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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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July 15, 2006 12:54 PM

Gingrich says it's World War III

Posted by David Postman

(You can find a follow-up to this post here.)

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says America is in World War III and President Bush should say so. In an interview in Bellevue this morning Gingrich said Bush should call a joint session of Congress the first week of September and talk about global military conflicts in much starker terms than have been heard from the president.

"We need to have the militancy that says 'We're not going to lose a city,' " Gingrich said. He talks about the need to recognize World War III as important for military strategy and political strategy.

Gingrich said he is "very worried" about Republicans facing fall elections and says the party must have the "nerve" to nationalize the elections and make the 2006 campaigns about a liberal Democratic agenda rather than about President Bush's record.

Gingrich says that as of now Republicans "are sailing into the wind" in congressional campaigns. He said that's in part because of the Iraq war, adding, "Iraq is hard and painful and we do not explain it very well."

But some of it is due to Republicans' congressional agenda. He said House and Senate Republicans "forgot the core principle" of the party and embraced Congressional pork. "Some of the guys," he said, have come down with a case of "incumbentitis."

Gingrich said in the coming days he plans to speak out publicly, and to the administration, about the need to recognize that America is in World War III.

He lists wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, this week's bomb attacks in India, North Korean nuclear threats, terrorist arrests and investigations in Florida, Canada and Britain, and violence in Israel and Lebanon as evidence of World War III. He said Bush needs to deliver a speech to Congress and "connect all the dots" for Americans.

He said the reluctance to put those pieces together and see one global conflict is hurting America's interests. He said people, including some in the Bush Administration, who urge a restrained response from Israel are wrong "because they haven't crossed the bridge of realizing this is a war."

"This is World War III," Gingrich said. And once that's accepted, he said calls for restraint would fall away:

"Israel wouldn't leave southern Lebanon as long as there was a single missile there. I would go in and clean them all out and I would announce that any Iranian airplane trying to bring missiles to re-supply them would be shot down. This idea that we have this one-sided war where the other team gets to plan how to kill us and we get to talk, is nuts."

There is a public relations value, too. Gingrich said that public opinion can change "the minute you use the language" of World War III. The message then, he said, is "'OK, if we're in the third world war, which side do you think should win?"

An historian, Gingrich said he has been studying recently how Abraham Lincoln talked to Americans about the Civil War, and what turned out to be a much longer and deadlier war than Lincoln expected.

Gingrich is here for fund raisers for Congressman Dave Reichert, 2nd District GOP challenger Doug Roulstone, and the state party. I talked to him in a hotel suite with a few of his and Reichert's staff.

Any time his name comes up here it's said that he once called Washington state "ground zero for the Republican revolution." Republicans saw huge gains in Washington in the 1994 mid-term elections, though they have largely decayed away.

"I think there is a reform oriented populism that is a key a component of Washington State's, if you will, culture or personality," he said. Voters here also got caught up in the national, anti-incumbent, anti-Democratic wave. The other thing that was different here, he said, was "that there was no place in America where talk radio was more enthusiastically favorable to the idea that it was time to try something new."

(Speaking of talk radio, waiting to go in to see Gingrich as I was leaving were KVI's John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur and William Maurer, an attorney with the Institute for Justice who has been backing the talk show hosts in the legal challenge against their on-air championing of an anti-tax initiative.)

With Republicans in control of Washington, D.C., it's Democrats who this year are hoping for a reform wave to sweep them into office. Democrats want to nationalize the election and make each congressional race about Bush, the Iraq war and the Republican agenda. Republicans have been trying to localize each race, as in Reichert's challenge from political newcomer Darcy Burner, and make the race about the qualifications and personalities of the candidates, not about a national agenda.

Gingrich says that's a mistake. Republicans, he says, should nationalize the contest, too. He said that yesterday he saw polling that gave him some optimism for the first time about this year's elections. He didn't say what state it was from, but it showed that Democratic incumbents' poll numbers crashed when tagged with the record of House Democrats.

He said that as Democrats make the elections about George Bush, Republicans should make it about House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. He said voters need to be told "how weirdly San Francisco these guys are voting" and Democrats will "collapse in defeat."

"The line I think every Republican should use is, 'X knows their record, they just hope you don't,' which is actually the line I used in my winning race in '78. I'm a historian. I don't do anything new. I just imitate. I guarantee you there are 60 or 70 Democrats, if their districts thoroughly understood their record, they'd lose this year even though people aren't happy with Bush. Because people aren't suicidal. ..."

"While people understand that while they may be irritated with Republicans, we at least broadly share their values and visions and the left is just out of touch with reality. I think then you have a totally different debate by October, if we have the nerve to do it. ... There's going to be a national conversation in October. The only question is whether it's the Republicans defining it or whether we have some nutty idea that we can run local races, and so the entire definition is on the left."

UPDATE: I tried to get a comment today from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee but no one ever got back to me. This evening, Kelly Steele, spokesman for the state party, did respond and sent this e-mail:

This is classic — that Gingrich's solution to Bush's failed leadership is a different "marketing strategy" shows the true extent to which Republicans cannot be trusted to win the war on terror. Democrats believe we need a "tough and smart" strategy that makes 2006 a year of transition in Iraq and aggressively takes the fight to the terrorists, while Gingrich and Bush seek to elect a new crop of loyal rubberstamps — McGavick, Reichert, and Roulstone included — to blindly support and extend their monopoly on their "tough and dumb" conduct of the war in Iraq and the larger battle against global terrorism.

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