The Fix: Good Newt and Bad Newt

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake
Monday, February 28, 2011; 8:39 AM

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) continues to move ever-closer to a run for president in 2012, a bid that will almost certainly highlight his great gifts and equally large potential flaws.

Party strategists who have long followed Gingrich's career tend to see two men in the Georgia Republican: Good Newt and the Bad Newt.

Good Newt is, without question, one of the most talented politicians operating in the party today -- brilliant, brimming with ideas and charismatic.

Bad Newt uses his rhetorical firepower -- and it is considerable -- too freely, falling off message and, in so doing, bringing trouble down on himself.

"He always believes he is the smartest guy in the room," said one Republican consultant who has studied Gingrich's career closely. "And usually he is. The problem is, he knows it."

The two sides of Gingrich were on display -- in spades -- during his rise (and fall) as speaker of the House in the 1990s.

He was, without question, the intellectual force and strategic visionary behind the "Contract with America" that put Republicans back in charge of the House for the first time in 40 years.

But, Gingrich's willingness to engage in a battle of chicken with then President Bill Clinton over the budget in 1995 badly wounded him and his party, and when his predictions that the GOP would pick up seats in the 1998 election proved off-base, he left Congress with his colleagues threatening mutiny.

More than a decade later, Gingrich is set to re-emerge in the national spotlight with many of those same questions surrounding him.

Can he be the Good Newt? Can he stay on-message amid the daily meat grinder that is a presidential primary in the age of blogs and Twitter?

Early indications are mixed.

Gingrich has drawn rave reviews -- and won considerable support -- during his trips to Iowa, and his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month was generally well-reviewed.

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