In 1995, Newt Gingrich completed his rise from backbencher to House speaker, leading the first Republican House majority in 40 years. Four years later, GOP colleagues, dissatisfied with his leadership, drove him from the post. Now he is pushing an "American solutions" movement and pondering a presidential run. Gingrich and his daughter, columnist Jackie Gingrich Cush man, have written 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours, which includes thoughts on life from a variety of public figures, from Whoopi Goldberg to Bill O'Reilly to Bill Clinton. Gingrich originally conceived the book for children, he said, but found it pertains to everyone. He chatted with U.S. News recently about his rules for living and how they can be applied to the two political parties. Excerpts:
Your first principle is to dream big. What's your big dream?
Me, personally? Well, my big personal dream is to go live on Maui and golf five days a week. My big citizen dream is that we can create an American solutions movement that affects public policy [by] 513,000 elected officials across the country and that we can create a health transformation that will make us a healthier nation. I think those are reasonably big dreams.
How did the book come about?
For years, Jackie had heard me talk about these principles. I developed them originally as a member of Congress going out to see seventh and eighth graders, and I realized that these are young kids and their total interest in how you ran a conference committee or how you wrote a bill was fairly de minimis, but their interest in what would happen in real life and what were the principles of their own life was pretty intense. So I began to figure out what . . . had worked in my life and what had I observed in others. And I came up with those five principles.
I was interested to see the range of people you got to contribute to the book. Were you surprised at anything they said?
I was delighted that so many different people from so many different backgrounds were willing to participate. They tended to like the topic and think it was a pretty neat idea. Probably the most touching one was Gen. [David] Petraeus's description of his father coming from Holland [as an immigrant] in World War II and the impact it had on his life. It gave you a better sense of where his sense of duty and patriotism came from.
Which of the five principles do you think your Republican colleagues should pay attention to right now?
Dream big. The principles to the future of the Republican Party are very simple. One, pay attention to what the country needs, and the country will take care of the party. Don't waste your time trying to pay attention to what the party needs. Two, focus on solutions, not opposition. And solutions is a very high standard because it has to actually work. And three, drop outreach, and instead have inclusion so that you bring people into the room with you designing the solutions so that together you're working for a better country. If the Republicans would do those three things—if they would understand those three—then they'd have the dream big part down and then they could shift to the work hard part, and they would rapidly begin to implement it.
What about the Democrats? Is there one principle to which they should pay particular attention?
Learn every day. The great challenge they have is that the world may be significantly different than their ideology. They need to be very cautious that they not run down the road so rapidly that they find themselves out on a limb which breaks.
Did you bring a copy of the book to the president when you saw him recently?
No. Actually, I should have. We're going to send copies over for the two daughters, so I think that'll be fun.
What will surprise readers?
The people who have read it so far have been surprised that actually at any age these are pretty good principles. We wrote it originally for seventh and eighth graders. But I'm having an amazing number of people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s saying to me that given this economy and given what's happened to this country, we're interested in five principles for a successful life. It seems to have a much broader appeal than I would have guessed.
Explain the other principles.
It starts with dream big because that starts everything, and if you don't dream big, you don't even know why you're getting up in the morning. But I put in the work hard section because one of the lessons that I learned in my 20s from a number of very successful people—different kinds of success, from a ballerina to a surgeon to people who found companies—is that you really do have to work hard, that there's actually no substitute for hard work. And part of the great challenge of the last 30 years is that we've gotten into this cycle of people who feel entitled, and the world doesn't work that way. But I also discovered over the years that just sheer work without learning—you can repeat the same mistake every morning, and you won't get very far. The next phase after that is to recognize that beyond that, you have to enjoy life. If you don't get a real sense of satisfaction out of what you're doing, you cannot force yourself to do it long enough to be good. [The final principle is "be true to yourself."] Ultimately, after you've done all that—when you've had big dreams and worked hard and learned every day and enjoyed life—you have to make lots of decisions in life in which in the end you are accountable to you. And of course, through you, you're accountable to God. So you've got to have a sense of who are you really, what do you stand for, what do you value?
How much did you enjoy being able to write a book with your daughter?
It's fun to watch your own children grow up. I both get satisfaction of doing it with her and I get a great sense of joy at watching her be happy doing something she really wanted to do.