Newt Gingrich has finally broken free of his tired ‘attack the referees’ strategy.

The former House Speaker knows he can get applause Thursday night at the Fox News GOP debate by complaining about the questions and about moderators’ attempts to lure candidates into ratings-friendly conflicts. But last week, Gingrich showed he could actually hold his own in a fight with his his 2012 presidential rivals.

But the ex-speaker’s one-liners also reminded viewers how long its been since Gingrich was last in politics.

“In the four years I was speaker, we created — the American people, not me — created more jobs in Utah than under Governor Huntsman, more jobs in Massachusetts than under Governor Romney and more jobs in Texas than in the 11 years of Governor Perry,” he said.

Does anyone — besides former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who joined Gingrich in a moment of nostalgia — want to hear about the early 1990s right now?

Tonight, Gingrich needs to capi­tal­ize on last week’s solid performance and show he can compete in the present, not just the past.

No matter what Gingrich does, it will be a tough sell given his sputtering campaign organization. It would likely take a masterful performance to convince Republicans the freewheeling candidate is worth supporting.