Fundraiser, confidante and cheerleader for Newt

 

Newt Gingrich is the man Obama “will be befuddled by”, says his close friend Gay Gaines

THE FLOOR to ceiling windows of Gay Gaines’s beachfront property overlook the Atlantic Ocean. “We had a plane land on our beach yesterday. We were hoping it was carrying money for Newt,” jokes Gaines, who describes herself as Gingrich’s confidante, fundraiser and very close friend. When Gaines sent her housekeeper out to investigate, she learned the plane had merely run out of petrol.

Mitt Romney is outspending Gingrich five-to-one in Florida, according to Fox News, and the result is showing. In the run-up to tomorrow’s primary, a Reuters/Ipsos poll has Romney leading with 43 per cent to Gingrich’s 32 per cent. “Mitt Romney has spent millions here in attack ads against Newt,” Gaines said.

“I think it’s a shame that someone might win a primary because of negative advertising. . . It troubles me that negative advertising works, but it does.”

Gaines has known Gingrich since 1986 and succeeded him as chair of Republican training organisation Gopac. The advertisements that most enrage her focus on the three-year House ethics committee investigation of Gingrich in the late 1990s. “They say Newt was fined $300,000, which is not true,” she said. “It was not a fine. The government spent $300,000 to attack Newt. He paid the cost of the lawyers so there wouldn’t be any charges on the American people.”

Gaines (74) says “there is not a more fertile mind” than Gingrich’s. She appealed to him to stand for president at the 2011 annual Lincoln Day dinner, hosted by the Republican Party of Palm Beach. On Saturday night, she introduced Gingrich at the same dinner, calling him a “standard bearer, a great communicator” and comparing him to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill.

“The reason the establishment in Washington doesn’t want Newt – Republicans and Democrats alike – is they know he’ll shake it up,” Gaines says. “He’s the one who can stand up to Barack HusseinObama,” she said in her dinner speech, emphasising the president’s middle name. Newt was, she added, “the man Obama will be befuddled by”. When Gingrich and his supporters relive his triumphs as speaker of the House, they don’t mention the government shutdowns of the winter of 1995-1996, Gingrich’s attempts to impeach Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal, or the polarisation many trace back to his stewardship of Congress.

In 1992, Gaines recalls, Gingrich told her the Republicans could take back the House. “It was unheard of. When we won the House in 1994, there hadn’t been a Republican House for 40years. It was all his genius . . . He communicated to the American people ideas they just hadn’t heard before. He had a “Contract with America” printed in TV Guide. You could tear it out. One thing he promised was a balanced budget – and he delivered.”

The US is in peril, Gaines says. “I believe our country is marching towards socialism under Obama. Those of us who have travelled to socialist countries understand what it means. We don’t want that in America.” She cites “Obamacare’ – the 2010 healthcare reform Bill – as the leading example of “socialism”. “Unless you are in some way disabled, we expect people to take care of themselves,” she says.

Gaines lives with her husband, Stanley, a retired chief executive of an automotive company, on North Ocean Boulevard, two doors from the ultra-conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who’s a friend.

The Kennedy family property on the same street, once known as the “Winter White House”, was sold to a New York banker who holds Republican fundraisers there. Gaines jokes that Florida’s Atlantic seaboard is the “right coast” as opposed to the “left coast” in California which “we think of as very liberal and really off the charts”. The bitterness of the Gingrich-Romney battle has sown discord on the “right coast”. Anne Coulter, a leading pundit, publicly condemned Gingrich last week. “If you happen to be working very hard to have Newt Gingrich be president of the United Sates, it isn’t helpful,” Gaines notes with a dry little laugh.

Gaines knew Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, and thought her tell-all interview with ABC, broadcast two days before the South Carolina primary, was “crummy” and “nasty”. “Marianne would never come to Washington when her husband was speaker,” Gaines recalls. “We used to beg her: ‘Come to Washington. He needs you.’ She refused to be helpful.”