I have confessed before — and “confessed” is the right word in this context for a liberal like me — that I came to like Gingrich in the mid 1980s. OK, let me qualify this right away. I did not like the Gingrich who helped create the polarized Congress that we have today, and I loathed the vicious and often baseless attacks he could direct toward his opponents. But when Gingrich sat down over dinner to talk about politics and how the world as he saw it worked, he could be a delightful sparring partner and conversational companion. While many of his ideas are, in my view, wrongheaded, others were quite intriguing. And when he is away from the microphones, he is willing to entertain rather heretical thoughts. There have been times in his career when he gave us intonations of the old Rockefeller Republicanism he once espoused.

Newt, the Presidential candidate, was only occasionally like this. Many of the things he said over the last several months — about President Obama and American Muslims, for example — were deeply offensive. Sadly, I fear we will hear more from this particular Gingrich between now and Election Day.

But all of God’s children are entitled to hope. My hope is that having gotten a presidential race out of his system, Gingrich can become that guy I glimpsed over dinner, the sometimes off-the-wall but almost always thought-provoking purveyor of ideas and theories. He ought to know better than anyone that there are second — and third, fourth, and fifth — acts in American politics.