Newt Wants You!

By Boyer, Peter J. | Newsweek, December 19, 2011 | Go to article overview

Newt Wants You!


Boyer, Peter J., Newsweek


Byline: Peter J. Boyer

'If You're Now The Frontrunner, You've Gotta Expect That Everybody's Gonna Come At You From A Hundred Different Angles. When They Get Done, Are You Still Standing?'

Just a few months ago, among those who believed that Newt Gingrich's presidential quest was doomed was the campaign's own best political thinker, Gingrich himself. After a botched start and mass desertion by his top staff, Gingrich spent the summer struggling for money, organization, and, worse, for a man like him, relevance. "It was really hard," he says now. "I got fairly tired of doing radio shows with people who would say, 'Well, so since you're dead --'"

By the end of summer, his campaign deeply in the red, Gingrich decided to quit--but was talked out of it by his wife, Callista. Entering the debate season, Gingrich focused on his advantages, and he began to see his near implosion as a gift. Among other things, the departure of the political professionals left Gingrich to become his own strategist. "Just as Clinton was," Gingrich says.

For Gingrich, a Bill Clinton reference is a natural reflex. Each was the other man's necessary foil in the great political dramas of the 1990s, when both made history because of their extraordinary gifts, as well as their outsize flaws. Clinton became the first two-term Democratic president since FDR and only the second president to be impeached. Gingrich became the first Republican speaker of the House since the Eisenhower era and the only speaker ever sanctioned by the House. They were the principal partisans at a moment when Washington's political differences hardened into the bitter divide that defines the political culture today. Yet Gingrich and Clinton had far more similarities than distinctions: both are possessed of voracious intellectual appetites, rare political instinct, media mastery, and a good measure of sheer chutzpah.

And resilience. Clinton weathered impeachment and a special prosecutor's sexpose before serving out his term and commencing a lucrative postpresidency in which he has betrayed no sign of lasting mortification. Gingrich, returning to elective politics, seemingly unbidden, after an absence of a dozen years, found himself polling in the single digits as recently as last month. Now he is the clear frontrunner in national polls, and he enjoys a commanding lead in Iowa as voters plan to repair to their caucuses.

The remarkable Gingrich surge has dismayed much of Washington, including many on his own side, who seem to be openly hoping for another Gingrich collapse. Gingrich shrugs it off. "If you get to this point, and you're now arguably the frontrunner, you've gotta expect that everybody and his brother's gonna come at you from a hundred different angles," he says. "And the question is, when they get done, are you still standing? So you relax, and you live through it."

The sudden frontrunner status has Gingrich scrambling to gear up his campaign apparatus. Gearing down had been easier. After a stormy morning meeting on June 9, the entire squad of hired political hands was gone from the national team. Gingrich says he felt no sense of betrayal, likening it instead to a corporate merger that didn't take. "We were trying to merge the tactical, political capabilities of people who don't know anything"--that would be the political pros--"with a system that is probably the most complex DNA in politics," he says. "And it was just hopeless." The defections left Gingrich with a loyal remnant, mostly staffers from his other enterprises, such as his policy organization, American Solutions.

Chief among them is policy adviser Vince Haley, a deep thinker from the Catholic right who "reads papal encyclicals as a hobby," Gingrich says. His new campaign director, Michael Krull (whose previous experience in presidential campaigning was a stint as a field staffer for George H.W. Bush in 1988), met with Gingrich and Callista, and the three of them agreed to a frugality regime. …

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