Has Newt Gingrich been on TV too long to get elected?

After 30 years in the public eye, Newt Gingrich has video-clip documentation of countless past opinions. Can he still present a fresh message to the American electorate?

Douglas Graham / Congressional Quarterly / Newscom / File
In this 1998 file photo, then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich sits with a Tyrannosaurus rex skull, on loan from the Smithsonian, in his office at the US Capitol.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was on “Meet the Press” Sunday and said a lot of things that have sparked media coverage of the visit.

For instance, he noted that he’s opposed to GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s big proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher-like program – “too big a jump,” in Mr. Gingrich’s view.

He sounded like he sort of favors the provision in President Obama’s health care reforms requiring people to have health insurance – the so-called “individual mandate,” which many other Republicans oppose.

And he delivered the type of big-think quote for which he is famous: “We are at a crossroads in our core values as a country – what does it mean to be an American?” he told host David Gregory.

But as to his future in the upcoming presidential primaries, the most important thing uttered on the program may have been a simple, two-digit number. In welcoming Gingrich at the top of the show, Mr. Gregory noted that it was the former House Speaker’s 35th appearance on “Meet the Press.”

And that is one of the ex-Georgia lawmaker’s biggest electoral problems. He’s been arguing on news shows for so long that he is hardly a fresh face. He was first elected to Congress in 1980 – six years before the Fox Network, and Fox News, even went on the air.

Will voters see him as the same old, same old? That has yet to be determined. But one thing is certain: there is lots of video of him saying lots of stuff over many years, and right now production assistants for every major news show are combing through that archive, looking for trouble. Trouble for Newt, that is.

Sunday’s “Meet the Press” episode was a good example of the style of interview Gingrich will face. Gregory ticked off a list of issues on which Gingrich has weighed in on the past, in manners which might be problematic today, and then put up clips of Gingrich saying those problematic things.

Given the current political environment in the Republican Party, Gingrich might wish that he could be a little vague on the individual mandate, for example. But when you’ve been opining for as long as he has, that’s not an option.

“Back in 1993, on this program, this is what you said about the individual mandate,” said Gregory, introducing a clip.

1993? Sarah Palin had just been elected to the Wasilla City Council in 1993. Isn’t there a statute of limitations for stuff you’ve said on Sunday talk shows? Five years, maybe.

Anyway, what Gingrich said 18 years ago: “I am for people ... having health insurance and being required to have health insurance, and I am prepared to vote for a voucher system, which will give individuals on a sliding scale a government subsidy so we ensure that everyone, as individuals, have health insurance.”

Doesn’t that sound like what the GOP today calls “ObamaCare”? It did to Gregory, and he pressed Gingrich to explain. Now, Gingrich had an explanation as to why he did not like a full federal system involved in this health care process, and how the individual mandate could be less onerous, but the point here is that he had to spend a few minutes of his TV face time explaining all this and defending his past position.

And he may need to do something similar during every major upcoming appearance. And when you’re running for president, you want to talk about the future, not the past.

For Newt Gingrich, that may be a difficult proposition.

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