This was not the platform of a liberal Democrat, but rather the agenda of Republican Newt Gingrich when he ran for Congress in west Georgia in the mid-to-late 1970s.
Now as a presidential candidate, Gingrich calls himself a true conservative and derides former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a main rival, as a “Massachusetts moderate.” Long before Gingrich reached the national spotlight, he embraced many moderate and even liberal policy positions that would be anathema in this year’s White House race.
“The Republican Party has to be the conservative party if it is to mobilize the 61 percent of the country which calls itself more conservative than liberal,” Gingrich wrote in a paper kept by his former press secretary, Lee Howell, that examined the prospects for the 1976 election. “However this conservatism has to be moderate if the party is not to be isolated from the bulk of the population which rejects either extreme.”
Howell eventually split with Gingrich and has been critical of him over the years. Local newspaper stories about Gingrich’s early races include remarks from the candidate that match or are very similar to language in the speeches, news releases and memos from Howell.
Gingrich’s early runs for Congress show the beginning of threads that would develop throughout his career. Despite living in Georgia, then a Deep South bastion for Democrats, Gingrich believed that Republicans could assemble a majority in Congress. He also was willing to get mean on the campaign trail, a trait that continued throughout his career.
Gingrich ran as a moderate for several reasons. First, he was challenging a deeply conservative pro-segregation Dixie Democrat. The Republican Party itself was different, too.
“I think it’s a different world,” said Bill Loughrey, a Gingrich supporter who met the candidate while working in a research office for House Republicans in the late 1970s. He answered questions about Gingrich’s old policy positions on behalf of the campaign. “There were a lot of liberal Republican and conservative Democrats back then. You had a very large segment of the Republican Party that was moderate to liberal.”