Newt Gingrich filled the house in Johnson Chapel.

By Emily Gold Boutilier

[Politics] Not long ago, the Amherst College Republicans had a membership of zero. Then one student set out to change that. A year and a half later, the club has a roster of 40 and is basking in the success of its latest and most significant event: a Johnson Chapel appearance by Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich—speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999 and a candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination—spoke to a crowded chapel in early December. He covered topics ranging from technology to health care to government spending.

Newt Gingrich speaking in Johnson Chapel

Gingrich sported a purple tie for his Amherst talk. He later described Robert Lucido ’15 as “remarkably entrepreneurial.” Photo by Chloe McKenzie ’14

The lecture traced its roots to the second 2012 presidential debate, when Robert Lucido ’15 attended an on-campus viewing and found himself the “lone conservative voice in the room.” Then a liberal faculty member, Thomas Dumm, gave him an idea.

“Robert lamented there not being any organization for student conservatives, and I suggested he might want to take the initiative to restart the dormant Young Republicans,” says Dumm, the William H. Hastie ’25 Professor of Political Science. “There should be lively discussion on our campus, and without voices from the right to serve as a foil to our more dominant, and sometimes thoughtless because unchallenged, progressive students, that discussion won’t happen.”

Last year the group marked its revival by holding an event that featured former U.S. Rep. Scott Brown and others. This fall Lucido wanted to think even bigger, so he connected with the conservative Young America’s Foundation, which helped to book the Gingrich lecture and subsidize the speaker’s fee. Additional funding came from President Biddy Martin’s office and the Amherst Association of Students, as well as from outside donors and Republican student groups at UMass and Smith.

Lucido and his fellow Republicans worked hard to publicize the Gingrich talk, making a video, creating a Facebook page and running a contest that invited people to submit questions for the speaker via email. The club selected a winning question, and its author, Paul Tyler ’14, got to meet Gingrich and his wife, Callista, and sit in the front row.  (Tyler’s question was about employers who “cut their labor costs by encouraging their employees to seek assistance from the federal government.”)

Lucido’s efforts drew notice from Gingrich himself. In a blog post after the visit, the politician described Lucido as “remarkably entrepreneurial” and noted that the young man’s 21st birthday was the same day as the speech.

Gingrich also put in a plug for the college’s Beneski Museum of Natural History. “The museum,” he wrote, “has a very nice triceratops and Callista got a funny picture of me holding my hand inside the dinosaur’s mouth.”