Ever the Speaker

Gingrich and wife Callista before an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute. (By Dayna Smith -- For The Washington Post)
By Lloyd Grove
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 1, 2007

Newt Gingrich might be too huge to be president.

Not in the physical sense -- though, at 64, he has taken on ballast since his frenetic phase a decade ago as speaker of the House, and he's moving these days with a purposeful waddle. But the conceptual framework of the presidency seems, well, just a tad limiting.

"The presidency is a minor post on the scale of change I'm describing," Gingrich, still the history professor, declares with a dismissive wave.

"You get to appoint a lot of ambassadors. It isn't 50 percent, it's 5 percent of the whole process. I want to make sure by the time we're done that in 511,000 elective positions" -- apparently the whole of U.S. officialdom -- "there are people who understand the 21st century, understand American civilization, and have fundamentally changed government at all levels."

He adds with a puckish grin: "And if, in that process, I become president -- that's fine."

He still has fabulous hair. It's whitening at the summit, creating a halo effect. He's gazing through wonk-tastic oblong wire-rims, and parsing the nature and scope of his ambitions, on the fourth floor of a downtown Washington office building at his corporate consulting firm, the think-tankishly-dubbed Center for Health Transformation. His desk is stacked high with brainiac books -- "World Changing: A User's Guide for the 21st Century," "Making War to Keep Peace," "The Way to Win" and a couple of dozen other weightily titled tomes.

He's plenty busy, so it's hardly surprising that he reports: "I feel good, but at this very moment I feel a little bit tired."

Gingrich Communications on the floor below handles his television appearances and daily radio commentaries, his various fiction and nonfiction book projects, his 60 paid lecture dates and the other 240 free ones, the chartered jets to whisk him there, and his for-profit Web site -- want to read all the articles Newt's research team sends him every day? Become a Newt.org premium subscriber for $5.95 a month! He's also running a tax-exempt 527 political action organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future, and bouncing between satellite offices at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution, a professorship at the National Defense University and pro-bono service on various government and academic policy panels. This doesn't include the Spanish lessons by phone. The whole thing constitutes what might be called Newt Inc. -- a multimillion-dollar enterprise that keeps three dozen camp followers gainfully employed and Gingrich earning what he terms "adequate" income in the seven figures.

"I don't have to be president," he says. "I'd be willing to be president."

Another splash of Gingrich, anyone?

* * *

He has been threatening to run since last summer, tickling the body politic with, depending on the day, predictions ranging from, yes, he'll "probably" do it to, no, the odds are "4 to 1 against." He says he'll give his final answer by Oct. 1 -- after one of his televised American Solutions mega-workshops on how to transform government from bloated bureaucracy to lean machine -- and until then he's keeping his options open.

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