I spoke with Newt Gingrich at The Washington Post last Friday for the latest installment of The Daily 202’s live interview series. The former speaker of the House, who had huddled with Donald J. Trump the night before at Trump Tower, spoke candidly about the president-elect’s leadership style, the three power centers that will exist in his White House and why he’d welcome a million federal workers taking to the streets.

Gingrich was a runner-up to be Trump’s vice president this summer, but he will not take a formal role in the new government. The 73-year-old predicted that Trump will create a new governing coalition with certain Hispanic and African-Americans but without some members of the House Freedom Caucus.

Below is a transcript of our hour-long conversation, edited slightly for length and readability:

Hohmann: You’re one of the few people who knows Trump really well and knows Washington really well. Looking ahead, what’s your prediction for how Trump changes Washington, and how Washington changes Trump?

Gingrich: Probably some time in February, the cabinet that he’s assembling … will get together for a meeting and realize that Washington does not accept the election. And whether it’s the bureaucracy, or it’s the news media, or, it’s the lobbying community, or it’s some parts of the Republican Party, all of them are committed to a different future than the one that Trump wants.

At that point, they’ll have two choices. They’ll either do what (Arnold) Schwarzenegger did in California, after he lost his referendum (in 2005), and decide, you know, ‘Okay. I’ve got to accommodate the system that’s already here.’ Or, because they are such a high-powered collection of people, who are so used to winning, they’ll say, ‘Okay, we’ve got to double, or triple, or quadruple our energy level, and break through.’ And at that point, you will know just how historic Trump’s going to be.

Hohmann: You really think we’ll know that in the first 60 to 90 days?

Gingrich: Oh, yeah. Because the problems they have to solve will all compound, almost immediately. The biggest of which is the bureaucracy. If you look at the Veterans Administration, which is sort of the archetype of disaster, you can’t fix it unless you change the civil service laws.

You can’t change the civil service laws within the normal framework of Washington. So you have to either do what Scott Walker did and break out of the normal framework – which in his case led to 100,000 people demonstrating, a six-month occupation of the Capitol, and death threats against both he and his wife – or you say, ‘Well, yeah, we’ll fix it as well as we can without really making anybody unhappy.’”

Gingrich arrives for a meeting with Trump at Trump Tower. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Hohmann: Do you feel like he’s willing to be contentious enough to break that logjam? In some ways, he is also pretty conflict-averse.

Gingrich: At an interpersonal level, he’s conflict-averse, partly because you can’t run a huge empire by running around and pissing everybody off. When you leave, they’ve got to run the golf course, or the hotel or whatever. So if they really get mad at you, they just quit doing it. He thinks that schmoozing generally works better than attacking.

But … (James) Mattis [Trump’s nominee to be secretary of defense] had this line in Iraq: ‘The Marines can be your best friend or your worst enemy, and you get to pick.’ Well, I think Trump and Mattis get along really well. I think they have very similar attitudes about that.”

Hohmann: Let’s take a step back. I remember being in Iowa in January 2015. Trump made his first big foray to the state that weekend. You and Callista had breakfast with him at the Des Moines Marriott, and he asked you about what it was like to run in 2012.

Gingrich: We’ve known him from his golf club, and from other things over the years. We once did a West Palm Beach Zoo fundraiser at Mar-A-Lago with him. He sits down, and for 45 minutes, he asked really intelligent questions about, you know, ‘What did you experience? What was it like? What should I worry about? Etcetera. Etcetera.’ And finally, he says at the very end, ‘All right. Bottom line. Let’s say I want to really test this out through South Carolina. What do you think that would cost?’ And I looked at him for a minute, and I said, ‘Well, given your name ID, given the airplane, given all the assets … I think you could get through South Carolina for somewhere between $70 million or $80 million.’

You have to have a national campaign. You can’t pick one or two places to go, because then you don’t look like a real candidate.’ And he looked at the two of us, and then we went, $70 or $80 million? That would be a yacht. This would be a lot more fun than a yacht!’ And I thought, ‘He is going to go!’ I mean, I didn’t think at the moment he was going to win. I just thought, ‘He’s going to go.’ I didn’t really begin to sense Trump breaking loose until the Fox debate in August.

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney pause for the National Anthem before their January 2012 debate in Jacksonville, Florida. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Hohmann: Why could Trump win the nomination in 2016 when you could not in 2012? What was different?

Gingrich: Well, because Trump combined my ability as a debater with (Mitt) Romney’s ability to have money. … If I’d had Romney’s money, I would have crushed Romney. … Look, he outspent me by some amazing number in Florida. Most of it, by the way, was lies. … I was one of Reagan’s closest allies. So Romney runs a ‘Newt was against Reagan’ ad. For those of you who are not quite getting the message, I will never forgive Romney for the depth of dishonesty in his campaign.

Hohmann: You mention Reagan. Let’s go back to 1980. You were here as a freshman congressman, part of the Reagan revolution. How does this period right now, after the election and before the inauguration in 2016, compare to the feeling in 1980?

Gingrich: Oh, it’s totally different. We were the opposition. We’d been through Watergate. We’d been through the collapse of the Republican Party. People forget, in December of 1974, we were down to … 17 percent ID in terms of people who would call themselves ‘Republican.’ They actually were reduced to running commercials that said, ‘Republicans are people too.’

And then Jimmy Carter, and it looked like the world was collapsing. If you read Theodore White’s wonderful “Making of the President” series, in the one on 1980, he says at one point, ‘The wheels are coming apart. You’ve got 13 percent inflation. You’ve got 22 percent interest rates. You’ve got rising unemployment. You have the hostage crisis. You have a president who looks like he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.’ All these things are coming together. And Reagan comes along…

Ronald Reagan gets inaugurated in Jan. 1981. (AP Photo/File)

 

Reagan was as much of an outsider, even though he’d been governor eight years, as Trump was, because the Republican establishment didn’t like him. And the Democratic establishment thought he was an absurdity. And he had these weird ideas … But it was a culmination of a conservative movement cycle that began with (Barry) Goldwater 16 years earlier.

Trump’s very different. For one thing, Trump is culturally in rebellion.  He really is Queens and not Manhattan, and people need to understand that. He is blue collar, middleclass America. He builds buildings. He doesn’t finance them. He actually goes onsite.

Hohmann: There is a perception among elites around town that, as president, he’s going to be pretty hands-off. That Scott Pruitt, for example, is going to run the EPA and that Trump is not going to really give another thought to the EPA.

Gingrich: No, no, no. Pruitt’s going to get a phone call at six o’clock in the morning that says, ‘I just saw this article. And I think it was on Morning Joe. And are you doing this? Are we getting this fixed? I’d like this fixed! Tell me by four p.m.’ And then he’s going to hang up, and he’s going to call … the Secretary of State, somewhere in like, Dubai, and say, ‘I don’t know what time it is there, but it doesn’t matter much because we’re both friends and you love talking to me.’

This is a guy who runs a $4 billion to $10 billion, depending on who believe, system. I think he has 15 golf courses. He’s not the green manager of every single course. He has lots of people who have to work as a team. But when he shows up at a particular golf course, he checks everything. If he plays 18 holes, in mid-play, he’ll get on the walkie-talkie and say, ‘Hey, Fred. You know that (thing) over there, that that’s not working right. You got to come down here and fix it!’

When it mattered, Reagan could micromanage. But I have this whole theory of antelope and chipmunks: Reagan understood the lions have to eat antelope because they starve if they hunt chipmunks. So Reagan had three antelope: defeat the Soviet empire, regrow the American economy (and) rebuild American civic culture. And everything else was a chipmunk. And you’d have $10 billion federal chipmunks running the office. And he’d listen patiently because he was a nice guy.

Hohmann: What are Trump’s antelopes?

Gingrich: Jobs is number one. National security and security at home is number two. And I suspect draining the swamp is number three. He has to have an ability to say to his voters, pretty rapidly, ‘The world is going to be better because we won together.  And here’s how the world’s going to be better.’

Stephen Bannon and Jared Kushner disembark Trump’s plane as they make their way to Carrier’s plant in Indianapolis earlier this month. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Hohmann: I want to follow up on Trump’s leadership style. In the campaign, there was always two poles: There was Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort, for instance. The conventional wisdom in D.C. is that there will be two rival power centers in the White House between Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus.

Gingrich: Three. (Don’t forget) Jared! And it was always like that.

Hohmann: Is that problematic? Could that system work?

Gingrich: FDR loved it. … FDR’s theory of life was, ‘Keep everybody below you fighting each other so you’re in charge.’ … Between (James) Baker, (Ed) Meese, and (Mike) Deaver, Reagan basically had a triumvirate. With Nancy being sort of the fourth player, though she was almost always with Deaver.

This idea that you have to have a linear top-down structure (is wrong). … I actually think it doesn’t work to have this kind of delegated approach, where ‘I’m the chairman of the board, but somebody else is really running the thing.’ … I was struck many years ago. The then-commander of NATO came to visit. This was about 1986. And he said, ‘Look. The number one characteristic of a leader is you intuit the vital point of contact, and you impose your will.’ He said, ‘As long as you can roam the battlefield, figure out what matters, and at the decisive point, impose your will, you’re doing fine.’ And I think there’s a lot to that, that Trump has a remarkable intuitive ability to absorb almost by osmosis. This is a guy who is listening to you, thinking about his next meeting, and watching television simultaneously. And doing it very, very well.

Trump wears a hard hat to show support of miners during his rally at the Charleston Civic Center in West Virginia this May. (Mark Lyons/Getty Images)

 

Hohmann: Let’s talk about Congress. Yes, Trump owns 15 golf courses. He has a lot of managerial experience. He’s never had to work with something like Congress really before.

Gingrich: Sure he has. The New York planning and zoning people. Who are, by the way, worse … than Congress. If you wanted to build something in New York, they were worse than Congress. They had no accountability. Now he can at least go to the country and arouse people to bring pressure. You couldn’t bring any pressure in the New York planning process. That’s why reading ‘The Art of the Deal’ and then ‘The Art of the Comeback’ is helpful. You suddenly realize, ‘This guy has been dealing with the government his whole life.’ You can’t be a developer in a big city and not have some intuitive understanding of government, because it defines what you can do. He tries to do the West Side project, and spends a decade trying to figure out how to get it to work, because government is so totally screwed up. I mean, New York City government is a great training ground for dealing with totally screwed-up institutions.

The founding fathers want this to be really hard. … And that’s perfectly fine. The Senate’s the Senate.  And it should be. I actually worry a little bit about making the Senate move too quickly, because if you have two Houses, rather than a House and a Senate, I think you really do lose one of the institutional frictions that protects freedom.

So even though I’m a creature of the House personally, and find senators all to be weird, including former House members who go over there – within eight minutes, they become ‘senators,’ it’s unbelievable, because they acculturate so rapidly – but I think that’s actually good. … The founding fathers wanted to protect us in two directions: they wanted a government strong enough to stop foreigners from taking us over, and they wanted a government that was limited enough not to take us over either. Because their number one value was freedom. … And, by the way, Trump gets that. Trump thoroughly understands that he can’t anything big done unless he can get the House and Senate to go with him.

Trump meets with Paul Ryan after the election. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

 

Hohmann: So how do you see the relationship playing out with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell?

Gingrich: “They are very powerful, strong, mature adults … each with their own strengths and weaknesses, having to learn how to work together. In a sense, a troika … with the president, by definition, the senior member. Any president is more dominant than any speaker or any majority leader. And this is going to be a very, very strong president…

Hohmann: What about the Freedom Caucus? The last couple of years they’ve obviously been a big thorn in John Boehner’s side and, to a lesser extent, Paul Ryan’s side. When stuff’s coming up, like this infrastructure bill that he wants to do at the beginning, do you think some of these guys are going to sort of work with him on this? Or do you think that there will be 20 conservatives in the House who just consistently oppose him every step of the way?

Gingrich: Trump … will be very unlike an austerity-focused Republican. If Trump wanders in and says … ‘My first thing is to have a real infrastructure bill … And, uh, wouldn’t you like to have something really good for your district?’ Well, 40 Freedom Caucus members may say, ‘I don’t really care.’ But 90 Democrats are going to say, ‘Oh, let’s work together. … Can I ride on the plane?’ … You take them with you to go look at the sites. … And six months later I think what you’ll see emerge is a bipartisan Trump majority, which will actually shake some of the more conservative Republicans, and some of the more partisan Republicans. But I think his natural instinct is to say, ‘Hey, unless you’re determined not to be for me, why don’t we get together?’”

Hohmann: In this Trump coalition you envision, who are those Democrats? Are they from the Rust Belt? Moderate Democrats?

Gingrich: “No. So you have the Black Caucus, and the Latino Caucus, and you say, ‘What are the 12 things you need most?’ Well, they aren’t ideology. They’re not bathrooms. … They’re railroads. They’re highways. They’re better schools.”

Trump speaks as Scott Walker listens during the first Republican debate on Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

 

Hohmann: You make a very good point about greasing the wheels, with saying, “Here’s a project I’ll do in your district.” But the flipside of that, taking on the government bureaucracy, which you’ve talked and thought a lot about, isn’t it much harder to get sweeteners in something like that?

Gingrich: It’s got to be a straight-out war. And it’s got to be very simple: Do you think people who kill veterans should stay in their job? You vote with those guys and make the government employee union happy, and keep in their job people who we know broke the rules and killed veterans. And the people in Los Angeles who deleted 3,000 reservations to make their record look better? Three thousand veterans who didn’t get their appointment. You don’t think some of those veterans had severe health consequences?

The Veterans Administration is a total disgrace and it embarrassing that the senior veterans organizations endorse the current secretary, because has failed totally to clean it up. And they did it because they prefer the current status, where they have access to Veterans Administration offices, rather than making sure that veterans are taken care of.

Hohmann: On something like that, you mentioned Wisconsin earlier with 100,000 people occupying the State Capitol for six months and that’s a relatively small state.

Gingrich: Right. … Yeah, I think if a million federal union members want to go to the streets and say, ‘Protect the right to kill people,’ let them do it. Let the country decide. You want to clean up this federal government, you’re on that team. You want to tolerate this kind of stuff, you’re on that team.  Now let’s go to 2018! … We have a lot of Democrats up for reelection in the Senate. Let’s see how many of them want to run as the anti-veteran, pro-union candidate!

Trump walks from a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the Capitol in the wake of the election. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Hohmann: And that’s how you get to 60 votes in this Senate?

Gingrich: Yeah. There’s a great, small book called ‘The Education of Ronald Reagan,’ which I recommend to everybody. … I never fully understood until I read this book. It’s all about the idea that if you educate the American people, they will bring so much pressure to bear. He learned it at General Electric. They’ll bring so much pressure to bear on the leadership. This is how he passed the tax cuts.  A third of the Democrats said, ‘I don’t want to go home having voted against the tax cuts.’

Hohmann: Obama too tried to play this outside game after he lost the House in 2010. He tried to travel the country, giving speeches. It didn’t work.

Gingrich: Because he lied. That’s a very important thing for Trump to remember. It’s something Reagan knew. Once Obama said, ‘You get to keep your doctor. You get to keep your insurance’ — and it turned out to be a total lie – he still had the ability to arouse his own base, but his own base wasn’t big enough. He couldn’t arouse anybody in the middle.

Former US Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy II speaks at a rally. (Frederik Persson/EPA)

Hohmann: There are a couple of issues where you’ve been unorthodox for a Republican. You’re working with Patrick Kennedy and Van Jones on opioid addiction recovery, for example. Trump did best in places that have just been decimated by this epidemic. He overperformed Romney the most in places with the highest mortality rates from drugs, alcohol and suicide. What can he do for these folks?  What can actually get done beyond what passed last year in Congress?

Gingrich: A lot of things. I have no inside information, but I’m hoping they’re going to pick people in the area of drug control who are focused on demand reduction, and on how we get ahead of it before you become an addict. I’m hoping that they will look at the medical evidence that, right now, only three percent of the people who show up with substance abuse addiction are getting the optimum combination of medication and social and psychological services. We know that.

Patrick, of course, is an extraordinary witness because he’s lived it himself. He’s been through addiction. And he understands the classic ground-rule of addiction, which is that you are always an addict. And he’ll say, ‘A couple times I thought I was okay, and then I backslid.’ And he said, ‘And I’ve had to have enough help, and enough training, to realize that, all of my life, I have to manage certain behaviors, or I’ll be an addict again.” So it’s very important to understand that folks who are currently addicted have to have a level of support.

Opioids are very different than alcohol. Opioids affect the receptors in your brain so intensely that what’s happening to us right now is we’re getting people just enough help to detox. At that point, their receptors lose their ability to have the volume of opioids that they were taking. When they backslide, they take what they used to take, but now it kills them, because their brain is no longer conditioned for it. That’s what happened with Prince. We have a good friend who lost daughter in her early 20s, who was an emergency room nurse. And so you’ve got to have a very methodical approach.

The person who’s done the most work on this is Rob Portman, who’s given over 20 speeches. And he got me to read—I’ll suggest it to all of you too—an astonishing book called ‘Dreamland’ by Sam Quinones. I think the reason those counties were so intensely for Trump, is they were a cry of despair. ‘Nobody cares about us.’ … Van Jones went out and interviewed a couple who had voted for Obama twice, who were white union members, in Youngstown. … They said, ‘Nobody cares. We’ve lost three factories in this county, and nobody cares.  Trump at least showed up and cares.’ … That’s part of what killed Hillary. The places she should have been in, saying, ‘I hear your pain,’ she was ignoring because she was sitting in Brooklyn raising money to run ads that said, ‘She would hear your pain if she ever showed up.’

Bill Clinton on Air Force One in 1995 with, at left, Thomas Daschle, Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich. Seated at right are George Shultz and Marianne Gingrich, then the wife of the speaker.

Hohmann: Another issue is criminal justice reform. Something that, for a time this year, seemed like it could actually happen. Now it seems like it would be really, really hard.

Gingrich: “I helped launch this movement. People like Rick Perry, who’s going to be in the cabinet, understand it thoroughly. … For those of you who are not really into this, it’s really simple: we overreacted in the 90s. In retrospect, one of the greatest mistakes we made was treating crack cocaine different from traditional cocaine because it set up a class of behavior which shattered large parts of the poor, inner city urban neighborhoods. I mean, the number of African-American males who’ve now been through a prison experience is so large that it actually desensitizes the experience; it just becomes part of life. You know, ‘Uncle Fred was there. I’ll probably get there some day. Doesn’t really matter.’ And then that’s so huge a mistake on a bipartisan basis.

You really shouldn’t incarcerate people who are committing nonviolent behavioral crimes. … What they need is they need treatment so they go back into society, so their family survives, so they have a job. They don’t need to be put in prison where they learn how to be a criminal. Secondly, if you are in prison, there are steps that can be taken, many of them faith-based, that dramatically reduce the likelihood of your going back to prison.

Hohmann: There’s an emerging consensus among policy experts behind what you’re saying, but there’s really not appetite in the Senate Republican conference. Mitch McConnell is not excited about this, Donald Trump really didn’t talk about it ever during the campaign, and Ted Cruz has criticized Republicans on this.

Gingrich: You couldn’t talk it on the campaign because you’ve had a sudden rise in murder rates. We will have had over 4,000 people shot in Chicago this year. We’ve already had over 700 killed in Chicago.  How do you walk in there and say, ‘I want to have a chat with you about prison reform?’ So they’ve got to have a two-pronged effect. … You’re not going to get economic growth if 3,000 or 4,000 people are being shot.  … So you’ve got to fix those, and then you’ve got to come back and take up this cause. Perry is going to be at energy. I think Perry will be a major advocate for this, and Governor Deal’s a major advocate.”

Hohmann: Can you see a President Trump getting on board with something on criminal justice reform?

Gingrich: Yeah, sure. … This is one of the things that’ll drive Washington crazy: he’s a pragmatist. He’s a fallback to what William James said was the one uniquely American contribution to philosophy: he actually thinks facts ought to drive theory, where he’s coming to a city where theory, of course, restates facts.

 

Hohmann: One last domestic issue: Climate change. In 2012, one of the things Romney hit you really hard on was the public service announcement you had done with Nancy Pelosi, talking about climate change.

Gingrich: “Yeah, that was really stupid on my part. It wasn’t about climate change; it was about Nancy Pelosi. You can’t run in a Republican primary with a commercial that has Nancy Pelosi. It could’ve been about Girl Scout Week; it wouldn’t matter. He’s sitting with Nancy Pelosi, and the average Republican goes, ‘Are you nuts?  What are you doing?’

Hohmann: It was a good ad.

Gingrich: It was a great ad if you work for The Washington Post! But it was a nutty ad if you’re going to run a Republican primary. It’s a sign I was not thinking I was going to run for president!”

Hohmann: Trump has put a lot of people with ties to the oil industry in key posts, including Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil. There’s a feeling that Trump’s going to try to roll back the Paris agreement.

Gingrich: He will.

Hohmann: What’s going to happen on climate change?

Gingrich: Let me draw a sharp distinction, okay? You can make lots of arguments about whether or not climate change is occurring. You can cite social science so that, you know, 91 percent of all scientists believe it … But there are people on both sides. I can produce a number of scientists who’ll say, ‘Not nearly as clear, and the consequences aren’t as clear.’ I could also argue that it is much less expensive if you decide you’re going to mitigate it and not try to stop it. If (Al) Gore had showed up in 1200 and said to the Dutch, ‘The seas are rising,’ which they said, ‘The seas are going to rise and therefore you should adopt a national strategy of stopping the ocean from rising,’ and the Dutch had decided not to build dikes, which are a mitigation device, but to engage in a global campaign to keep the sea level stable, Holland would now be a lake.

Hohmann: So what mitigation steps would you take?

Gingrich: You have to look and see: what are the changes you’re worried about? Do I think Miami will drown in the near future? No.

Hohmann: But it could eventually!

Gingrich: It could eventually, in which case you can build relatively small walls. That’s what the Dutch do. You need to go to Holland. This is not a theory. Go to Holland. There are these walls. They’re called dikes. There was once a little boy who kept his finger in it. I mean, this whole notion that we’re going to change the entire planetary economy for the purpose of mitigating carbon loading (is crazy).

The other thing is you can look at taking carbon out of the atmosphere. Now, what if you suddenly get a cheap device that turns carbon into a construction material? Which has been done three or four times around the world. That may be cheaper. I’m just saying you can’t even have this conversation right now. Well, what if it turns out to be radically cheaper to decarbonize the atmosphere than to avoid putting carbon into the atmosphere?”

Hohmann: Wouldn’t that take government?

Gingrich: It might take government, or it might be as simple as a tax credit for taking carbon out. So what if the Trump infrastructure program included using concrete made with carbon taken out of the atmosphere? It would just drive everybody crazy. The Right would be mad because it’s distorting the economy; the Left would be mad because it’s a non-Paris-Accord model.”

A boy flashes the victory sign while riding a bus to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Syria, on Sunday. (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

 

Hohmann: We only have a couple more minutes, and I want to close on foreign policy. You’ve spoken positively of the pick of Rex Tillerson. Do you think John Bolton should be his deputy?

Gingrich: Either Bolton or somebody else dedicated to overhauling the State Department. Whoever is secretary of state has a two-front campaign. One is the planet; the other is the State Department.

Hohmann: You were talking about Trump’s pragmatism, and there’s realpolitik in foreign policy. Do you feel like Trump is going to put enough emphasis on human rights? We’re watching what’s happening in Aleppo this week and it’s terrible.

Gingrich: This is pure Washington talk.

Hohmann: There are people dying.

Gingrich: This is exactly what’s wrong with our elites. And I’m not picking on you personally, but you’re here, so I’m going to pick on you, okay? I want you later on to come back and look at this video and realize how stupid it is, okay? We really are concerned about human rights, like Darfur? e really are concerned about human rights, like the Balkans where people were slaughtered? Srebrenica? We really, really are. Obama is so concerned about human rights in Syria that in the evenings he watches TV and he thinks badly.

This is nuts. This is insanity. If you’re concerned about human rights—first of all, if you wanted to minimize the number of people killed in Syria, you would’ve supported Assad, because the truth is if Assad had won very quickly, fewer people would’ve died. Instead, you currently have the United States.

Nassim Taleb wrote about this this morning, and it’s amazing. … The Assad family killed his, I think, either his uncle or his father. And he said, ‘This is insane. … We have these choices: ISIS, the so-called moderates, who are actually allies of ISIS, and Assad. They’re all bad people. Which one is the least bad?’ Well, you could argue that Assad is.

Hohmann: But don’t you think protecting minorities should be part of our foreign policy?

Gingrich: Protecting minorities?

Hohmann: Yes, protect the rights of minorities.

Gingrich: So you’re going to side with a Sunni faction which will kill Christians, kill Alawites, kill Druze, and kill Shia? That’s what they’ll do. I mean, you know, the basic model on the rebel side is, ‘We kill you.’ The basic model on the Assad side is, ‘We tax you and we sort of brutalize you.’

Hohmann: So what would a President Gingrich do?

Gingrich: I’m just saying this is a bad neighborhood.

Hohmann presses Gingrich on U.S. foreign policy. (Photo by April Greer For The Washington Post)

Hohmann: Right, no question about that. I guess, for time, let’s pivot to Russia. Russia’s obviously a big player in the Syria fight.

Gingrich: You know the greatest mistake in the American foreign policy establishment?

Hohmann: What’s that?

Gingrich: I think it was made in part by having people on the Bush team who were basically Soviet specialists. The Soviet Union disappeared in ’91. We have lots of attitudes toward (Vladimir) Putin that imply that Russia is the Soviet Union. Russia’s not the Soviet Union. Russia’s a relatively large power with a relatively powerful military that has a role in history which it’s been trying to have now since at least 1400 and the recovery from the Mongol invasions. And we do things at times that just drive them crazy.

The number one thing the Russians want, almost universally, is respect. So, for example, we’re now applying sanctions. And all of your academics and the think tanks here will tell you, ‘These are terrific.’ Go read about Stalingrad and Leningrad! I had a Russian friend who said to me recently, ‘We didn’t think the last decade would last. It was too good. We’re Russians. It’s never good. That’s why we’re Russians.’ You know, ‘You guys think you’re going to punish us? The Germans couldn’t punish us! Napoleon couldn’t punish us!’

Hohmann: So how would you respond to the hacking?

Gingrich: Look, I think we need serious hearings on the whole problem of cyber behavior, going back, for example, to Sony in 2014. I’m perfectly happy to have a look at cyber behavior. You could also ask the question, if one were a partisan, ‘How could the Obama administration be so utterly, totally incompetent that they didn’t notice the hacking was going on while it was going on? And what is it that’s going on right now that they’re not noticing?’ And if our ability at the NSA and elsewhere to track hacking is so utterly, totally incompetent that we don’t even notice massive hacking, shouldn’t we have sort of a national dialogue about what are we going to have to do in this new world?

Hohmann: They did see that there was hacking going on last year, and they said so.

Gingrich: “You just had an article today in the paper in which the chairman of the Clinton campaign is whining because the FBI apparently called the help desk at the [Democratic National Committee] and got voicemail. And then they didn’t send somebody over to knock on the door and say, ‘Oh, hey, we just want you to know you’ve been hacked. … They thought, ‘If you’re so stupid I can’t reach you, then I don’t care that much.’

Hohmann: Doesn’t it send a message? If you don’t response forcefully, wouldn’t it send a message to America’s adversaries?

Gingrich: It sent a message when Sony was hacked.

Hohmann: But there actually was a forceful response.

Gingrich: What was the forceful response?

Hohmann: I believe it was some kind of covert response to shut down North Korea’s grid.

Gingrich: Which lasted how long?

Hohmann: A couple hours.

Gingrich: A couple of hours, okay. Yeah, that really taught them!

 

SOURCE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/12/20/the-daily-202-live-qa-with-gingrich-on-how-trump-will-change-washington/