A new Newt?

at 06:30 AM ET, 11/30/2011

Newt Gingrich isn’t the most likely candidate for a political transformation. He’s been in and out of elected office for more than three decades, building a reputation as a gifted but often undisciplined politician.


Republican presidential candidate and former House speaker Newt Gingrich takes part in the "First in the South Presidential Candidate Series" during a town hall meeting in Newberry, S.C., on Tuesday. REUTERS/Mary Ann Chastain
And yet, a look at Gingrich’s campaign over the past few weeks suggests that the former House speaker is working to correct the mistakes he made earlier in the presidential race, mistakes that led to the departure of almost his entire senior staff in June.

“Newt as a political strategist has no competitors,” said Rick Tyler, a former Gingrich confidante who left as part of the mass staff departures. “I think it was his former advisors, myself included, who have learned the lesson that Newt might actually know what he is doing.”

Criticized then for his alleged lack of willingness to travel to early primary states, Gingrich now has a schedule larded with stops in the states that will kick off the presidential vote in January.

This week alone, he is scheduled to two days in Florida, three in South Carolina and another two in Iowa.

Lambasted for wandering badly off message on a weekly — if not daily — basis, Gingrich has been remarkably disciplined of late.

Take his response to reports Tuesday that businessman Herman Cain was reassessing his candidacy. “I have no comment on Mr. Cain,” said Gingrich. “He has to do what he thinks is best.” Restrained — and smart — given that Gingrich is open to criticism due to his own acknowledged extramarital affair in the late 1990s.

“He’s been remarkably different, disciplined, and on-message,” said one senior party strategist who has closely followed Gingrich’s career. “There are a lot of people regretting not helping him sooner, and his bandwagon now runneth over.”

Several people who have known Gingrich for years insist his dedication to the campaign trail and message discipline are nothing new.

“His critics have accused him of a lack of discipline, but you don’t achieve what he accomplished in his speakership without focus and discipline,” said former Pennsylvania Rep. Robert Walker, who is supporting Gingrich.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, who is neutral in the presidential race, said that Gingrich was “rusty” at the start of the campaign due to the fact that he hadn’t been an active candidate in more than a decade. “What we are seeing now is not a new Newt; it is the old Newt re-emerging,” added Cole.

The challenge for Gingrich is whether he can keep up what looks like the turning of a political leaf.

While Walker — and other Gingrich allies — highlight the discipline that led Gingrich to the speakership, they tend to gloss over the fact that he was pushed out of leadership (and Congress) just four years after he took over.

Gingrich has shown a knack for reinventing himself in his past political lives. But he has always returned back to the old Newt — the brilliant but deeply flawed candidate who can’t manage to stay on top.

The 34 days left before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses will test whether Gingrich has really matured as a candidate or whether this is just the latest boom-and-bust episode in a political life that has been defined by them.

The latest on Cain: As his campaign looks to be on its last legs, Cain delivered a rather uneventful foreign policy speech Tuesday night in Michigan.

Meanwhile, Cain’s campaign, after giving several different responses to whether he was considering an exit early Tuesday, sent a fundraising e-mail late in the day saying the candidate is in it for the long haul.

“Let me assure you, I am not deterred,” Cain wrote, after referring directly to the allegations of a 13-year affair with a woman named Ginger White. “America’s future is too important. We will continue on this journey to make America great once again.”

On the campaign trail, Newt Gingrich notably offered Cain a little defense (the two have been buddy-buddy all campaign), but Jon Huntsman said it might be time for him to go, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was critical as well.

And ABC News is reporting that John Coale, a Sarah Palin confidante, lawyer and husband of Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren, is advising Cain.

Romney returns fire on Gingrich: Mitt Romney and Gingrich are officially engaged, with Romney meeting Gingrich’s Monday attacks with some of his own on Tuesday.

After Gingrich said he was more conservative than Romney and suggested Romney has switched positions for political expediency, Romney on Tuesday attacked Gingrich as a career politician who doesn’t understand the economy.

“He’s a lifelong politician,” Romney said, according to the Post’s Philip Rucker. “I think you have to have the credibility of understanding how the economy works. And I do. And that’s one reason I’m in this race.

“He spent his last 30 or 40 years in Washington,” Romney added. “I spent my career in the private sector. I think that’s what the country needs right now.”

Gingrich, for arguably the first time, appears to have drawn Romney out of his shell, a.k.a. the Mittness Protection Program.

We can’t wait for the next debate.

A Huntsman indy run?: In an interview with the Boston Globe’s Glen Johnson, Huntsman wouldn’t rule out the idea of running as an independent.

Asked if it was a possibility, Huntsman said, “I don’t think so.” Then, when it was suggested to him that that wasn’t a blanket denial, he again stopped short of totally ruling it out. “I’m a lifelong Republican. I’m running as a Republican, and I fully anticipate that that’s where we’re going to be.”

Now, none of this is to say he will do it or is actually thinking about it. But he was given two chances to rule it out completely, and he didn’t.

So is Huntsman the guy that third-party folks have been looking for?

For one, he’s got the personal money. For two, he’s got moderate appeal, including some positions to the left on social issues and the right on fiscal issues.

In fact, if he ran as an independent, the question would be which side he would get more votes from. Most polls of the GOP presidential contest have shown him in the low single digits, but the left has shown a certain affinity for him (at least when he’s standing next to more conservative Republicans).

Is it so wrong to think he might actually steal as many votes from President Obama as from Republicans?

Fixbits:

New Hampshire Union Leader editorial page editor Drew Cline says Rick Perry doesn’t even belong on the presidential stage.

Here’s the 60-second ad that will run in Iowa urging Palin to change her mind and run for president.

Pennsylvania state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R) might join the GOP primary to face Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

A mini-shakeup in the campaign of Jamie Radtke, a tea partier running a primary against former senator George Allen (R-Va.).

Rep. Joe Walsh’s (R-Ill.) office isn’t commenting on reports that he may run in the tougher 8th district rather than challenge Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) in a primary in the 14th.

Missouri congressional candidate Ed Martin (R) is considering switching to the state’s governor’s race. Martin has been badly outraised by former Republican National Committee co-chairwoman Ann Wagner in his current race, but would face wealthy businessman David Spence (R) in the gubernatorial primary.

Sen. Richard Lugar’s (R-Ind.) campaign confirms to The Fix that the candidate will be holding a fundraiser with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) on Monday. Lugar’s primary opponent, Richard Mourdock, is criticizing the move.

A Democratic state representative in North Carolina says he thinks Gov. Bev Perdue (D) will step aside and not seek reelection, after three people close to Perdue were indicted on campaign finance charges.

Must-reads:

Gingrich’s long history on national stage is an asset” — Amy Gardner, Washington Post

GOP hopeful Rick Santorum campaigns with a seriously ill daughter at home” — Melinda Henneberger, Washington Post

Obama Is Facing a Replay of ’08 Hurdles in ‘Hillary Country,’ Pa.” — Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times

Mitt Romney’s ‘Inevitable’ Strategy Wobbles As Newt Gingrich Rises” — Jon Ward, Huffington Post

Gingrich gave push to clients, not just ideas” — Mike McIntire and Jim Rutenberg, New York Times

 
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