Newt Gingrich: Out of the wilderness and into the mix for 2012

The 2010 election brought scores of tea party-backed candidates into Washington.
By Karen Tumulty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010; 12:49 AM

HARRISBURG, PA. - It has all the makings of Newt Gingrich's favorite kind of election: A cranky electorate. A Democratic president on the ropes. Republicans poised to take one or both houses of Congress.

In fact, 2010 feels a lot like 1994 - especially if you happened to be sitting with the rapt conservatives in the ballroom of the Crowne Plaza Hotel here on Tuesday, when the former House speaker railed against Democrats as the "party of food stamps" and President Obama as an elitist with no "idea what American exceptionalism is."

What's different, of course, is that Gingrich is no longer leading his party's assault on the ramparts - he isn't even on a ballot. And yet, just like in the old days, Gingrich is pretty much everywhere you look: raising millions for the Republican Party, stumping for candidates in 30 states, hurling verbal hand grenades on Fox News and Twitter.

In other words, Newt Gingrich looks an awful lot like a man who is running for president.

The former speaker, who flirted with the idea in the past, is less coy about it this time. Gingrich says he won't make an official announcement until early next year. But he notes that he is already "transitioning" his four businesses so that they don't become political impediments.

The remaining question, Gingrich said in an interview, is "whether or not it is practical, which I increasingly think it is."

Gingrich acknowledged that he wouldn't be the GOP establishment's pick - or an immediate front-runner. He also said he knows the race for the nomination would be a steep climb "when you have someone as well financed as [former Massachusetts governor Mitt] Romney would be."

But if Gingrich could pull this one off, it would be the greatest political resurrection since Richard Nixon - a name that comes up often when you talk to Gingrich's longtime friends and advisers.

Gingrich's comeback strategy looks much like Nixon's did in 1966, six years after losing a presidential election. He and his young aide Pat Buchanan worked the "rubber chicken circuit" like no one before had, collecting chits that Nixon cashed in on his way to the nomination two years later.

Bouncing back

Like Nixon, Gingrich knows what it feels like in the wilderness.

Gingrich resigned as speaker in 1998, after losing seats in a midterm election where he bet big on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Most people thought Gingrich was finished in electoral politics.

Since then, he has become a political conglomerate, writing books, giving speeches, and commenting for Fox News. Among his many endeavors is the Center for Health Transformation, which advocates "transformational health solutions"; a film company called Gingrich Productions; and Renewing American Leadership, an organization that aims "to preserve America's Judeo-Christian heritage."

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