DES MOINES, Iowa — The rollout of the new version of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” on Thursday commanded the kind of coverage that the former House speaker drew in the days of old. The state’s largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, published an “exclusive” with details, and he appeared on Fox and Friends and CBS's The Early Show to talk it up.
But can a lengthy, wonky document generate interest in his underdog presidential campaign in much the same way that the original version captivated angry-with-Washington voters back in 1994?
Gingrich, who has never been one to lack confidence, said he thinks it can. He asserted that his new “21st Century Contract with America” is bolder than the original because, he said, the times have changed. “The scale of the challenge and the intensity of the opposition require that we approach a 21st Century Contract with America with a much more profound and serious strategy than the original 1994 Contract with America,” he said in a statement on his website.
When asked by reporters in Des Moines how his plan would go over in a 30-second-sound-bite world, the onetime college professor responded that that in a free society, politicians have to be willing to provide information to educate the public.
He added that the 1994 Contract was successful—at least in getting through the GOP-dominated House over which Gingrich then presided, if not the more skeptical Senate—because it offered ideas instead of political attacks.
His speech on Thursday to an audience of about 350 people in the auditorium of Principle Financial headquarters drew only sporadic applause. And an e-mail list that Gingrich’s campaign circulated beforehand garnered only about 20 signatures.
Nevertheless, the document is likely to be the centerpiece of Gingrich’s strategy, particularly in the crucial primary state of Iowa, where he has spent more than 15 days campaigning since June. Nationally, he has seen a surge of sorts with Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign hitting a rough patch. A Fox News poll this week showed Gingrich in fourth place behind Perry, jumping from 3 percent to 11 percent of the vote.
His new plan calls for two systems for income taxes — the current one or an optional “flat tax” rate. He explained that a flat tax has to be optional, because imposing it on its own might make people nervous.
The plan also includes a series of dramatic tax cuts to jump-start job creation and the largest reform of the federal government since the 1880s. It aims to repeal the 2010 health care law, balance the budget and control the U.S.-Mexico border by January 2014.
“The only speaker of the House to balance the budget in your lifetime is me, and I think I can say with some authority, we can get back to a balanced budget if we have the right reforms,” Gingrich said on the Early Show. “Government will be smaller, leaner and more effective if we do it right.”