Christian-nation extremist and political operative David Lane declared in TIME this week that Newt Gingrich would be Donald Trump’s “Dream Veep,” calling Gingrich “Churchillian” and “still the most feared Republican in America.”
It might seem strange that Christian Right figures would rally around Gingrich, the thrice-married former speaker of the House who abandoned that office nearly two decades ago after an ethics scandal and clear signs that his colleagues were about to drive him from the office. But here’s why: Gingrich has spent the past decade promoting the Christian Right’s revisionist history, beliefs about a divinely inspired American exceptionalism, anti-Obama conspiracy theories and diatribes about the supposed war on Christianity in the U.S.
For example, Gingrich and his current wife Callista, a former Hill staffer with whom he conducted an affair while married to his second wife, published an op-ed in The Washington Times in May ranting that the “secular left” is engaging in a “crusade against the role of faith in our society.”
Newt and Callista have, following in the footsteps of GOP operative David Barton, made a cottage industry out of pushing similar claims. It is certainly no coincidence that an updated third edition of the couple’s 2006 book, “Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation’s History and Future,” has just been published.
The preface to the new edition warns that “the secular Left’s effort to drive God out of America’s public square” has “only gotten worse” since the book’s original publication. And in another sign of Gingrich embracing the extreme views of Christian right leaders and their political allies, the book echoes right-wing leaders’ rhetorical attacks on the federal courts, which Mike Huckabee made a central theme of his candidacy:
For two generations we have passively accepted the judiciary’s assault on the values of the overwhelming majority of Americans. It is time to insist on judges who understand that throughout our history – and continuing to this day – Americans believe that their fundamental rights come from God and are therefore unalienable….
…Judicial supremacy...only survives due to the passivity of the executive and legislative branches, which have refused to use their respective powers to correct the Court…
If we are to truly secure our religious liberty in America, the people and their elected representatives will need to reject the theory of judicial supremacy and passivity as a response to Supreme Court rulings that ignore executive and legislative concerns and which seek to institute policy changes that constitutionally rest with Congress.
And just to make it clear, Gingrich believes a president who isn’t afraid to act can lead Congress in nullifying decisions, such as the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, that he disagrees with:
A president who believes that judicial supremacy is a threat to our freedoms will use any appropriate executive branch powers, by itself and acting in coordination with the legislative branch, to check and balance any Supreme Court decision he or she believes to be fundamentally unconstitutional.
For the past decade, “Rediscovering God in America” has become a major brand for Gingrich, Inc. It’s incorporated into the title of a second Newt-Callista book about the role of God from America’s colonial era through the civil war, and it’s in the title of not one but two Citizens United-produced “documentaries” based on the Gingrich books, a God TV special, and conferences featuring the likes of David Barton and dominionist “apostle” Lou Engle. In 2009, Right Wing Watch reported on one of the conferences and produced a highlight reel, which includes Engle praying that God will protect Gingrich from “the evil schemes of the enemy.”
But Gingrich has been doing more to win Religious Right loyalty than writing books and giving speeches. In 2008, he started an organization called Renewing American Leadership, which launched a project called Pray and ACT. Among the dominionist figures involved in the effort were Lou Engle and Lance Wallnau, who has been saying for months that Donald Trump is anointed by God.
Renewing American Leadership won fans among anti-gay activists when it poured $150,000 into the successful 2010 campaign to unseat Iowa Supreme Court justices who had ruled in favor of marriage equality in the state. Christian nationalist “historian” and GOP operative David Barton was a founding board member of Renewing American Leadership; anti-gay activist Jim Garlow was brought on as president after he made a national name for himself organizing California churches in favor of California’s Prop 8. Gingrich, Garlow and Barton hosted a conference call for pastors gloating about their 2010 victories. In it, Gingrich said that “taking on the judicial class” and telling judges that “we are not going to tolerate enforced secularization of our country” is “one of the most important things we can engage in.”
Gingrich has stuck with his attacks on secularism. In 2011, he spoke at John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church and declared that he was "convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time [my grandchildren are] my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."
Gingrich’s personal re-branding as a conservative Christian culture warrior explains why some of the same Religious Right figures who are backing Trump are pushing Newt for VP.
When Gingrich was campaigning for the 2012 presidential nomination, Jerry Falwell Jr. was among those who rallied to the former speaker’s side when other religious conservatives questioned his appeal to evangelical voters. (Gingrich had given the 2007 commencement address at Falwell’s Liberty University.) Lane was also among those who vouched for Gingrich during that race, as did Wallnau, who “urged adherents to read an eighteen-page treatise Garlow had written outlining the reasons conservative Christians should support Gingrich,” The Nation reported. “Among them: his ‘Churchillian fortitude,’ his ‘understanding of war’ and his talent for taking ‘a verbal chain saw to the hollow trunks of the trees of radical secularism.’”
During that 2012 presidential run, Gingrich appointed dominionist Dutch Sheets a national co-chair of his Faith Leaders Coalition. In a major 2012 story on Gingrich’s appeal to the Religious Right, The Nation’s Mariah Blake reported on Gingrich’s appearances at David Lane’s events for conservative pastors, where his remarks were “an ideological hand grenade” in the context of Barton’s Christian-nation history:
Gingrich adds that he has studied the founding documents, including the Declaration, and believes they call for “a very bold restructuring of Washington, DC, on a scale that nobody in Washington in either party is prepared to talk about.”
Lane is now making a full-court press. Back in May, he declared that Trump “can be one of the top four presidents in American history” and urged him to pick Gingrich in order to “mobilize evangelical and Catholic pro-life conservatives who stayed home in the last election cycle.” And on July 4, a day before his Gingrich endorsement in TIME, Lane was quoted in a Washington Times story raving about Gingrich:
“Newt may be the only living former legislator who can walk in on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, with the working knowledge to orchestrate and drive an agenda for limited government, deregulation of business, lower taxes and return of control to the states,” Mr. Lane said.
“Besides helping pull the wagon to get Trump elected, Newt may be the only adult in the room when it comes to governing with the institutional knowledge and grit to make the hard decisions to save America,” the Los Angeles-based Mr. Lane added.
It’s not clear what Trump sees in Gingrich, beyond his arrogance, narcissism and appeal to an important part of the Republican Party’s base that Trump is actively courting. But it might just as well be Gingrich’s reputation for cutthroat politics. During his heyday in the 1990s, Gingrich did much to encourage ugliness and bitter partisanship in American politics. A now infamous memo from his political organization GOPAC, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” urged conservatives to smear their opponents with words such as “betray,” “corrupt,” “decay,” “disgrace,” “pathetic,” “radical,” “sick,” “traitors” and many more.