17 Sep 2013
- Written by Kam Williams
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich talks about his new duties as co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," a political talk show airing weekdays. (Check local listings).
Kam Williams: Hello, Mr. Speaker, I'm honored to have this opportunity. Thank you.
Newt Gingrich: Well, thank you, Kam. I'm delighted to have a chance to chat with you.
KW: What interested you in hosting "Crossfire?"
NG: I used to appear on "Crossfire" back when it was a brand new show and I was a junior member of Congress. The early "Crossfire" episodes were very factual, idea oriented, and people felt like they learned a lot from them. You'd get a couple of smart guests on there with a couple of smart hosts, which really made for an entertaining program.
So, the opportunity to go back and try to create a space in America where you know that at 6:30 every evening you're going to hear interesting people have an intelligent discussion about a very important issue and stay on that issue for the whole half-hour is just a very exciting challenge.
KW: Filmmaker Kevin Williams says: "I thought you were very good in the presidential primaries and intellectually honest on the issues involving race, politics and the GOP. Do you have any plans to run again?"
NG: Oh, I have no idea. At the present time, I'm simply focused, in a sense, on trying to be a teacher to the country, and to learn about and talk about a lot of stuff.
KW: The show was launched a week early because of the conflict in Syria. How do you feel about that?
NG: I had deliberately set aside two full weeks to prepare prior to the premiere but, when I got off the plane, they said, "Congratulations! You've just lost a week of preparations." (Laughs" So, we're running really hard right now, getting used to being a host. I've always been a guest, but never a host of a show before. And for a guy like me, there's a lot to learn. Nonetheless, I think it was a very smart decision, because Syria is a perfect example of the kind of debate we want to have on "Crossfire." It's very serious... there are honorable and intelligent people on both sides... and it creates a real opportunity to lay out a series of proposals, so that people can have a better insight as to what's at stake.
KW: What makes Syria so interesting is that you have some Republicans, like Rand Paul, opposing intervention, and others siding with President Obama?
NG: And it's the same way with the Democrats. This is one of those unusual issues where you really have people on both sides wrestling with their conscience and trying to do the right thing.
KW: How has the transition been going from being guest to being a host?
NG: It's quite a challenge. I'll give you one example. In reading a teleprompter, you have to time it to exit at exactly the right moment. You can't start too soon or too late, and you're watching the floor director, so you don't make a fool of yourself. I never appreciated what the Wolf Blitzer's, the Sean Hannity's and the Greta Van Susteren's of the world went through. So, I now have much more respect for how they do their jobs.
KW: In his documentary, "Fear of a Black Republican," Kevin called you the Conservative Elvis and asked you: "How should we go about recruiting more African-Americans into the Party?" Your response to Kevin was: "Knock on their doors, go to their clubs and their churches and talk to 'em!" You also said that activists shouldn't worry about getting money from party bigwigs and that they should just to go out and find average citizens to help recruit African Americans. With so much focusing coming up on minorities and the black vote post-President Obama, why isn't the Republican Party listening to the advice you offered in the film?
NG: Oh, I think they are. If you look at what Reince (Priebus) has been doing as Republican National Committee Chairman, he has clearly been going out and meeting with the NAACP, and attending local listening sessions around the country. We also have an African-American Speaker of the House in Oklahoma (T.W. Shannon) who is only in his thirties. He's a very attractive, young Republican leader who Reince took to the summer meetings in Boston to introduce to people and say, "Look, here's an example of what we're going to be working on. This is the type of guy who represents our future." So, I think he's really trying to maximize our reach out not only to African Americans, but to Latino Americans and Asian Americans as well...
KW: Who are some of the guests you're hoping to get?
NG: Over time, we're going to have an amazing range. You obviously want cabinet officers, because they can defend the president's positions. You also want senior leaders in the House and Senate, as well as really smart, really knowledgeable people who are making a name for themselves in very specific areas.
And you also want people who might have served in the past, such as an ambassador who's an expert on a hot topic. Or someone who may not be a political figure, but is in the field and really knows what they're talking about, like a medical doctor on Obamacare. If I had to coin a slogan for the show it would be, "When facts matter, you should turn to Crossfire."...
KW: Well, thanks again for the time, Speaker Gingrich, and best of luck with the show. I'll be tuning in.
NG: Great! Thanks, Kam.