President-elect Donald Trump has yet to even assume office, but his unofficial historian is already elevating him to the pantheon of America’s greatest leaders. Trump is “a unique historic figure worthy of study in his own right.” He’s ushered out the “old world” in “a genuine watershed” moment for the U.S., and his political philosophy is “a bold and profoundly different way of thinking that needs codification and development through action.”
That’s according to former House speaker and Trump adviser Newt Gingrich, a onetime history professor with a fondness for pontificating on world-historical events (and, ideally, on his role in them). Gingrich is currently out with a new e-book, Electing Trump, which in true Trumpian fashion he promoted multiple times during a Heritage Foundation address Tuesday on “The Principles of Trumpism.”
Gingrich’s speech identified only a few principles: anti–political correctness, pro-Christianity, trade protectionism, and the right to say “Merry Christmas.” Mostly, the speaker praised Trump’s amorphous attributes like the president-elect’s ability to “arouse the American people” while, in a truly stunning display, recasting some of Trump’s worst vices are virtues to be lauded.
“He’s in the tradition of Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR and Ronald Reagan,” Gingrich said, “and by that I mean, in every case, they believed in the American people, they aroused the American people, and they led the American people to victory over entrenched powerful interests.”
Some of Gingrich’s case for Trump’s historical achievement is inarguable. He’s right to say no one has previously won the presidency without holding public office or serving as a military general. He’s also right that the president-elect’s tenure could be the “third great effort”—after Reagan’s election in 1980 and Gingrich’s own Republican revolution in Congress in 1994—“to break out of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt model” of government, especially if Trump largely endorses Paul Ryan’s policy agenda in the House.
But much of what Gingrich lauds about Trump is precisely what makes the president-elect so vile, and so dangerous to democracy.
Gingrich devoted a great deal of time to Trump’s media manipulation this year, saying only Lincoln utilized the press as effectively in his political rise. But the speaker shamelessly celebrated one of the great tragedies of this year’s election—the way cable news routinely broadcast Trump rallies not for their civic value but for their ratings boost.
“Hillary starts to speak,” Gingrich said, recalling one night of coverage, “and not a single network covers her, because they all understand, in the age of the clicker, everybody will leave, because they want to see what else Trump’s bringing on. You gonna get a camel? Who knows what he’s gonna do next!”
In the same speech in which Gingrich derided the mainstream press as “propaganda media”—encouraging conservatives to “drop the term ‘news media’ until they earn it”—he openly reveled in the president-elect’s propaganda victories, including how he trotted out Mitt Romney as a potential secretary of state pick to distract from controversies like his business conflicts of interest and ties to Russia.
“I’ve had a theory going back to Reagan that you have to have rabbits the media can chase or they’ll invent their own,” Gingrich said. “I think Romney, by the way, was a two-week-long rabbit.”
Gingrich also praised Trump for using politics for his personal profit on the campaign trail—“He’s selling Trump Wine, Trump Water, Trump Steaks,” Gingrich recalled from the rallies—and the president-elect’s tendency to “hit back” when he’s attacked. (This is virtuous, Gingrich explained, because it allows Trump to win the news cycle.)
Gingrich laughably said Trump is assembling “what may be the smartest cabinet of modern times,” but his most ridiculous riff was about how Trump “could have gone to Mar-a-Lago and hidden” when he realized American needed him. “He could have gone to 15 different golf course and hidden,” he said. Yet Trump “voluntarily decided to go into the public arena.” How heroic.
It’s easy to imagine what Gingrich might get out of all this puffery masquerading as historical analysis. Maybe he gets an administration position. Maybe he becomes an even closer adviser to Trump. If nothing else, it should help sales of his e-book and garner some subscriptions to his newsletters—“Free, by the way,” he told the Heritage crowd. It’s the Trump era, after all, and the president-elect isn’t the only one with a brand to boost.