The 50-year-old Marietta congressman is positioned this year to step into one of the Republican Party's most powerful positions, House minority leader. The picture that emerges from the three-hour interview is not complete. Gingrich held back more than he gave. Still, there was revelation and, at times, he seemed to dance on the edge of candidness. What Gingrich believes he is doing, quite literally, is saving America.
"People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz
," Newt Gingrich says, bringing the conversation to a ponderous silence as he finishes a bowl of strawberries and melons in a downtown Washington restaurant.
The remark is startling, even coming from Gingrich, a man known for hubris and hyperbole. But this seems to be more than the patented Gingrich political
bombshell, calculated to confuse and scatter the enemy. On this point, Gingrich appears absolutely serious.
"I see evil around me every day," he says. He cites the widespread slaughter from Bosnia to Washington D.C. The German tourist killed by what Gingrich calls "a savage" from the urban jungle of Miami.
"We are at the edge of losing this civilization," he says. "You get two more generations of what we had for the last 20 years
and we're in desperate trouble. . . .
"As long as I believe that's true, I'll keep trying to recruit another generation and train another generation so that when I'm too tired to keep doing this, they'll be ready to step in."
Like many of the larger-than-life figures this former history professor has studied and admired, Gingrich says his destiny is to save modern America.
"I don't want my country to collapse. I don't want my daughter and wife raped and killed. I don't want to see my neighborhood destroyed."
But don't other politicians, even Democrats, share these goals? Why don't other people see the same urgency? "They don't personalize it. I see Auschwitz and I see my children, my mother, my wife. These are real people; these are not abstractions."
Why does he believe it is his job to save America? "From the absence of an alternative. I am more afraid of a future in which I failed to try to do what I thought was my duty than I am of a future in which I tried to do it."