Newt Gingrich is a husband, father, grandfather, citizen, small businessman, author, former Speaker of the House and Crossfire host. Follow Newt on Twitter: @newtgingrich.
Crossfire has returned to CNN and you’re one of the hosts. What is it like backstage; are you and your co-hosts able to put the politics aside when the cameras are off?
It is a lot of fun working with Stephanie Cutter, S E Cupp, and Van Jones. We start with emails about 7:15 every morning on topics, then we meet at 1:30 and think through the show, then we have a run through of ideas and details at 4:30 get makeup at 5:50 and get on the set around 6:10 to practice the TelePrompTer, run though the script, etc. It is a great working relationship, low key, occasionally funny, and very focused on bringing you the best possible Crossfire.
With such a disparate group of political opinions, how do you choose which topics to cover?
Syria dominated the opening week because it was so central to the public debate. Now we are focused on Obamacare, the continuing resolution, the debt ceiling, etc. We will continue to cover hot topics and we will also look for big issues that have historic meaning.
How would you describe your debate style?
Listen to the other person, try to understand their principles, apply the principles of history and conservatism and then say it clearly and directly.
In addition to being a politician, you also have a PhD in History. You’ve written quite a few books that span different topics. Which did you find to be the most engaging to write?
The most intellectually intriguing were the alternative history novels in which we had General Lee win at Gettysburg and in which we had Admiral Yamamoto lead the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. They were vivid and very action oriented and reminded us that history is not automatically going to occur as it did. My next book, Breakout, may be my most important book as it illustrates how we can break out from the “new normal” of big government, high unemployment, and a declining middle class. I also enjoy working with Callista on her history books for four to eight year olds where Ellis the Elephant travels through time.
Did you have an early career mentor who inspired you to enter and write about politics?
I was convinced to go into politics when my father took us to the battlefield of Verdun in France and we stayed with a friend of his who had been drafted in 1941, sent to the Philippines, served in the Bataan Death March and spent three and a half years in a Japanese prison camp. Watching the French Fourth Republic get killed by the French paratroopers who brought General De Gaulle back to power, looking at the greatest battlefield in World War I (700,000 killed and wounded in six months) and listening to the cost of losing in the Philippines convinced me that countries can die – and, you have to have good leadership. At 15, I decided I would focus my life on three questions:
- What does America need to do to survive as a free country?
- How would you explain it to the American people?
- How would you implement it if they gave you approval?
That’s a pretty young age to have made that decision. If you hadn’t gotten into politics, what career path would you have taken?
I was going to be either a vertebrate paleontologist or a zoo director.
Those careers would have led you on quite a different path. Seems like you have a variety of interests and we hear that you’ve recently started using Zite; what types of topics do you enjoy reading about?
I am amazed at the breadth of Zite’s coverage. I listed pop culture, animals and the Middle East as three topics; Zite is bringing me an amazing amount of material.
Glad to hear it! Did you discover any unexpected topics in Zite that were of interest?
I am really surprised at the amount of interesting material on the Middle East.
Ever the historian. Your wife took some beautiful Instagram photos of your trip through Europe. Were those ancient ruins we spotted?
We visited Arles in southern France. It has an amazing Museum of Roman civilization, the Musee de l’Arles et de la Provence antique, one of the best I have ever seen. It also has a Roman amphitheater they use as a theater and a Roman Coliseum they use for bull fights. It is also the city in which Van Gogh painted some if his most famous works and you can visit some of the places he painted. It was a fascinating day.
When you’re not working or travelling to exotic locations, what activities do you enjoy?
I like to read, watch movies, golf, go to zoos and museums, hang out with Callista, eat at nice restaurants and talk with friends.
Thanks for your time today, Newt. We’d like to end with one final question. What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?
Cheerful persistence. Things are often harder than you expect. Sometimes you have bad luck. Sometimes things don’t work. Cheerful persistence is the only character trait that carries you through to success.