Occasionally, a book breaks all the rules of what makes a book
important, and it perhaps it should not surprise us when both
the subject and the author of the book break all the rules, too.
In order to tell my readers about this book, I have to break some
Let me explain. The book I am reviewing is by a good and old
friend. If I managed a large website with many co-writers, the
simple solution would be to assign the book to someone else.
I can’t do that so I will try to be as transparent as I can be, and
let the reader decide how to evaluate what I say.
I have known Newt Gingrich for more than three decades. When I
first met him he was a backbencher in Congress and a thorn in the
side of the then-Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Wright.
Newt and his “Conservative Opportunity Society” colleagues
formed a small band of constant critics of the then Democratic
majority with daily house floor speeches on camera, and
broadcast on C-SPAN. That camera, incidentally, was fixed and
did not reveal that Newt and his friends were, other than the chair,
often the only ones in the chamber. (It was a canny and pioneer
political use of early cable TV.)
From being political nuisances, Newt and his group rose in
prominence at the Capitol, culminating in his being elected
Republican minority whip in 1989, and then his becoming
speaker of the house following the upset Republican victory in
the “Contract With America” mid-term election of 1994 that
marked a new direction in U.S. politics.
I did not ever work for Newt, but we collaborated on projects and
co-wrote an article on presidential debates for Real Clear Politics.
We lived in different cities, but thanks to the internet and frequent
travel, we have remained in touch for more than 30 years.
I have had political disagreements with him, and he with me,
but I have made no secret about my admiration for him as one
of the nation’s few original political minds (in either party),
and a rare political survivor. He demonstrated this again in
2011-12 by becoming a serious presidential candidate (even
briefly, the frontrunner) in that cycle, partly through his
formidable debate appearances and grasp of the issues.
He has often been controversial in both his public and private
life, but he has demonstrated the knack of being pertinent and
trenchant through all the recent U.S. political cycles. How many
other American political figures can this be said about?
He has written and co-written several books, including ones on
public policy, American history, and lately, two fictional spy
thrillers. I’ve read them all. Now he has written something quite
different. It’s title is self-explanatory --- Understanding Trump.
It’s based on Newt’s first-hand experience with the new president
before, during and after the 2016 presidential campaign turned
American politics upside down.
There have been, and will be, many books trying to explain
Donald Trump, but this one is so good, in my opinion, that I am
going to review it for my readers. As I said previously, readers
knowing my full disclosure, and my own decades of commentary
writing, can decide if my comments are accurate and useful, or not.
In Understanding Trump, Newt makes no secret that his
realization of who Donald Trump was, and why he succeeded
in 2016, took some time. Newt’s analysis is deferential, frequently
partisan, and in some ways, self-serving. It is also on occasion
critical of his subject, and almost always incisive.
One point I can personally testify to is that Newt figured out
Donald Trump’s success and skill well before most others. I was
a skeptic about the man who is now president during all of 2015
and in early 2016, but in several private conversations with Newt
in that period and later, he argued forcefully that Mr. Trump would
succeed and why he would win the election.
Underlying Understanding Trump is the premise that most of the
new president’s opponents, much of the media, and even many of
his supporters have little or no comprehension of the man, how he
thinks and acts, and of his extraordinary skills in the public arena.
I have no intention or desire here of trying to persuade those who
disagree with Donald Trump to change their minds about what he
is doing or stands for --- or even to like him. What I do want to
communicate is that this book gives all of us, supporters,
opponents or critics, and uncommitted observers, a useful and
original perspective of who Donald Trump really is, and his
historic role in American politics.
Understanding Trump is now reportedly the number one best seller
on the New York Times list (interestingly, replacing Al Franken’s
new book as number one).
For forty tumultuous years, Newt Gingrich has remained at the
cutting edge of American politics and public policy. Like his
subject in Understanding Trump, he remains controversial,
criticized, and underestimated, but now in his 70’s, he is still
amazingly at the center of it all.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.