“This is actually the point where other people have faltered,” Gingrich said in an interview Wednesday.
The former House speaker is rising in the polls. But whether he will become an actual threat to Romney, or just another fleeting phenom, will depend largely on two things: Gingrich’s ability to keep in check the impulses that have been his undoing in the past, and how well he deals with the criticism and scrutiny that go with being a real contender.
“Newt has to remain uncommonly disciplined — totally focused, no hissy fits — and continue to be the adult that he has been during the election season so far,” said Ken Duberstein, a chief of staff in the Reagan White House and a friend of Gingrich’s for more than three decades.
Many of those who know Gingrich are doubtful he will be able to do that. “The worst in Newt comes out when he is doing well,” said a Republican former House colleague, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so he could be frank.
Gingrich allowed that self-control has not exactly been his strong suit in the past.
“That’s true,” said the man who once accused President Obama of having a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview. “Hopefully, I’m going to be more disciplined.”
But he insisted: “I’m much more relaxed and more mature than I was 12 years ago. . . . I have had 12 years to rest and to think and to run small businesses.”
One thing he will not do, Gingrich said, is go on the attack against Romney.
“I don’t need to try to get his votes,” he explained. “My campaign is going to focus on substance. My campaign is going to focus on very large proposals, the size of the challenges the country faces.”
Some of them, he added, will be controversial.
For instance, at a time when everyone else in his party is preaching government austerity, Gingrich proposes to spend billions on brain science research. Finding cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, he argues, is crucial to bringing Medicare spending under control as the population ages.
Gingrich’s candidacy was all but left for dead in June, after he stumbled out of the starting gate and saw most of his top advisers flee. But where another candidate might have skulked out of the race in humiliation, Gingrich retooled his operation and forged ahead, campaigning on a shoestring.
His performances in the debates have many Republicans reconsidering the Gingrich they thought they knew. On that stage, the attack dog of the 1980s and 1990s has evolved into an elder statesman, winning praise for his policy expertise and range.
But with the renewed attention have come reminders of the political baggage that he has accumulated over the decades. For instance, fliers recently appeared in Iowa reminding religious voters about his three marriages.