“Comeback kids” are nothing new in American political history — think back no further than Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton — but there may be no more compelling rehabilitation story today than that of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has once again emerged as a rallying force for dispirited Republicans and a font of ideas second to none in his party.
“Newt has made an extraordinary comeback,” said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota who was the Georgia Republican’s closet friend and confidant in the 1980s when the two were GOP backbenchers plotting the improbable end of four decades of Democratic dominance in the House.
“Anybody looking around for ideas and activism and leadership in the Republican Party would put Newt in the top two or three people to turn to,” said Mr. Weber.
Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, another former House colleague of Mr. Gingrich and now the No. 2 Republican in the Senate as minority whip, hails the Georgian as the same “prolific idea generator” he was back in the mid-1980s.
Just turned 66, the one-time history professor retains the signature mop of thick white hair he had when he helped fashion the “Contract With America” and led Republicans to their first House majority in decades in 1994. He was seen by many at the time as the face of the party.
Four years later, he was gone, the victim of tactical miscalculations against President Clinton, ethics woes, rivalries within his own GOP caucus and the historically stunning loss of Republican seats in the 1998 congressional elections. Many assumed his political career was over.
But a re-energized Mr. Gingrich can lay claim to be a leading spokesman for the Republicans, even as the party’s political fortunes have plunged with the loss of Congress in 2006 and the election of Barack Obama in 2008. While some party figures lay low or blame others, Mr. Gingrich, characteristically, prefers to carry the fight to the enemy.
“I would say to [Republican National Committee Chairman] Michael Steele and others, ‘The first duty is, for the next eight months, don’t worry about the message, worry about recruitment.’ A rising tide only lifts the boats that are in the water,” Mr. Gingrich told The Washington Times in an interview late last month.
“Barring some extraordinary change in the economy, we’re going to have a relatively good election in 2010 because high taxes, big government [and] politically corrupt systems don’t lead to economic growth,” he said.
Evidence of Mr. Gingrich’s renewed stature and clout abound.
When, for the first time in nine years, Republicans last month didn’t have an incumbent president to address their gigantic annual House-Senate GOP fundraising gala in Washington, who did the honors? Mr. Gingrich.
The Georgian, famous as a futurist and “early adopter” of technology, regularly bombards Republican House and Senate leaders with tactical and strategic missives. His e-mail newsletter has 860,000 subscribers, and his Twitter musings have attracted more than 500,000 followers.
Although largely out of the political limelight and the Sunday talk-show lineups in the years after his fall, Mr. Gingrich was by no means idle.
He founded the nonprofit American Solutions for Winning the Future, which he describes as a “tri-partisan citizen action network” of more than 1.5 million members. He said the group’s mission is to find the “next generation” of solutions for ensuring that America remains the safest, freest and most prosperous country on the planet.