“This is great,” they later told Gingrich, according to an aide. “You get it!”
And with that, the former House speaker — whose campaign has seemed all but dead since his top advisers quit en masse three weeks ago — had won four new supporters.
For most presidential candidates, Alzheimer’s is a third- or fourth-tier subject, at best.
But as Gingrich sees it, Alzheimer’s, as well as other niche topics such as military families’ concerns and pharmaceutical issues,are priorities for passionate patches of the American electorate. By offering himself as a champion of pet causes, Gingrich believes he can sew together enough narrow constituencies to make a coalition — an unconventional one, yes, but a coalition nevertheless.
In this living-off-the-land phase, as he struggles to regain financing and his footing in the evolving 2012 field, Gingrich is trying to find his voice. More often than not, it’s on Fox News Channel, where he promotes his ideas big and small, hoping that something might catch on.
Gingrich’s public schedule last week included no campaign events but featured at least six media appearances: three on talk radio and three on Fox, the cable network where he has appeared on air some 800 times over the past decade as a paid analyst.
On Monday, Gingrich told Fox anchor Neil Cavuto that he is determined to reach “people who are interested in topics other than traditional politics.”
“I’m going to campaign on, how do we deal with Alzheimer’s, which really affects millions of Americans,” Gingrich said. “I want to campaign on issues such as, how do we fundamentally reform the Food and Drug Administration so we can create American jobs with the best new medicines?”
Gingrich’s friends and advisers said the challenge for a candidate who generates a potpourri of ideas is to figure out which ones will resonate.
“Newt has been seen for the better part of 20 years as somebody who can look at problems and come up with conservative solutions to those problems,” said Republican lobbyist Robert Walker, a longtime Gingrich confidant. “The issue that needs to be established is whether or not he’s able to translate those ideas into real action as president.”
Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.), a Gingrich endorser, said, “When you’re in the room with him, ideas come up so fast and furious that sometimes it’s a little difficult to grab them.”
One exception, Burgess said, is Alzheimer’s.
“The speaker gets that probably better than anybody else,” he said.
After Gingrich announced his candidacy in May, his first speech was to a convention of Alzheimer’s advocates. There, he warned that the disease could cost the government some $20 trillion over the next four decades. He told the industry group that Alzheimer’s research is “grotesquely underfunded,” and he pledged to invest more public money in finding a cure.