Newt vs. Reagan: A footnote to the sequel

Steve Hayward’s “Newt vs. Reagan, the sequel” is the definitive response to the prominent conservatives who have sought to portray Newt Gingrich as an opponent of President Reagan’s foreign policy in the 1980’s. To Steve’s account must be added Jeffrey Lord’s look at Gingrich’s March 1986 speech from which Elliott Abrams quoted in his NRO column attacking Gingrich [UPDATE: as well as Rich Lowry’s corrective comment on Lord’s column].

Abrams cites Newt’s presentation of himself as a “leader” of the effort to defeat Soviet Communism from his position as a backbencher in Congress. (Newt did not ascend to a position of leadership in the House until he was elected Minority Whip in 1989.) Abrams characterizes Gingrich’s claim as “misleading at best.” I would say it’s puffery at worst. As Hayward and Lord demonstrate, it seems to me, Newt’s occasional criticism of Reagan administration foreign policy from the right placed him in the company of the mainstream conservative movement — including National Review itself — which nevertheless remained united in opposing the liberals’ support for the Communists in Nicaragua and elsewhere.

Abrams himself was a member of the Reagan administration and a foot soldier in the battle with the liberals over Reagan’s foreign policy. His memoir Undue Process deserves special mention in this context. Abrams paid a heavy price for his loyal service to the Reagan administration (as Richard Nixon observed on the book’s dust jacket).

It may be worth noting that Elliott Abrams’s portrayal of the Reagan White House’s conduct in the battle over the Iran/Contra affair is not one of monochromatic praise [after the fact, as a commenter rightly observes below]. Toward the end of his memoir, he writes, for example: “Presidents ought to recall the moral obligation they owe to their men far better than did President Reagan recall the debt he owed to some of his men — men whose lives he flung into the abyss when, under heavy congressional and media pressure in 1986, he called for an Independent Counsel in the Iran/Contra affair.”

While paying tribute to Abrams’s public service, Lord imputes a base careerist motive to Abrams for his treatment of Gingrich’s record. Although Lord’s column is worth a look, let it be said that this is completely unwarranted.

UPDATE: Rich Lowry’s post on Lord’s column notes that Gingrich’s 1986 speech has now been posted online in its entirety. John Hood has more here.


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