Ready for his closeup: Newt Gingrich speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington DC. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
It comes as no surprise that arch conservative Newt Gingrich would love Downton Abbey, an enthralling Britsoap that revolves around the fate of a ruinously expensive historic pile in the English countryside, its aristocratic owners and struggling staff.
At an early morning news conference earlier this month, the flamboyant former Republican politician and presidential candidate told startled reporters that he was “slightly not awake” because he and third wife Callista were so, well, enthralled by the series that has captivated much of the Western world.
As a historian, Gingrich appreciates Downtown’s “elegant and educational” use of historical background, including, oddly, its portrayal of the breakdown of the old plutocracy and rise of the long-submerged underclass and social protection system that is so much a part of the post World War I era in Britain.
It’s odd because Gingrich’s terms in Congress – including as Republican House Speaker – focused on measures to shrink both the federal government and parts of the social security system that supported welfare mothers and children, while weakening laws to protect consumers from harmful products.
For those hungry for more of Newt’s fan-fessions, there’s Vanity Fair’s Q&A.
The DA character he most identifies with? (No surprise here) grand seigneur Lord Grantham, who is “constantly worried about the survival of a world he values,” but “reluctantly seeks to adjust to changes.” Appropriate for someone who lost the presidential nomination by a long-shot, and has had to live with a Democratic administration he loathes.
But unlike the financially clueless Lord G, Gingrich has a talent for making money. His companies have reportedly raked in some $55 million over a decade in consulting fees (nothing, he insists, to do with lobbying.)
The character he’d most like to share an eight-hour convertible ride with? The feisty and candid cook, Mrs. Patmore. But he admits that he’d also like “high tea with the Dowager Countess,” who would be a “far more interesting conversationalist.”
And his “dream cameo” role in Downton? David Lloyd George, Britain’s liberal prime minister from 1916-22, who made housing a social service, doubled pensions introduced national health insurance and rent controls and limited child labor. But wasn’t it Gingrich who suggested in the 2012 primaries that each unionized school janitor should be replaced by the labor of “30-some kids to work for the (same) price?”
In the words of Mrs. Patmore, “he’s got more to say than a parliamentary candidate.”
A Downton cameo? Well, maybe a non-speaking part
Olivia Ward has covered conflict, human rights and politics from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East, Europe, South Asia and the U.S. She has watched all three seasons of Downtown Abbey.