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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Establishing Facts

New radio ads boosting Newt Gingrich urge conservatives to reject the GOP “establishment” that nominated Bob Dole and John McCain. But in 1996, Gingrich announced that he had voted for Dole over Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan in Georgia’s Republican primary. And in 2008, he made statements supportive of McCain’s candidacy while Mike Huckabee was still vying for the Republican nomination.

The five ads from pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future (which you can listen to here) are running in three states — Arizona, North Carolina and Ohio — as well as nationally on the programs of conservative talk radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Winning Our Future bought $850,000 in radio air time. The article said Rick Tyler, who helps run the group, called that a low estimate. But regardless of the exact figure, the article concludes the radio blitz “indicates the PAC lacks the funds to buy TV spots.” That should change soon. On Feb. 17, CBS News reported that Winning Our Future was about to get another $10 million from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Although the scripts vary, the theme running through the ads is a call for the “conservative majority” to reject the moderate candidate (read: Mitt Romney) pushed by the “establishment.”

For example, one of the ads states:

Winning Our Future, Time to Choose ad: In the battle for the Republican nomination, who gets to choose, the establishment minority or the conservative majority? The establishment wants us to hold our noses and vote for their moderate candidate. We’ve been down this road before.

They gave us Bob Dole (followed by a car crash sound effect).

They gave us John McCain (another car crash sound effect).

It’s time to choose between the establishment’s candidate and ours.

Gingrich toyed with a presidential run in 2008, but he eventually got behind McCain’s campaign. In early February, with McCain far outpacing Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul in the polls in the Republican race, Gingrich signaled his approval of McCain’s presidential bid, albeit tepidly.

Speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Gingrich argued, as CNN put it at the time, that “political victory was more important than ideological purity.”

Gingrich, Feb. 9, 2008: As a citizen, I would rather have a President McCain that we fight with 20 percent of the time than a President Clinton or a President Obama who we fight with 90 percent of the time.

Huckabee, viewed as a conservative alternative to the more moderate McCain, dropped out of the Republican race a month later.

And in 1996, when Gingrich was serving as speaker of the House, he let it be known that he voted by absentee ballot for Dole in the Georgia Republican primary. Still in the race at the time were Steve Forbes, Lamar Alexander and Pat Buchanan, who served as White House communications director for Ronald Reagan.

Gingrich did not formally endorse any of the Republican candidates, but he released this statement on March, 5, 1996: “Bob Dole is a close personal friend and great leader. Together we passed the balanced budget, tax cuts and welfare reform, which when he is president will all be signed into law. And, I did vote for him this morning.”

Was that “establishment” support for Dole at the time? Consider this segment from ABC News’ John Cochran on March 4:

John Cochran: Dole is still counting on the Republican establishment to push him through this month’s primaries. The best-known member of the House cast his absentee ballot. And even though he at first refused to say how he voted, Dole had no doubts about Newt Gingrich and his support.

Dole: And I want to thank him, too, for voting absentee for Bob Dole this morning. I appreciate that very much.

Cochran: Gingrich was asked whether his vote amounted to an endorsement.

Gingrich: I voted for him. I’ll let you interpret that.

Both Dole and McCain have endorsed Romney.

— Robert Farley