It's time for the Republican Party to take a serious look at itself, Newt Gingrich says.
After the result of last week's election shocked many GOP leaders, including him, it's time for the party to admit that what it's doing now isn't working, he told a packed house at the Kansas University Dole Institute of Politics on Wednesday.
"The fact is I thought we would win. I said so publicly. I thought we would win decisively," said Gingrich, the Speaker of the U.S. House from 1995 to 1999.
He spoke in front of a crowd that Dole Institute officials estimated at more than 500, which spilled into an overflow room where an audience watched on a video screen.
Though Gingrich ran against Mitt Romney and others for this year's Republican presidential nomination, he said during a conversation with Dole Institute Director Bill Lacy that the reason the party lost the presidential race as well as two Senate seats wasn't because of Romney, but because of deeper structural problems with the party.
"The gap was so big between what we thought would happen and what happened that I think it requires the Republican party to stop, do really serious analysis and really think deeply about where we find ourselves," Gingrich said.
Getting the party to rebound will require careful study of why it fell short, especially among certain groups such as young people and Hispanics. Of particular concern, he said, was that the GOP has now lost five of the last six presidential popular votes (Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, though he lost the presidency).
"We're a little bit like an athletic team that is a generation out of sequence in recruiting, training, strategy, practice," Gingrich said, "and it all shows on the floor."
On Tuesday night, Gingrich was a guest on "The Colbert Report." He said that he was one of few Republicans willing to go on that show or Comedy Central's other news-comedy program, "The Daily Show," which serve as a crucial source of news for many people under 30.
That, he said, served as one example of how the party had become disconnected from young people.
During a Q-and-A session with the audience later, Gingrich did say he believed young people would turn more toward the Republican viewpoint if the economy remains sluggish for a few more years.
"I have a hunch that an unemployed college graduate might be dramatically more conservative than a college student on a student-loan program," Gingrich said.
He also said it would be important for Republicans to recognize the hurdles they face, which he said include left-leaning university faculty who influence many young people and news media with a liberal bias.
"It's like playing a game in which the referees actually come from the other team," Gingrich said.
He said he thought it looked as though it could be tough for House Republicans to cooperate with President Barack Obama during his second term, if his repeated desire to raise taxes on the rich is any indication. As for the impending "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and funding cuts set to go into effect if a tax deal isn't reached by January, he said he believed a deal would get done, though it could be ugly.
"We'll muddle through it," Gingrich said. "It'll be inelegant, stupid, sloppy, kind of mildly embarrassing. You won't want to show young children."
Gingrich and co-author Bill Forstchen also spoke about their new novel, "Victory at Yorktown," their third book in a series of historical novels about George Washington in the Revolutionary War. A book signing took place afterward.
Gingrich said discouraged Republicans could take to heart that things could never look as dark as they did for Washington's forces in the war.
"You want hard? Try marching nine miles in the snow with no boots," Gingrich said. "You want desperation? Cross the Delaware River overnight in a snowstorm and the ice, and have as your password "victory or death" and literally mean victory or death."
Lawrence retiree Tom Brown, a registered Republican, said he enjoyed hearing Gingrich speak, and he agreed with his assessment of the GOP.
"They've got to regroup, and they've got to rethink," Brown said. "They've got to approach these young people."
KU sophomore Zach Altschuler, who said he leaned more to the liberal side of the political spectrum, said he, too, agreed with Gingrich's assessment.
"He recognized that there needs to be a fundamental shift in the Republican Party," Altschuler said.