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Trump And Gingrich Disagree On That Whole Swamp-Draining Thing

Kevin Hagen
Getty Images

Donald Trump, it seems, has been listening to NPR.

On Wednesday's Morning Edition, NPR's Rachel Martin spoke with former House speaker and Trump adviser Newt Gingrich on a wide range of topics concerning the president-elect's transition to the White House.

Among them was Trump's promise to "drain the swamp." The phrase became a popular chant at his campaign rallies, shorthand for "out with the corrupt Washington insiders; in with the new." Apparently, though, Gingrich interpreted this rhetoric more as a gimmicky catchphrase than as a literal promise. Here's what he told Martin during the NPR interview, referring to Trump:

"I'm told he now just disclaims that. He now says it was cute, but he doesn't want to use it anymore. ... I'd written what I thought was a very cute tweet about 'the alligators are complaining,' and somebody wrote back and said they were tired of hearing this stuff. ...

"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. I personally ... as a sense of humor, like the alligator and swamp language. ... I think it vividly illustrates the problem, because all the people in this city who are the alligators are going to hate the swamp being drained. And there's going to be constant fighting over it. But, you know, he is my leader and if he decides to drop the swamp and the alligator, I will drop the swamp and the alligator."

Trump, though, apparently disagreed with Gingrich's interpretation of events. The president-elect took to his favorite medium to set the record straight, tweeting Thursday morning that "Someone incorrectly stated that the phrase 'DRAIN THE SWAMP' was no longer being used by me. Actually, we will always be trying to DTS."

The "someone" Trump was referring to is not exactly subtle, and about 20 minutes later, Gingrich walked his statement back with a tweet and video statement.

"I want to report that I made a big boo-boo," Gingrich said in the video. "I talked this morning with President-elect Donald Trump, and he reminded me he likes draining the swamp."

"Draining the swamp is in," he added, addressing his viewers directly. "And you're going to get to be part of it."

Perhaps Gingrich's reluctance to accept the reportedly impending swamp-draining stems from the fact that having served in Congress for 20 years, he is pretty much the textbook definition of one of those "alligators" that Trump is hoping to oust.

Gingrich's confusion over the swamp debate is understandable: Trump himself has said that he doesn't even like the phrase.

"I didn't like the expression 'Drain the swamp in Washington,' " Trump said at an October rally in North Carolina. But when he tried it out on the campaign trail, he said, "the place went crazy" and the chant is now "trending all over the world."

And with a Cabinet that includes several billionaires and longtime Washington players, Trump's actions aren't matching up with his rhetoric.

Regardless, it seems the president-elect is sticking with the slogan for the time being. If this latest Twitter kerfuffle is an indicator of anything, it's that even some of Trump's closest allies, like Gingrich, aren't sure of what Trump plans to do once he's in the White House.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Meg Anderson is an assistant producer on NPR's investigations team. She helps shape the team's groundbreaking work for radio, digital and social platforms. She served as a producer on the Peabody Award-winning series Lost Mothers, which investigated the high rate of maternal mortality in the United States. She also contributes her own original reporting to the team, including the series Heat and Health in American Cities, which investigated the link between heat, health and poverty in cities across the country. That series won the National Press Foundation Innovative Storytelling Award and an honorable mention for the Philip Meyer Journalism Award. She also completed a fellowship as a local reporter for WAMU, the public radio station for Washington, D.C. Before joining the investigations team, she was an integral part of NPR's 2016 election team and also had brief stints on NPR's Morning Edition and the Education desk. Her roots are in the Midwest, where she graduated with a Master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.
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