With his remarkable come-from-behind victory in the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich has revived his campaign after being declared dead not once but twice. The upcoming Florida primary will be a dogfight between him and Mitt Romney, and if Gingrich gets a second win, he may well displace Romney as the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Much of the media attention surrounding Gingrich has focused on his personal life and his tenure as speaker of the House in the 1990s. But where does he stand on the most important economic, social and foreign-policy issues?
Gingrich has called for fundamental reform of entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. With Medicare, he wants to give seniors a choice between the government-sponsored health care program and private-sector insurance, and with Medicaid, he would give states block grants and allow them to structure their programs as they chose.
His proposal for Social Security is similar to his proposal for Medicare: let people who have been paying into the system for years keep their benefits as promised, but encourage younger people to create personal savings accounts to replace Social Security benefits, because you know you'll have more money at the end of your lifetime if you control it than the politicians, he said at a debate in Tampa, Fla., in September. Workers and employers would contribute the same amount of money to those accounts as they currently pay in Social Security payroll tax, but the workers, rather than the government, would control the accounts.
Like every candidate for the Republican nomination, Gingrich has vowed to repeal President Obama's 2010 health care law. The big-government Obamacare approach does not address the root causes of America's health care crisis, his Web site says. Instead, it creates layers of new taxes, regulations and bureaucracies that will ultimately make our problems worse, not better.
He has proposed a 13-point Patient Power plan that would, among other things, give tax credits or deductions to make insurance more affordable, allow seniors to opt out of Medicare in favor of a privatized program, prohibit insurers from canceling coverage or increasing rates when people get sick, create a new electronic system to reduce health care fraud, and limit medical malpractice lawsuits through tort reform. He has also called for more funding for medical research to treat conditions like Alzheimer's disease and thus save the government money in the long run.
Gingrich has named several pieces of legislation that he would work to repeal as president. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 created a new agency to regulate accounting firms and set new standards for corporate governance and financial disclosures, and Gingrich says it has discouraged companies from investing in the United States by creating overly burdensome and complicated regulations. The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 set a slew of regulations to improve accountability and transparency in the financial system, and Gingrich argues that this, too, is killing small independent banks, crippling loans to small businesses and crippling home sales. The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 encouraged banks to lend to low- and middle-income individuals, and Gingrich blames it in part for causing the 2008 subprime lending crisis.
He has also vowed to improve the economy as a whole, thus creating jobs, by reforming energy policy, repealing Obamacare and breaking up the government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage companies (although a recent Bloomberg News investigation revealed that Freddie Mac paid Gingrich $1.6 million between 1999 and 2008 for consulting work).
Gingrich wants to make the Bush tax cuts, which have been extended twice but are set to expire in 2013, permanent in order to promote stability in the economy. He has also proposed a tax-code overhaul similar to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's, which would give taxpayers a choice between their current rate and a 15 percent flat tax. His plan would keep the current deductions for charitable donations and home ownership and add a personal deduction of $12,000 for every individual. This deduction is well above the current poverty level, ensuring that the new system does not unfairly target the poor, his Web site says.
He has also proposed a series of tax cuts on top of extending the Bush cuts: eliminating taxes on capital gains and new equipment; eliminating the estate tax, pejoratively termed the death tax, which taxes estates worth over $1 million; and reducing the corporate income tax to a flat 12.5 percent -- lower than the 15 percent individual income tax he has proposed. The current corporate income tax ranges from 15 percent to 35 percent.
Gingrich opposes withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and said in a 2010 speech at the American Enterprise Institute that the U.S. needs to understand that victory over radical Islamism is a long process. He has, however, said that he sees no way to win the war unless the U.S. sends more troops, and he has criticized both President Obama and former President George W. Bush for underestimating the amount of manpower needed there.
He has not said how exactly he would approach Afghanistan policy if elected president, but he has said that it is fundamentally misleading to try to combat terrorism in Afghanistan without understanding its connections to countries like Pakistan, which provide sanctuaries for terrorists.
Gingrich has said that he will take whatever steps are necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, up to and including a preemptive military strike. At a recent Republican debate, he agreed with Mitt Romney when he said that war would be an option to guard against the unacceptable possibility of Iran becoming a nuclear power if all other efforts failed. He criticized the Obama administration's Iran policy, saying, There are a number of ways to be smart about Iran and a few ways to be stupid. The administration skipped all the ways to be smart.
Specifically, at that debate, Gingrich proposed covert operations to block and disrupt the Iranian program, including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems, all of it covertly, all of it deniable. He also suggested coordinating with Israel to back their efforts in Iran and referred vaguely to an absolute strategic program, comparable to what President Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher did to the Soviet Union, of every possible aspect short of war of breaking the regime and bringing it down.
He said in a separate interview that he could see Israel attacking Iran because if the Israelis allow them to get a nuclear program, there's a very real danger that they are going to annihilate Israel and create a second Holocaust by wiping out millions of people, and that if Israel did attack, the U.S. would have a moral obligation to help Israel.
Gingrich has taken different positions on the Iraq War over the years.
In 2006, he said in a speech that it had been an enormous mistake for us to try to occupy that country after June of 2003. But the following day, when Fox News host Alan Colmes asked him about that comment, Gingrich said he had meant that the U.S. should have tried harder to train the Iraqis to run their own government, not that the troops should have pulled out. Later in 2006, he called the war a failure and said that unless then-President George W. Bush admitted that, he would never be able to get U.S. troops out of the country.
In a 2007 appearance on Meet the Press, though, he vehemently disagreed with former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who said the U.S. should set a firm deadline for troop withdrawal. There are young men and women risking their lives in uniform who are dramatically going to be demoralized by the idea of who's the last person to die trying to win in Iraq, Gingrich responded. If we have to set a deadline, then let's set it for next Tuesday. Let's get out of there. Because I think the idea that we're going to set a magic moment a year from now ... basically says we are prepared to accept defeat -- if the deadline's real and we can't find a way to get to victory, then we will have legislated defeat.
This month, after President Obama announced that he would withdraw all troops from Iraq by December, Gingrich told conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer that there was no short-term advantage to us being there and that trying to leave 3,000 troops was an invitation for total disaster -- but when Krauthammer asked him whether that meant he agreed with Obama's decision, he said, No! No, I think we are -- look, if this president had been serious, we'd be in a different place.
Gingrich has been one of the more outspoken Republican candidates in his criticism of elements of Islam. He has called Sharia law totally abhorrent to the Western world, and his Web site calls for the development of a unified grand strategy for defeating radical Islamism. Without such a strategy, the result is that we currently view Iraq, Afghanistan and the many other danger spots of the globe as if they are isolated, independent situations, he writes. Only a grand strategy for marginalizing, isolating and defeating radical Islamists across the world will lead to victory.
His Web site does not list many specific proposals for such a strategy, but he does talk about pursuing energy reform to reduce the United States' dependence on Middle Eastern oil and securing the border to prevent terrorist organizations from sneaking agents and weapons into the United States.
Gingrich says he is pro-life, and he promises on his Web site to end all taxpayer subsidies for abortion by repealing President Obama's health care law, defunding Planned Parenthood and reinstating a ban on federal funding to organizations that perform abortions overseas. However, he has not called for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and he said in a 2005 interview with The American View, a conservative blog, that he believed abortion should be illegal but was not sure how you would implement that.
As speaker of the House, he voted in favor of a ban on late-term abortions in 1997, but in 1995, he said he supported federal funding for abortions in cases of rape or incest. This year, he expressed support for a law in Ohio that made abortion illegal after a fetus's heartbeat could be detected.
My personal view is that this is a country which is pro-choice but anti-abortion, he told Face the Nation in 1995. There are remarkably few Americans who favor abortion as a contraception or who think of abortion as a trivial matter. And so I think we can have a pretty large area of civil discussion without it breaking down into automatic hostility.
Gingrich has called for a significant reduction of the authority of the federal Department of Education, so that its only responsibilities would be to collect research and data, and help find new and innovative approaches to then be adopted voluntarily at the local level, he says on his Web site. Everything else would be left up to state and local officials.
He supports the development of charter schools, which are publicly funded but exempt from many of the regulations that govern traditional public schools. He has also proposed a Pell Grant-style system under which school districts' per-pupil funding would go directly to students, whose parents would decide which school to put the money toward. Lastly, states would be required to develop a process for grading the effectiveness of every school, and school administrators would be allowed to evaluate teachers based on student performance.
Gingrich is staunchly opposed to gay marriage and has criticized state laws legalizing it. I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, he said in Iowa in September. It has been for all of recorded history, and I think this is a temporary aberration that will dissipate. I think that it just fundamentally goes against everything we know.
He opposed President Obama's decision in February to stop defending the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and he responded to New York's legalization of same-sex marriage in June by saying that the country was drifting toward a terrible muddle which I think is going to be very, very difficult and painful to work our way out of.
In a question-and-answer session in 2009, he was asked why he opposed gays fighting for equal protection under the law. He responded that in every state where the marriage question has been put up to a popular vote, people have voted for traditional marriage, as with the passage of Proposition 8 in California. I don't think there is equal protection. The people of California don't believe there is equal protection, he said. What people have said consistently is, they believe in sustaining a 3,000-year tradition. ... I am in favor of a 3,000-year-old tradition, and I'm happy to rest my case on that tradition.
He also opposes allowing gay people to adopt children, but he supports their right to teach in public schools. I think you have to [believe homosexuality is a sin], but I also believe that all of us our sinners, he said in 2005. I think there are many good and kind and decent people who may also be homosexuals.
Gingrich differs from some of his opponents in that he does not support the deportation of every illegal immigrant currently in the United States -- both because it is unfeasible and because he sees it as wrong to deport people who have lived in the United States for decades, paid taxes, and established roots and families here. However, he has emphatically denied any support for amnesty or any policy that would allow those who have broken the law to receive precedence over those who patiently waited to become residents and citizens via the legal process. Instead, he supports a program through which illegal immigrants who have no criminal records and can support themselves without government aid would be able to apply for legality, but not citizenship.
His Web site outlines a 10-point plan to combat illegal immigration while facilitating legal immigration. His proposals to combat illegal immigration include controlling the border by 2014 and expediting the deportation process for criminals and gang members. His proposals to facilitate legal immigration -- which constitute the majority of his 10 points -- include streamlining the visa application process; making it easier for foreign students to get work visas after earning mathematics, science, engineering or business degrees; creating a guest-worker program overseen by American Express, Visa or MasterCard, in order to avoid fraud; and allowing the children of illegal immigrants, who did not willingly break any laws, to obtain legal residency by serving in the military.
Lastly, Gingrich wants to make English the country's official language and require all immigrants to learn American history and the key principles of American exceptionalism.
Gingrich has been outspoken about his support for religion in the public sphere based on his interpretation of the Declaration of Independence. The revolutionary idea contained in the Declaration of Independence is that certain fundamental human rights, including the right to life, are gifts from God and cannot be given nor taken away by government, his Web site says. Yet, secular radicals are trying to remove 'our Creator' -- the source of our rights -- from public life. Newt has an aggressive strategy to defend life and religious liberty in America.
That strategy includes allowing religious symbols like crosses, nativity scenes and menorahs on public property; allowing teachers to use religious examples in the classroom and to discuss religion objectively; and giving home-schooled students -- many of whom are homeschooled because their parents want them to have a more religiously based education -- the same access as public-school students to publicly funded extracurricular opportunities.
Gingrich said in a 2005 interview that he would give religion a larger role in public life not by intervening in specific cases -- like the one in which Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, refused to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse -- but by arguing that based on the language of the Declaration of Independence, people historically have no choice but to allow religion in the public sphere. That is historically false to suggest that you can describe America as a society whose rights come from any place other than God, he said. Now, as an atheist, you can make that argument, but you cannot make it historically.