Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the presidential hopeful who has been on the national scene the longest, is finally surging in polls for the GOP nomination. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is still the odds-on favorite to clinch it, but this is quite a comeback for Gingrich, whose candidacy was left for dead last summer after a series of damaging stories.
Though I am an independent and a dyed-in-the-wool moderate, I take some pleasure in Newt’s resurrection. One doesn’t have to agree with Gingrich on everything or even on most things to appreciate his intellect, creativity, and passion.
In private conversation last summer, during the darkest days of his presidential campaign, he seemed so eternally optimistic. He was absolutely convinced that the rash of stories would not derail his candidacy and that he was meant to run for president in 2012. Listening to him—at a time when the life expectancy of his campaign seemed measured in hours or days, not weeks, and certainly not months—I wondered whether he had lost touch with reality. When polite skepticism was no doubt heard in my voice, he gently reminded me that back in 1994, like the rest of the punditocracy, I underestimated his chances of leading Republicans to their first majority in 40 years. Point well taken.
If Norman Vincent Peale had not written The Power of Positive Thinking, Newt would have. In a town filled with people of towering and often naked ambition, Gingrich projects the towering self-confidence of a man with impressive intellect. He has read not shelves but library rows of books that most politicians have never heard of. He is sometimes wrong but rarely in doubt. He is the most passionate believer in the power of ideas that I’ve ever encountered.
My friends have grown tired of hearing the story of my remarkable conversation in 2006 with Newt, his wife, Callista, and a mutual friend in the bar of The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Fla. Gingrich and I happened to be giving speeches the next day to different groups and staying at the same hotel. After an hour and a half or so, I walked away with a cocktail napkin filled, front and back, with the names of books that he thought I should read and suggestions for bettering my website. (Silicon Valley surely can’t possess a more fervent believer in the power of the Internet.) You can agree or disagree with Newt, but you have to admire his passion and zeal. His conviction that he is the leader of a movement, and that if given a chance, that movement can sweep the nation, also sets Gingrich apart from other politicians.
Having said all of that, it’s still very unlikely that Gingrich will capture the GOP nomination. But his effort deserves the consideration of a party that has certainly entertained far less impressive figures. If Republicans even briefly considered former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has contributed very little to the conservative intellectual dialogue, why not take a look at Gingrich? After briefly flirting with Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who demonstrates a fascinating conviction of the certainty of her words combined with an almost breathless disregard for facts, why shouldn’t Republicans look at Gingrich? Although Texas Gov. Rick Perry experienced a brief ascendancy, he seemed to discount the magnitude of the challenge in mounting a presidential campaign with little personal preparation. Certainly Gingrich thought a lot more about how to prepare for a run. And compared to pizza magnate Herman Cain, Gingrich better understands how to build and implement a campaign. Cain understands the power of marketing, of simplicity and repetition, as demonstrated by his 9-9-9 tax proposal. (Or is it, five—$5 foot-longs? No, that’s Subway’s sandwiches.) The brilliancy of Cain’s salesmanship was more impressive than the half-baked nature of the proposal.
No, in the end, this nomination is probably headed toward Romney. As NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd points out, Cain has the passion among conservatives. Perry has the money. Gingrich has the brains and intellectual heft. It would take a single candidate with all three to beat Romney. That doesn’t look likely to happen. But, at least in my opinion, Gingrich, for all his shortcomings, deserves a look—and now has his chance.
WATCH Gingrich talks Monday about how he "blew it" earlier in the campaign:
This article appears in the Nov. 15, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.