Donald Trump fired up campaign crowds with a promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington corruption. But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says the president-elect has soured on that populist rallying cry now that he has won the White House.
“I’m told he now just disclaims that. He now says it was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it anymore,” Gingrich, one of Trump’s most high-profile boosters, told NPR in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.
“I’d written what I thought was a very cute tweet about ‘the alligators are complaining’… and somebody [from Trump’s team] wrote back and said they were tired of hearing this stuff,” said the former lawmaker, whose conduct in the late 1990s earned him a historic bipartisan reprimand.
Trump himself had alluded to mixed feelings about the slogan during a Dec. 8 rally in Des Moines, Iowa, part of his triumphant postelection “Thank You” tour.
“Funny how that term caught on, isn’t it?” he said. “I hated it. Somebody said ‘drain the swamp.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s so hokey. That is so terrible.’ I said, ‘All right, I’ll try it.’ So, like, a month ago I said, ‘Drain the swamp.’ The place went crazy. I said, ‘Whoa, watch this.’ Then I said again. Then I started saying it like I meant it, right? And then I said it, I started loving it.”
Trump used the refrain throughout October, and has reprised it at every stop on his “Thank You” tour. His critics have taken to repurposing it to attack the president-elect’s choices of prominent bankers for his Cabinet, arguing that he is not draining the swamp so much as bringing in different alligators.
Gingrich told NPR that Trump was shedding some of his campaign language — including a prominent threat to jail Hillary Clinton — now that he has won.
“I’ve noticed on a couple of fronts, like people chanting ‘lock her up,’ that he’s in a different role now and maybe he feels that as president, as the next president of the United States, that he should be marginally more dignified than talking about alligators in swamps,” the former lawmaker said.
Gingrich said he himself was fond of the imagery, but “he is my leader and if he decides to drop the swamp and the alligator, I will drop the swamp and the alligator.”
While it’s closely associated with Trump, the phrase appears to have entered the 2016 presidential lexicon in October 2015 via a campaign commercial for Ben Carson.
But it has bipartisan pedigree. Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi promised in the run-up to the November 2006 midterms that she would “drain the swamp” if her party won.
Two decades earlier, then-President Ronald Reagan invoked the image in a Jan. 20, 1982, speech, promising to “drain the swamp of overtaxation, overregulation and runaway inflation that has dangerously eroded our free way of life.”
In those same remarks, Reagan warned supporters about the risk of contagion with “Potomac fever” and told them not to fall back into business as usual.
“Don’t let the Washington whirl or the Washington morass let you lose sight of why we came here and what it is that we’re all trying to do. I know it isn’t always easy,” Reagan said. “As the old saying goes, ‘When you’re up to your armpits in alligators, it’s sometimes hard to remember that your original intention was to drain the swamp.’”