A Carnegie Mellon professor and foreign policy expert has joined Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's team of national security advisers, key players in a campaign that has seen a notable surge in recent weeks.
Kiron Skinner, director of the university's Center for International Relations and Politics, will continue her full-time position teaching social and decision sciences but will be on call to advise the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Nov. 22 Republican presidential debate was Ms. Skinner's first major event with the team of 13 advisers Mr. Gingrich plucked from various political backgrounds. One of two women on the team, Ms. Skinner will work alongside former CIA director R. James Woolsey and Robert McFarlane, national security adviser to Ronald Reagan.
The longtime Gingrich supporter, who is also a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, said she isn't sure how her schedule will change as the campaign advances but will be available to Mr. Gingrich as needed.
"I'll be part of the echo chamber that helps support the ideas he's putting forth," she said.
Ms. Skinner said Mr. Gingrich was a supporter of her early research on President Reagan, which culminated in her 2002 book "Reagan in His Own Voice." The two began a friendship and a professional relationship through Ms. Skinner's work for the Defense Department's Defense Policy Board, where she served as an adviser from 2001 to 2007 on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Students in Ms. Skinner's "Decision Processes in American Political Institutions" class recently chatted via Skype with Mr. Gingrich, who encouraged them to get involved in politics and discussed what it's like be a presidential candidate, she said.
Mr. Gingrich's political acumen, interdisciplinary approach to issues such as the economy and national security, and positive campaigning make him an attractive candidate, Ms. Skinner said.
"I think he understands how to think across the issues," she said.
Candidates underscored the importance of national security at a debate last month. In addition to talking nuclear weapons and sanctions against Iran, Mr. Gingrich said illegal immigrants who have otherwise proved to be law-abiding, taxpaying residents should not be uprooted, making him vulnerable to attacks from more conservative counterparts.
Though she was not involved in the nuts and bolts of that debate, Ms. Skinner praised Mr. Gingrich for helping to set the tone for rational conversations about immigration.
A former teacher who holds a Ph.D. in history, Mr. Gingrich often peppers his remarks with historical references that awe his supporters and annoy his critics.
Ms. Skinner said they ought to be embraced.
"He's probably the best in the country at bringing historical knowledge into a discussion," she said. "My sense is that we should get used to that and that it is refreshing."
Missteps Mr. Gingrich experienced earlier this year -- including losing his campaign manager and top staff advisers in June, a month into his formal campaign -- haven't deterred Ms. Skinner.
"I've been a supporter of Speaker Gingrich for a long time because I've seen him in numerous and professional circumstances and have been extremely impressed with his command of complex and overlapping issues facing the country," she said.
In a Nov. 22 statement announcing his selections, Mr. Gingrich praised the team's "vast knowledge and experience."
"I have depended on the counsel of this world-class group of experts throughout my career, and I am honored that they have decided to be with me as we work to ensure that the United States remains the safest, strongest and freest country in the world," he said.
Even with this new, high-profile role in the campaign, she said she will remain in Pittsburgh as a "citizen scholar, contributing scholarly ideas to policy debates."
Correction/Clarification: (Published December 6, 2011) CMU professor Kiron Skinner, recently named to GOP presidential candidate and former House speaker Newt Gingrich's national security team, says she was misquoted in a story Monday about her appointment. She said her quote was: "I've been a supporter of Speaker Gingrich for a long time because I've seen him in numerous professional circumstances..." The published quote was "... numerous unprofessional circumstances ..."
Molly Born: email@example.com or 412-263-1944. First Published December 5, 2011 5:00 AM