Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich spoke to hundreds at Cornell on Wednesday evening in Call Auditorium, where he attempted to explain Donald Trump’s rise, expressed surprise at the non-combative audience and called the president’s hands “huge.”
Hosted by Cornell University College Republicans, the former representative from Georgia was widely expected to be heckled and disrupted by students as Rick Santorum was in November.
Cornell Police said there were no incidents at the lecture, which 600 attended, and the most testy exchange was when Gingrich, during a question and answer session, asked a questioner why she believed that Trump is not promoting women’s rights.
“Grab her by the pussy,” an audience member responded, referring to Trump’s comments to Billy Bush in 2005.
In response to a follow-up question about the “degrading comments [Trump] has made about women throughout his life,” Gingrich said the audience members’ description sounded “a lot like Bill Clinton.”
“The modern younger generation, you’re much more sensitive and … all the males in this room would never speak disrespectfully to women, but in older generations that happened,” he said. “I don’t know of any evidence of the Donald J. Trump who is president of the United States that he is anti-female.”
Gingrich’s lecture, sprinkled with plugs for his forthcoming book, Understanding Trump, focused on how Trump operates and what the former speaker said was a disconnect between “liberal elites” and Trump voters.
He referred to what author Charles Murray calls “super zip codes” — clusters of residents who rank in the top 5 percent for income and education.
“‘The Apprentice’ was a popular television [show],” Gingrich said, trying to explain the misunderstanding between rich, highly-educated Americans and others. “For four years, it was the No. 1 show, but it wasn’t on PBS, so if you lived in a super zip code, you had never seen it.”
The former speaker also explicitly disagreed with the Trump administration over research funding and spoke extensively about unfair prison sentences stemming from racist policies.
“I am totally opposed to their cuts to the NIH and the National Science Foundation,” he said, using an acronym for the National Institutes of Health.
Responding to a question, Gingrich said he was not concerned with private prison corporations but does advocate strongly for criminal justice reform.
“I would not agree with maintaining the current [mandatory sentences],” he said. “We made, I think, a major mistake in that we treated crack cocaine different than other cocaine, and that clearly had an unintended and dramatic effect on the black community.”
Describing Trump’s strategy during the Republican primaries and in the general election, Gingrich said Trump is like the grizzly bear in the The Revenant — a 2015 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio — and was able to dominate the media and use demeaning monikers to help defeat his opponents.
“Trump doesn’t attack you, he brands you,” Gingrich said. “His first victim is Jeb [Bush] because Jeb is the most dangerous, and Jeb becomes ‘low energy Jeb.’”
“This is a work of art,” the former speaker continued. “He’s not attacking Jeb, he’s just [saying], ‘he’s a low-energy guy. I feel kind of sad for him.’”
Gingrich, who served as the 50th speaker of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999, also weighed in on the debate over the size of Trump’s hands and edged near discussing the size of additional body parts.
“His hands are huge,” Gingrich said of Trump. “We’re not getting anywhere beyond that, but I can tell you, whatever you think, it’s all huge.”
While no one protested inside of the venue, a handful of protesters — some affiliated with Cornell’s Young Democratic Socialists chapter — bundled up in warm coats and held signs outside of the auditorium in opposition to Gingrich.
“Newt Gingrich’s policies and his statements … are not okay just because he’s an establishment Republican and not what some see as the far-right or the alt-right,” said YDS Co-chair Alanna Salwen ’19. “His policies of dismantling welfare have demonized the poor … and now he’s aiming to repeal the [Affordable Care Act].”
Another protester, Daniel Zimmerman ’18, said Gingrich “absolutely should be allowed to speak,” but that it was also important to protest the former speaker’s legislative decisions.
“Everybody has a First Amendment right to speak, but we also have the right to recognize that this man has done horrendously terrible things for our country and has put a lot of people’s welfare and health at risk,” Zimmerman said, adding that he was speaking for himself and not YDS.
At least a dozen Cornell Police officers monitored the event and said there were no incidents. Cornell paid for 90 percent of the security costs associated with the event in a shift from its previous policy of charging the hosting organization, The Sun previously reported.
Gingrich wrapped up his lecture by saying he had expected a rowdy crowd and was pleasantly surprised by Cornellians’ response to his lecture.
Cornell students were very open and interested during my talk tonight. Nearly 600 came to the YAF sponsored event. Great dialogue on issues.
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) March 23, 2017
“I came here tonight a little more concerned than usual and I cannot tell you how delighted I am with the attitude and the tone and the willingness to really talk about and share ideas,” he said.
“I am going to tweet about how great the students at Cornell are.”
Keeping his promise, Gingrich fired off two tweets late on Wednesday night, praising Cornell Republicans Chair Olivia Corn ’19 — whom author Ann Coulter ‘84 insulted on Twitter earlier in the week — and saying he had a “Great dialogue on issues” with Cornell students.
“Olivia Corn did a great job tonight as president of the Cornell College Republicans when i spoke at Cornell. She is very impressive,” he said, adding: “Cornell students were very open and interested during my talk tonight.”