Having already nominated Newt Gingrich’s wife Callista as ambassador to the Holy See, rumors are swirling that Donald Trump is about to hire Gingrich himself as his next chief of staff.
But would Gingrich even make a good chief of staff? Without copping to wanting the job, he recently made an affirmative argument, saying the president “needs somebody strong enough to say no. This is a very strong-willed personality. He will run over a weaker person, and they will rapidly lose control of the building."
If this is the bar, it won’t be easy to replace John Kelly. “Trump cannot be ‘handled’ or managed. He is very much his own man, a force of nature and extraordinarily stubborn in imposing his will,” Roger Stone texted a Washington Examiner writer in 2016.
Or, as I wrote in February, “If a Marine general can’t do this job, good luck finding someone who can.”
He’s no Marine, but by virtue of Newt’s experience, intellect, and energy, Trump might actually listen to him—at least for a while. But would that be a good thing?
"Newt has 10 ideas a day—two of them are good, six are weird, and two very weird,” Rep. Scott Klug told the Wall Street Journal back in 2011. “It's very hard for him to remain focused.”
Recalling his days in the 1994 Republican Revolution, former Rep. Steve LaTourette added, “We always seemed to be going from crisis to crisis. Everything always seemed to be on fire."
Sounds like the perfect guy to manage Trump’s White House, right?
In reality, Gingrich needs someone strong enough to say no… to him. He would be the kind of chief of staff who would necessitate his own chief of staff.
Gingrich also feeds Trump’s worse impulses. He’s grandiose and even has something of an authoritarian streak. Don’t get me wrong―I think he’s brilliant. But he’s also wildly unsuited to this role. (Would Winston Churchill have been temperamentally suited to managing someone else’s staff? Hardly.)
Disclosure: Back when he was in the mix to become Trump’s presidential running mate, I rooted for Newt. I’ve always been fond of the swashbuckling rabble-rouser, and (facing what looked like long odds) I reasoned that Republicans might as well throw a Hail Mary. You’d end up with either a miraculous victory or a spectacular loss. Either way, it would certainly be fun to watch.
Actually, I also thought Gingrich could fulfill a vital campaign (and governing) function. His job would involve explaining Trump’s comments in a more palatable, coherent, and intellectual manner—without committing the unpardonable sin of retreating from them. “Nobody else could possibly (re)interpret Trump’s indefensible comments, framing them in a more favorable light, making them sound almost intellectual, and then still convincingly manage to make someone feel like a fool for even bringing them up,” I wrote at the time.
It would have been an unorthodox pick. Most conventional nominees seek to balance the ticket (whether geographically, ideologically, or temperamentally), and that’s just what Trump did when he picked Mike Pence. Gingrich hinted that things might go this way when he said, “I told [Trump]... he could have two pirates on the ticket or a pirate and a relatively stable and normal person… In a lot of ways, my entire career has been a little bit like a pirate."
The decision, according to Gingrich, came down to: “Do you really want a two-pirate ticket?"
(Why all the pirate talk? You have to be pretty deeply enmeshed in the conservative/libertarian wonkery to fully appreciate this, but pirates are conservative. As Eli Lehrer, who runs the R Street think tank, explains, ninjas were “just government bureaucrats,” while “pirates were libertarian.” There is also a decent book called The Invisible Hook that makes a compelling case for pirates.)
The White House was only big enough for one buccaneer, so Trump settled for a Hoosier instead.
In hindsight, it was probably the correct call. It’s hard to imagine Newt sitting still during that meeting with “Chuck & Nancy.”
That’s not to say Newt doesn’t have a real shot at this new gig. Since Trump has a hard time attracting and retaining talented people who are in their prime (see Nick Ayers), his circle tends to include has-beens (see America’s Mayor Rudy Giuliani) or not-ready-for-primetime players who would never be hired by a normal Republican White House. Although he has managed to stay relevant for three decades, Gingrich obviously belongs in the former camp.
It’s too soon to know if Newt will be spurned yet again, but, as Mediaite columnist John Ziegler suggests, keep an eye on this May 17, 2017, tweet, wherein Gingrich fully endorsed Robert Mueller as special counsel. If that tweet gets deleted, it will be like white smoke pouring from the Sistine Chapel.
Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen.
We have already been through a tumultuous year. I’m not sure this country can handle another pirate.