Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is comparing his struggles to those of President Ronald Reagan so often it’s turning into a habit.
The former West Georgia College history professor said June 22, during a speech at the Atlanta Press Club, that on the day of the 1980 New Hampshire primary, "the top 13 people of Ronald Reagan’s staff quit." We ruled his claim Mostly True.
Gingrich recycled the historical tidbit that same day before a crowd near Baltimore and to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, both times in slightly different ways that hewed close to the truth.
But the Truth-O-Meter's dial began to spin when it got word of what Gingrich said June 27 on Fox News’ "Your World With Neil Cavuto."
Cavuto asked Gingrich how he will fight the perception his campaign is "rudderless" and assure voters that he can get his campaign on track.
"Well, first of all, by not being distracted, but focusing on substance and talking about the solutions we need as a country, and second by reminding people that Ronald Reagan had exactly the same challenges in 1980 -- John McCain had exactly the same challenges in 2007," Gingrich said.
Ronald Reagan had "exactly the same" challenges in 1980 as Newt Gingrich does?
We rated his earlier statement Mostly True because on balance, Gingrich’s claim squared with history. At about 2 p.m. Feb. 26, 1980, the day of the New Hampshire primary, Reagan met with campaign manager John Sears and two other top staffers in his hotel suite. Reagan and others blamed Sears for losing the Iowa caucuses.
Reagan handed Sears a news release that announced the campaign’s new manager was future Central Intelligence Agency head William Casey. It said Sears had resigned to return to his law practice.
Sears got the message and left, as did staffers loyal to him.
Gingrich’s memory wasn’t perfect. But yes, many of Reagan’s top aides left the campaign on the day of his blowout victory in New Hampshire.
Staffers left Gingrich’s campaign under very different circumstances.
News accounts said Gingrich’s high command rebelled after disagreements on the direction of the campaign. The Associated Press, which broke the story, described the dissent as a "rebellion."
On-the-record accounts indicate Gingrich did not orchestrate these departures as Reagan did in 1980. Staffers left of their own accord because they disagreed with the direction of the campaign.
The departures started May 31, when Will Rogers, Gingrich’s Iowa political director, resigned. Rogers told The Des Moines Register that he thought Gingrich wasn’t campaigning or fundraising hard enough. Gingrich’s departure for a luxury vacation in the Greek isles was the last straw.
Former staffers Rick Tyler, Gingrich’s longtime spokesman, and the campaign’s Iowa director Craig Schoenfield both told The Boston Globe after they left that they and others resigned after a series of meetings involving top-level campaign aides.
Schoenfeld told Politico that staffers couldn’t convince Gingrich to run a more labor-intensive campaign.
"To be successful in Iowa you need to be here [and] taking a look at the way the schedule was, he’s not scheduled to be here in June at all and he’s got very few appearances in July," Scoenfeld said. "You need to make sure that you give yourself a chance to be successful."
Tyler told the National Journal that staffers made up their minds to resign June 9, the day the news broke.
There are other glaring differences between the Gingrich and Reagan departures. Reagan switched staff during the primaries, as his campaign gained steam.
Gingrich’s staffers left at a low point, after embarrassments on Medicare policy, his vacation to the Greek Isles, and news he held massive credit accounts at the jeweler Tiffany’s. The primaries are still eight months away.
Reagan lined up replacements before he pushed out his old staffers. Ten days after Gingrich’s staff left en masse, The Des Moines Register reported that Gingrich had yet to replace his Iowa staff.
At the Atlanta Press club, Gingrich referenced Reagan campaign history to drive home the fairly vanilla point that "campaigns go up and down."
On Fox News, his point that he had "exactly the same" problems as Reagan in 1980 is outrageous self-flattery.
Reagan was on an upswing when his staffers left. Gingrich’s campaign is in a rut.
Reagan had replacements ready. Gingrich did not.
Reagan pushed out his staffers to run a more competitive campaign. Gingrich’s left him because they thought he wouldn’t do what it takes to win.
Gingrich started off in Atlanta with a statement about Reagan that was close to the truth, but as he repeated it, he embellished the facts so much that only a kernel of truth remained.
Gingrich might wish he had Reagan’s problems. But on this one he deserves a Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.