Transcript: Tate, Gingrich on 'Fox News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'Fox News Sunday,' June 6, 2004. 

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Joining us here in the studio now to reflect on the life and presidency of Ronald Reagan are Sheila Tate, who served as press secretary to Nancy Reagan, and Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House, Fox News contributor and a disciple of Mr. Reagan.

And welcome to both of you.


WALLACE: Mr. Speaker, as a young college student back in the '60s, how did Ronald Reagan change your life?

FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE NEWT GINGRICH: Well, very decisively. I remember when I was in college watching his speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater at a time when the conservative movement clearly was going to get defeated by Lyndon Johnson. Suddenly there was this clarion call, this brilliant, articulate person. That was in October of '64.

And then three years later, as a graduate student, I watched him debate Bobby Kennedy on national television about foreign policy, being interviewed by, I think, eight international students; clearly set up for the anti-Vietnam left, clearly a tough audience. Reagan annihilated Kennedy. Kennedy said afterwards to Pierre Salinger, "Never put me on television with him again. It is impossible."

And here was the first time I had seen a totally pro-American explanation of what we had done in the world that was convincing, clear and a clarion call. And I would have to say, from that period on, I was a Reaganite.

WALLACE: As time went on, how do you think he changed the face of conservatism and the standing of conservatism in this country?

GINGRICH: Well, the key thing to remember is that Ronald Reagan was an FDR democrat. Reagan had grown up in majority. He understood FDR's use of optimism. He had a natural sense we could get things done, where most Republicans since the New Deal had been against getting things done. So we had been an angry part, a minority party.

Reagan taught us to be optimistic. He taught us to look to the future. He taught me cheerful persistence. I don't remember a major occasion of being with him at a level like this that he wasn't funny. And he consciously used humor to lighten things up, to build energy, to get people to be comfortable with each other. And I think that was a very different party from the kind of angry Republican Party we'd been before Reagan.

WALLACE: Sheila Tate, I'm sure there are so many memories. Are there one or two that you keep thinking back on in these hours since his death that tell us something about Reagan the man?

TATE: Oh, yes, a lot of them. A lot's been made of how he never lost touch with the average American. And I saw that one time when I went upstairs in the White House to pick Nancy Reagan up for an interview or something, and she was running late, and he just stood there talking to me. And he said, "God, I just met the most amazing woman." And I said, who? And he said, "Well, it's this Dutch woman. She was just reunited with the woman that she hid during the war from the Nazis." And he went on about this woman.

And I remember standing there thinking how reassuring it was that a president of the United States still had the capacity awed by an average citizen. I loved that, and that's truly the way he was.

WALLACE: For such a public man, for someone who was so comfortable on the world stage, I often had the sense that he was, in reality, quite a private man and someone who kept people at some distance.

TATE: There was a dignity about him and a little shyness. But...

WALLACE: People would be surprised to hear you say shyness.

TATE: I think there was. He always hesitated in private before he jumped into a conversation.

I don't know if you remember, but he and Nancy Reagan seldom did interviews together, and one of the reasons was this innate respect they had for each other; they never wanted to step on each other. And so they found it very uncomfortable to do that. They much preferred to do them separately. And it was tied to, really, that respect and concern that they had for each other. And, I mean, I saw that in him every day that I had been around him.

One time my phone rang, and of course you know that Nancy Reagan was very accessible to me, and I could probably talk to her eight or 10 times a day, but I didn't talk to the president on a daily basis.

And one day my phone rang: "Sheila?" And my heart stopped, and I thought, oh God, what did I do?


And he said — I said, "Yes, Mr. President?" And he said, "Mommy wants to talk to you."

WALLACE: He did call her mommy.

TATE: Yes. And she got on the phone; I said, oh, how come he called me, and she said, well, the phone was next to him. And, I mean, that's the kind of relationship they had.

WALLACE: I know that you've been involved in planning the events for the funeral. How involved were the president and Mrs. Reagan in choreographing what we will see unfold over the course of the next week?

TATE: Every president and first lady have the obligation to put a plan together. And this plan has been developing over the years. They were both involved. And I think that will become clear as the week unfolds.

WALLACE: Is there a particular touch that we're going to see in this week that that was Reagan or that was Nancy Reagan?

TATE: Yes, but I think I'm going to wait to talk about that later. There's too much in flux right now, you know? No one thought to think about things like the G-8 summit happening at the same time. So a lot is changing. And I think they're going to try to have a schedule out later today, but until then, it's going to be hard to be too specific.

WALLACE: Finally, Mr. Speaker, as a former history professor, where do you think Ronald Reagan ranks among our presidents? A hundred years from now, what will people remember about him?

GINGRICH: Well, he's the second most effective president in the 20th century after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and those two are giants. And then you have lots of other people who did good jobs, but those two changed history. That puts him in a league with Lincoln and Jackson and Washington. That's a very small league.

And my own estimation of him has grown, as you realize that both his impact in defeating the Soviet empire, which changed history for the entire planet, and his impact on changing America — the two great things were liberating the economy by cutting taxes and cutting regulations, and rebuilding our sense of being American. Reagan felt one of his major missions was to overcome the malaise of the '70s and the anti-Vietnam War sentiment and remind us that this is a unique country of unique people who've been endowed by God with an opportunity to pursue happiness.

And those are enormous achievements. I can't think of anybody else in the 20th century except FDR who changed decisively the trajectory of this country and the trajectory of the entire human race. It's a very small league.

WALLACE: Sheila Tate, Newt Gingrich, thank you both so much for coming in today and helping us understand this remarkable man.

TATE: You're welcome.

WALLACE: We appreciate it.