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'Atlantic' Magazine Publishes Its Latest Profile Of Newt Gingrich


Newt Gingrich will tell you he saw something in Donald Trump early on that made him believe Trump could win the presidency, and that something Gingrich saw has a lot to do with how he sees himself. The former speaker of the House made a name for himself by breaking a lot of political norms and refusing to compromise with the other side, much like President Trump. The Atlantic magazine's McKay Coppins spent some time with Newt Gingrich recently for a profile he did. It is called, "Newt Gingrich Says You're Welcome." McKay Coppins is in our studio this morning. Thanks for coming in.

MCKAY COPPINS: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So you went to spend some time with Newt Gingrich, and he suggested that you do so at the Philadelphia Zoo.

COPPINS: (Laughter). That's right.

MARTIN: How come?

COPPINS: Well, he is a famous animal lover. He's, you know, donated to zoos around the world. He loves animals. But I think also what became clear to me as I got there is that he sees animals as useful metaphors for him. So as we were kind of touring the zoo, he was, you know, pointing at the lions and saying, you know, this is what the lions teach us about gender politics, and this is what crocodiles teach us about the way that we should pursue change.

What was most interesting to me, though, at one point, he was talking about chimpanzees and kind of how vicious they are or how aggressive they are. And, you know, I said - I didn't really know what to say so I said, you know, there's the viciousness of the animal world. And he kind of cut me off and was very stern and said, it's not vicious. It's natural.

MARTIN: Right.

COPPINS: And I think that he draws those parallels with how he views politics and how he views human affairs in general.

MARTIN: And he likens himself to other conservative leaders. He basically described to you four waves of contemporary conservative politics. Barry Goldwater responsible for one of them, Ronald Reagan, Gingrich himself, and now President Trump. Does he see each of these waves as connected to the previous?

COPPINS: Well, he does. But what's interesting is that when you press him on that, you know, why, how are all of these connected? Because you could make a case that philosophically they're all quite different. What he said to me was, you know, basically, they're all anti-liberal, (laughter), which I think actually illustrates a broader point about the politics that Gingrich helped create, which is it's tribal in nature, partisan in nature and driven especially by negative partisanship. It's about a desire to beat the other team more than it is accomplish some unified goal.

MARTIN: It is a zero-sum.

COPPINS: Totally.

MARTIN: It's us versus them. President Trump was on "60 Minutes" last night talking about what a nasty place Washington, D.C., is - the backstabbing, the duplicity. And almost in the same breath he said, I feel very comfortable here.

COPPINS: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Was Gingrich as comfortable swimming in the swamp?

COPPINS: He was. I mean, in a lot of ways he created the swamp that Trump now says he's trying to drain. Right? And, you know, I think that this is actually one of the things that Gingrich likes most about Trump. When you try to get him to talk about Trumpism or the brand of conservatism that the president stands for, what he talks about most is the personality and the larger-than-life style and how cutthroat he can be. That's what Gingrich likes about Trump, and I think that says a lot about his worldview.

MARTIN: To what end, though? I mean, whereas Democrats abhor the idea of what Trump has wrought in terms of our political discourse - the erosion of norms, undermining of institutions - does Gingrich see all this as a long-awaited political breakthrough?

COPPINS: You know, totally. I think that in the big scheme of things, he actually likes that our politics has gotten more tribal and more vicious and has kind of shed a lot of these civilizing traits. He thinks that it should be two teams, you know, duking it out. And that's how he sees the world, and he's happy that it's gotten to where it is.

MARTIN: McKay Coppins of The Atlantic magazine. His new profile of Newt Gingrich appears in this issue. It is called, "Newt Gingrich Says You're Welcome." McKay Coppins, thanks so much for coming in.

COPPINS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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