There was no red meat; no talk about Obamacare; no brandishing of the Constitution; no pledge to stand firm on taxes; no discussion of debt ceilings, gay marriage, abortion or lightbulbs.
In short, Newt Gingrich didn’t sound much like a GOP presidential candidate Friday. And even he seemed to concede that.
“I want to be a citizen this summer who helps this country get back to work,” Gingrich told a healthy-sized crowd at the Iowa State Fair. “There will be plenty of time to run for president later.”
Of all the Republicans in the crowded field who began the long march to 2012 this year, few would have tapped Gingrich, the man who shuttered the federal government, the former House speaker who has tossed rhetorical grenades with the best of them, as the one who would emerge as a champion of political compromise. But that’s what he did in Thursday night’s debate in Ames—and that’s the point he continued to hammer home at the fair.
Referring to his time in Congress in the 1980s during the Reagan administration, Gingrich spoke about working hand-in-hand with Democrats. “We fought, but we fought with the idea of making things work.”
To that end, he was critical of the current Congress, tasked with finding ways to slice the deficit. “If all they’re going to do is come back and fight each other, they should stay home,” he said.
And though certainly, he never planned it that way, Gingrich’s remarks were similar to those of the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who spoke at the fair directly before the former House speaker.
“We need to come together and compromise,” Wasserman Schultz said. Voters, she said, “want us to come together and work together. We need a little unity in America right now.”
There was precious little of that unity, however, while she spoke, as she was heckled by conservatives who yelled “We don’t want any socialism!” and by leftists who accused Democrats of caving in on the debt ceiling deal.
Gingrich, on the other hand, seemed to have little interest in fighting—and appeared intent to use his flagging presidential effort as he has said he would, to advance his ideas. Under the hot August sun, he discussed his plans for reforming the legislative process, making government more efficient, for trimming defense spending, for ethanol.
The crowd was polite and respectful—even as the background chatter turned to Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, both expected to visit the fair later Friday.
Near the end of his talk, he was more explicit. about his political future. “This isn’t about what I would do in 2013 if I was president.” Indeed, nobody in the crowd, including Gingrich, appeared to think that to be likely.