fall elections, and then pass “really bold, big reforms”—leading to chaos.

“And there’s a pretty fair chance that the streets are going to be filled, with people who are going to be bussed in for the purposes of disrupting democracy. And all of you should be prepared for it,” he said.

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Gingrich and Trump have had multiple political strategy conversations over the past year, as Gingrich dispensed advice to the man who has become the Republican Party’s likely presidential nominee. It illustrates the continued bromance between the insider politician and the outsider rabble-rouser as the latter inches closer to a general election showdown with Hillary Clinton.

Gingrich and Trump came face to face again this Monday, when a small, core group of Capitol Hill Trump backers and potential backers huddled at the D.C. offices of law firm Jones Day. It wasn’t a policy discussion as much as an opportunity for those assembled to meet Trump.

Newt offered some commentary to the group, a source familiar with the meeting said. And there was some talk around the notion of how various politicians might come to endorse Trump and when—but not explicitly when Gingrich might formally endorse, if he ever does.

“I don’t think there’s any surprise that [Newt is] backing Trump—whether he’s doing it publicly or from the sidelines,” according the source.

Their relationship goes beyond this election cycle—Gingrich has been a member of Trump’s golf club in the Washington suburbs for several years. In January 2015, Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump sat down for breakfast. The businessman, who would in six months announce his bid for the presidency, was then still mulling it over, and was soliciting advice from the former presidential candidate.

How much might it cost, say, to get through to the South Carolina primary, Trump asked?

“A yacht,” Gingrich quipped, by his telling of the anecdote to the GOP chiefs of staff.

“This will be more fun than a yacht,” Gingrich said mischievously. He laid it out for the billionaire: “Given your name ID, the need to build a national infrastructure, it’s probably $70 million, maybe $80 million.”

By Christmas, but before the first presidential contests had been held, Trump had broken away from the Republican pack in polling, establishing a lead he has not since relinquished. He called up Gingrich so they could confer again.

“I feel bad,” he said, setting up a classically Trumpesque line of braggadocio: “I can’t figure out a way to spend as much as you said. I may spend another $10 million because I feel so bad.”

Neither Gingrich’s production firm nor Trump’s campaign responded to a request for comment. But Gingrich’s coy campaign continues.

On Monday he arrived conspicuously at the front entrance of the building where he was meeting with Trump—pulling up in a black SUV. The candidate and some other politicians, meanwhile, had slid in through the back entrance.

In full view of an army of cameras and microphones, he and his wife, Callista, sauntered slowly up the stairs toward the palatial law firm. He declined to answer The Daily Beast’s question on whether he would endorse Trump.

On his way out, he declined again to answer this question—or any other, really. Well, except one.

“The lunch was pretty good,” the former speaker said.