The Perils and Promise of Newt Gingrich’s Candidacy
Newt Gingrich is now clearly the front-runner in the race for the GOP nomination. I’m trying to wrap my head around this dizzying fact because, well, frankly, I share a lot of the concerns that are now being expressed about his record as a leader.
Newt Gingrich is in his own mind an historical world figure on a par with Lincoln or Thatcher, and he has no hesitation about telling you so. This has had its obvious downsides. (As a friend said, “I fear Newt Gingrich may be the one guy who can re-elect President Obama.”)
On the up side, it makes Newt Gingrich unusually open to the Big New Idea.
Let me bracket the perils for the moment and tease out the promise of Gingrich’s candidacy by focusing on one big new idea for which he has become the nation’s leading spokesman.
Over Labor Day, I watched Princeton professor Robert George question Newt Gingrich on abortion at the American Principles Project’s Palmetto Freedom Forum, one of the first of the now many presidential debates. (Full disclosure: Professor George helped to found the National Organization for Marriage, and I am a consultant at APP, which is why I was there watching.)
Does Congress have the power, under the 14th Amendment, to outlaw abortion? That’s the core question, and it’s radical in the sense that it goes to the root of the matter.
It’s the 14th Amendment that guarantees that no person in the United States will be deprived of “life, liberty or property” without due process of law and guarantees the “equal protection of the laws” to ALL persons. Section 5 of the 14th Amendment clearly gives Congress the authority to legislate for the nation to enforce that guarantee.
It is not a stretch to say, therefore, that Congress has not only the right but the responsibility to make sure that no state deprives any person of life without due process of law — something all states now do, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, which actually used the 14th Amendment as part of the basis in Roe v. Wade for imposing a unilateral pro-abortion policy on all 50 states.
At the APP Palmetto Freedom Forum, Gingrich was the only one of the presidential candidates who grasped the innovative nature of George’s question and said, “Yes.”
Since then, Gingrich, on a roll, has repeatedly cited the 14th Amendment as an authority upon which to enact legislation protecting all persons from the moment of conception.
During the Thanksgiving Family Forum in Iowa last month, Gingrich said he would support a national “personhood” bill:
“I’m intrigued with something which Robby George of Princeton has come up with, which is an interpretation of the 14th Amendment in which it says that Congress will define personhood, which is very clearly in the 14th Amendment. Part of what I would like to explore is whether or not you could get Congress to pass a law which simply says, ‘Personhood begins at conception.’ And therefore — and you could in the same law block the court and just say, ‘This law would not be subject to review,’ which we have precedent for. You would therefore not have to have a constitutional amendment — Congress would have exercised its authority under the 14th Amendment to define life and to therefore undo Roe v. Wade for the entire country in one legislative action.”
Back in September, some critics saw George’s innovative question as riding a hobbyhorse. But if so, has the Princeton intellectual now gotten the leading candidate for the GOP nomination to ride it with him — perhaps all the way to the White House?
Down in Mississippi, pro-life activists may be mourning the loss of the personhood amendment on the state ballot. Meanwhile, the man who may be our next president has championed using the U.S. Constitution to achieve the same end.
The times, they are a-changing.